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NBC Insider Oppenheimer

Why Christopher Nolan Says Oppenheimer Had “Most Knowledgable Extras” He’s Ever Worked With

"It gave you confidence because you had people there who knew what we were doing, but it kept you on your toes as well."

By Josh Weiss

Back in May, we learned that director Christopher Nolan tapped actual scientists from the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico to play extras in his atomic bomb thriller — Oppenheimer (now playing in theaters).

Nolan couldn't heap enough praise onto these peripheral players at a screening event attended by NBC Insider and SYFY WIRE, describing them as "the most knowledgable extras" he's ever worked with on a movie.

In particular, he drew the audience's attention to a scene where a group of Manhattan Project members debate whether the means still justify the ends following the surrender of Nazi Germany in May 1945. After all, the $2 billion undertaking was green-lit on the assumption that Adolf Hitler might build an atom bomb of his own.

Did the work need to continue once the Nazi threat had been effectively neutralized? What were the moral considerations in using the bombs to end the war in the Pacific?

RELATED: Ranking Christopher Nolan's Best Movies Before Oppenheimer: Inception, The Dark Knight & More

"I was saying to the extras, not really thinking about where they were from, ‘Well, if you could all be arguing about the shift in geopolitical tension [and] the use of the bomb. It was gonna be used against Germany, but now we’re talking about Japan. Could you just start shouting out whatever?’" Nolan remembered.

Where any other group of extras would perhaps utter "rhubarb-rhubarb" over and over again to simulate the overlapping voices of conversation, these scientists gave it their all. "We were hearing the most precise [jargon] and some were very passionate about it. They really got into it and the truth is it was wonderful ... It gave you confidence because you had people there who knew what we were doing, but it kept you on your toes as well."

Thomas Mason, current director of Los Alamos, said he recognized plenty of "familiar faces" and "historic sites" throughout the film, which also embodies the professional culture J. Robert Oppenheimer fostered during his tenure as lead of the project.

"What he brought to the position is still with us today in terms of the culture of the laboratory and the commitment to free and open debate within the walls," Mason said. "My job is to enable the science of others, to protect them from all these external factors that might distract them, to make the case for the resources they need, and to speak truth to power, even when it’s uncomfortable."

Oppenheimer is now playing in theaters everywhere. Click here to pick up tickets! Rocking a 94% percent score on Rotten Tomatoes (now the highest-rated title in Nolan's body of work alongside The Dark Knight), the film is being hailed by critics as the best movie of the year.

Want more blockbuster thrills in the meantime? Jaws, Jurassic Park, The Da Vinci Code, The Hunger Games, Fast Five, Jurassic World, Knock at the Cabin, Cocaine Bear, Renfield, and more are now streaming on Peacock!

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