Christopher Nolan Forced Studio Execs to Watch Cillian Murphy’s Batman Audition So They’d Cast Him as Scarecrow Instead

Cillian Murphy and Christopher Nolan’s working relationship started nearly 20 years ago when Murphy sought the role of Batman/Bruce Wayne in Nolan’s “Batman Begins.” In a recent interview with Entertainment Weekly, both men admitted to knowing that Murphy was not going to be the new Batman as early as their first conversation together about the role. But that didn’t stop Nolan from wanting to screen test Murphy anyway.

“When we had our first conversation I think both of us knew that you weren’t going to wind up playing Batman,” Nolan said. “But I really wanted to get on set with you, I wanted to get you on film. We did those screen tests very elaborately, on 35mm, with a little set. There was just an electric atmosphere in the crew when you started to perform.”

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Although Nolan did not intend to cast Murphy as Batman, he set up a screen test for the role with the intention of getting studio executives on board with the idea of casting Murphy in the villain role of the Scarecrow.

“We did two scenes — there was a Bruce Wayne scene and a Batman scene — and I made sure that executives came down and watched what you were doing on set,” Nolan said. “Everybody was so excited by watching you perform that when I then said to them, ‘Okay, Christian Bale is Batman, but what about Cillian to play Scarecrow?’ There was no dissent. All the previous Batman villains had been played by huge movie stars: Jack Nicholson, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jim Carrey, that kind of thing. That was a big leap for them and it really was purely on the basis of that test. So that’s how you got to play Scarecrow.”

“It was clear to me from the beginning that I wasn’t Batman material,” Murphy added. “It felt to me that it was correct and right that it should be Christian Bale for that part. But I remember the buzz of trying on the suit and being directed by you. Those tests were high production values.”

Murphy reprised the role of Scarecrow in Nolan’s two “Batman Begins” sequels, “The Dark Knight” and “The Dark Knight Rises,” and he continued to work with the filmmaker on films such as “Inception” and “Dunkirk.” The upcoming “Oppenheimer” marks Nolan and Murphy’s sixth project together, although it’s the first Nolan movie that Murphy has headlined in the leading role.

“I have always said publicly and privately, to Chris, that if I’m available and you want me to be in a movie, I’m there. I don’t really care about the size of the part,” Murphy recently told the Associated Press. “But deep down, secretly, I was desperate to play a lead for him…It felt like the right time to take on a bigger responsibility. And it just so happened that it was a huge one.”

“Oppenheimer” opens in theaters July 21 from Universal Pictures.

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