Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer (still playing in theaters everywhere!) is about as far-removed from the fantasy genre as one can get, and yet, the acclaimed historical drama about the development of the world’s first atomic weapon was made with a helping hand from Game of Thrones creator, George R.R. Martin.
This unexpected link between Westeros and World War II comes to us from the official making-of book, Unleashing Oppenheimer: Inside Christopher Nolan’s Explosive Atomic-Age Thriller (now on sale from Insight Editions), written by Jada Yuan.
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For the scenes where J. Robert Oppenheimer (Cillian Murphy) and General Leslie Groves (Matt Damon) travel the country, recruiting scientists for the top-secret Manhattan Project, executive producer Thomas Hayslip worked out a deal with Skyway Rail, a New Mexico-based company co-founded by Martin.
How George R.R. Martin helped bring Oppenheimer to life
The agreement allowed Nolan & Co. to temporarily commandeer a track and two train cars (“painted with murals of wolves and dragons,” of course) that regularly run between the cities of Lamy and Santa Fe.
“The producer also found two vintage Pullman cars in Santa Fe for the sequence — a dining car and another with a lounge area and a sleeper compartment,” writes Yuan. “Both just needed a little work to make them period-correct. The production team would also add a flat car and another ‘dragon car’ to the mix to carry crew, equipment, and background actors. Nolan would shoot interiors for two cross-country sequences — Santa Fe to Boston, and Princeton to Santa Fe — aboard the Pullman cars, while a trip from Berkeley to D.C. would be shot in one of Martin’s ‘dragon cars.’ In order to film exteriors, Nolan would place a camera at the back of the Pullman cars facing forward toward the engine, thereby focusing only on the period correct part of the train. If any of the engine’s dragon murals were visible on camera, they’d be edited out in postproduction.”
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Both Nolan and his director of photography, Hoyte van Hoytema (his collaboration with the filmmaker dates back to Interstellar), traveled the 40-minute route ahead of time, flagging notable desert landmarks they thought would look good onscreen. And if you look closely on your next rewatch, you can spot two of Nolan’s sons, Oliver and Magnus, as extras aboard the train.
“Most of the times they’re in a film it’s because it’s a school holiday and in order to bribe them into staying close to us, we say, ‘Hey, how about being an extra?'” producer Emma Thomas (co-founder of the Syncopy banner and Nolan’s wife) states in the book.
Oppenheimer arrives on home video next month with three hours worth of bonus features. If you haven’t had a chance to check out the movie on the big screen, don’t worry — it’s still playing in theaters. Click here for tickets!
Want more theatrical action in the meantime? Head on over to Peacock for exclusive access to Five Nights at Freddy’s, The Super Mario Bros. Movie, Asteroid City, Fast X, and Strays.