Driven, duty-bound and abrasive, Leslie Groves, Jr. was a distinguished and trusted officer in the U.S. Army Corps. of Engineers who had just overseen construction of The Pentagon when he was given the assignment of leading the Manhattan Project. Despite differences with Oppenheimer in politics and temperament, the conservative and pragmatic Groves was immediately taken by Oppenheimer’s genius and vision and recruited him, over the doubts of many, to be his partner in the mission. To play the brigadier general, the filmmakers recruited Matt Damon.

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It’s Groves’ challenge, beautifully played by Matt Damon, to figure out when to trust his own judgment and when to trust Oppenheimer.

For Damon, the appeal of working on Oppenheimer was in crafting an origin story for the world he’s known his entire life, formed from the fallout of the Manhattan Project. “I’m a child of the Cold War,” Matt Damon says. “I grew up with the consequences of this piece of history. So, I always viewed it through that lens. What was interesting was going back and trying to understand what these guys were thinking and what was happening for them and the terrible decisions that were placed in front of them. But there’s also all this human messiness of politics, ambition, and morality tied up in the pursuit. I could also really relate to this idea of people—in this case, scientists—just wanting to know if they could do something that has never been done before.”