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Christopher Nolan, Robert Downey Jr. and Missed Connections

Christopher Nolan and Robert Downey Jr. have each worked on some of the most lucrative and beloved superhero films of our time, many of them with enormous star-filled casts, so how is it that the two had never worked together on a movie before now, superhero or otherwise?

Their paths crossed, sort of, on “Batman Begins” (more on that later). But it took a different kind of summer blockbuster, a three-hour biopic about the triumphs and travails of a theoretical physicist working in New Mexico in the 1940s, to finally bring them together.

Since its release in July, “Oppenheimer” has amassed nearly $1 billion in worldwide ticket sales, earned critical raves and been nominated for scores of awards, including 13 Oscars. Among those nominations are three for Nolan, 53, for best picture, best director and best adapted screenplay, and a best supporting actor one for Downey, 58, for his performance as Lewis Strauss, the title character’s Salieri-like nemesis. The nominations are hardly their first — counting “Oppenheimer,” Downey has received three, Nolan, eight — but neither has ever won before and now they’re both considered front-runners.

The day after the Oscar nominations were announced, the two got together on the Universal studio lot to talk about how they first met, what winning an Oscar would mean to them, and why so many people didn’t notice that that balding, sweaty guy who had it in for Oppenheimer was actually Robert Downey Jr.

These are edited excerpts from our conversation.

Nolan working with Downey on “Oppenheimer.”Credit…Melinda Sue Gordon/Universal Pictures

This is your first time working together. How did you two meet?

ROBERT DOWNEY JR. Here’s what I never got to ask you. We met in a lobby somewhere. You were casting, was it “Batman Begins” or “The Dark Knight”?

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