Yes, That Is Retired Hockey Player Sean Avery in ‘Oppenheimer’

And this isn’t even his first appearance in a Christopher Nolan movie. What gives?

Sean Avery in a game at Madison Square Garden

Mike Stobe/Getty Images

It’s not a spoiler to say that Oppenheimer is positively chock full of guys. Cillian Murphy, one of the film industry’s premiere guys, obviously plays the lead role. Matt Damon and Robert Downey Jr. feature heavily as well, and their names were also on the poster. You knew you were getting three big time actors right off the bat. One of the real treats of the movie, though, is how Christopher Nolan introduces a bunch of other guys throughout the second and third acts. Here’s a former Nickelodeon star. There’s an Academy Award winner. Oh, look! The man who plays Harry Truman—while basically unrecognizable through the powers of movie making—is someone you’ll recognize.

But—and here we’ll issue a light spoiler alert—in one of the most pivotal scenes of the whole three-hour bonanza, there’s also…a former New York Ranger? Sean Avery, he of the ten-year NHL career, pops up on screen with Murphy and Damon while the atomic bomb crew is running tests in New Mexico. He doesn’t have a huge role—if you don’t follow hockey, he just blends right in—but he does have a few speaking lines. It’s enough to make you think, “How the hell did this notorious hockey villain end up in a prestige film?”

To answer this question, let’s look backwards. Avery was never an All-Star. He wasn’t a big-time goal scorer. He was never even close to being the best player on his team. His gift was pissing people off. That, paired with some down-and-dirty charisma—Avery was named one of People magazine’s Sexiest Men Alive in 2007, and dated actress Elisha Cuthbert during his playing career—made him a magnetic presence both on and off the ice. His Wikipedia page includes a fairly extensive “Controversies and bullying” section, and the NHL had to straight up create a new rule to legislate one of Avery’s tricks—standing in front of the opposing goalie with his back turned to the actual game, hoping to distract them enough that a puck could slip in the net—out of the sport. He twice led the league in penalty minutes. In 2008, after some of his ex-girlfriends began dating other hockey players, he was suspended for a comment about the NHL falling in love with his “sloppy seconds.” He is not exactly a model citizen.

Avery pulling his hijinks on Hall of Fame goaltender Martin Brodeur, which spawned the “Avery rule”

Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

But his on-ice troublemaking also meant that he had a larger public profile than most hockey players, and he set himself up pretty well for a life in the entertainment industry. He was only 31 years old when his hockey days wrapped up. So, like many retired athletes before him, he went on Dancing With the Stars, where he and his partner Karina Smirnoff were the second couple eliminated. He was a guest judge on Project Runway in 2012 and did Fashion Police in 2013. You might be wondering how he ended up in those productions as well, but Avery actually might be more qualified for the fashion world than he is for big-budget cinema. You see, during his offseason in 2008, Avery took an internship at Vogue. (“Women’s clothes tell a story. That’s what’s interesting to me,” he told Newsweek.)

Avery’s first acting credit came all the way back in 2005, when he was still an active player for the Los Angeles Kings. That debut came in a movie called Rocket, a biopic about hockey legend Maurice “The Rocket” Richard. Avery portrays a real-life hockey player named Bob Dill. That makes perfect sense: they needed guys to play hockey players in a movie, so they called some real hockey players. (Stanley Cup winners Vincent Lecavalier and Pascal Dupuis also make appearances.) Avery was not in another movie until 2016, four years after he played his final NHL game, when he appeared in Patriots Day with Mark Wahlberg. Mix in an off-Broadway play—which he rage quit two days before it was set to open—and some modeling for Hickey Freeman, and you’ve got someone who clearly didn’t want to disappear after his last slap shot.

That’s how he’s remained on casting director’s and agent’s radars all these years later. But what’s wild is that a guy who was not interested in acting until very recently keeps ending up not just in movies, but in movies with some of Hollywood’s most decorated directors. With actual lines! Before his Oppenheimer moment, Avery briefly appeared in Nolan’s 2020 film Tenet, too, playing a soldier. Then he was in David O. Russell’s Amsterdam last year. And now, of course, we’ve got the cameo in Oppenheimer, which…could win some Academy Awards? Are we going to see NHL pest Sean Avery at the Oscars? This is all quite shocking for someone who is a hockey heel first, and an actor sometimes. If you’re heading to the theater this week for an Oppenheimer-Barbie double feature (Avery really would have made more sense as a Ken then as someone taking part in arguably the most important science experiment of all time), keep your eyes peeled for the New York Ranger that Christopher Nolan just can’t quit.

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