Barry Keoghan: The Fighting Irish

November 12, 2017
With a standout turn in Dunkirk and now a major part in The Killing of a Sacred Deer, young actor Barry Keoghan has learnt early on to surround himself with visionary filmmakers.

Did you know Yorgos Lanthimos’ work before you came on The Killing of a Sacred Deer?

I’d seen The Lobster and Dogtooth. The Lobster is one that when I have someone over, I’m like, ‘let’s watch The Lobster!’ It’s one of those movies I want to introduce [to people]. So yeah, I was aware of his work.

He has a very particular style, and approach to dialogue. Do you feel like you are diving into that world when you work with him?

Yeah, it’s a style we can’t pinpoint, and I’d say he’s creating a new genre. I think he’s stripping down everything. I think we act in life, we say things in certain rhythms, in certain places, we treat different people differently, and we get all this from everything that’s going on in the world today. I think what he does is making us be honest, with no rhythm.

How did it feel when you read the script for the first time?

It was dark, it was funny, there were a lot of questions I was asking, there were so many layers to it. Couldn’t pinpoint what it was, but I just knew I wanted to be a part of it.


Because he’s unique. He’s telling these stories in this different way. He’s creating a different way for actors too.

Can you tell me about the audition process for this film?

I had this list when I signed up with my agents, of filmmakers I’d love to work with, and I remember seeing The Lobster, and I remember saying put Yorgos on there, put Ed Guiney [Producer], put Element Pictures on there. And I went in and I showed my agents this list. Bart Layton was on that list, who I’ve just worked with. When I read this script I was like Yorgos! I want to work with Yorgos! So, I went to London. He made us do some weird things in the audition to distract us from getting deep into the lines and put meaning into the words. It was just loose. It was nice. I’d hear a little giggle in the corner. It’d be him, giggling [Laughs]. He’s just a big kid.

Is it hard to get into the detached style of acting that Yorgos’ films are known for?

Watching The Lobster, I kind of took that tone from Colin [Farrell], and brought that in. Yorgos doesn’t ask for that. He doesn’t say ‘can you say it like this’. His direction is pretty simple: ‘faster’, ‘stop moving Barry’, or ‘slower’. All the geniuses, they don’t have to say much.

Did Yorgos discuss his take on the meaning of the film with you?

No, he didn’t. He didn’t discuss characters. We read it [the script], I got the basics from it, like, ‘Martin is sixteen blah blah blah’. But we didn’t talk about ‘you’re doing this because…’. He didn’t want me going in having a perceived thing about it.

Apart from the obvious biting your arm, what was the most difficult scene for you?

Probably the spaghetti scene. It was kind of the only time I really make eye contact. I’m telling the story and at the end I look at her. It was a bit scary to be honest. I’m sitting there in my boxers in front of Nicole Kidman as well, you know, with sauce on my face, like ‘take me serious’. [Laughs].

What about Colin [Farrell], did he become a mentor or father figure to you?

He has, he’s just been great. First words when I met him was ‘come here you, give me a hug’, that’s what he said. He’s just an incredible human being. I want to be like him. Growing up watching his movies and then getting to act opposite him is incredible.

Was Dunkirk the same?

Yeah, I had Cillian [Murphy] alongside me there. And Cillian was just like Colin, looked after his younger co-star. Even with Mark Rylance, they taught me how play poker on the boat. [Laughs].

Was Dunkirk quite demanding?

Yeah, it was. Chris [Nolan] does that thing as well. He didn’t make us feel too pressured.

That’s quite impressive, that you didn’t feel pressure on a massive film like Dunkirk.

That’s who you’re working with, isn’t it? They have that skill. To not make you feel pressured.

What was the most challenging part of Dunkirk for you?

That it was a true story, a lot of people lost their lives there. Filming there, just that presence, so many families affected by it, just the history of it. I remember going to the museum in Dunkirk and looking at all the leftover helmets and airplane parts and stuff like that. It was shivering. So, it wasn’t a tough one, but you know… as a young lad learning about that…

When did you decide you wanted to be an actor?

It was kind of a few auditions in and I was like ‘this is becoming a thing, this is good’. I was realising as well, that I was getting stuff out of me. It’s therapeutic as well.

What did your parents say when you said you wanted to be an actor?

I live with my granny actually, she wanted me to finish school more than anything. But she’s incredible. She doesn’t know a lot about this game, and I’m glad she doesn’t. It’s like a ‘he does that thing on the telly’, that’s all it is.

Is she here this week?

No, she’s 85. She won’t travel. She’ll come to premieres at home. I remember bringing her to a premiere of ’71 in Dublin, and when the violence in that is going on screen all you can hear is ‘ah, Jesus’ [Laughs].

What did you think of the film after you’d seen it?

Still thinking of it, and that’s the beauty of Yorgos’ films, everyone has their own interpretation, everyone has their own view of it, it’s like art. You look at a painting and everyone has a different take on it, and that’s what he’s done with that film. Whether people love it or whether they hate it, it’s their opinion. He lets the audience make up their own mind.

You said acting could be therapeutic, however, this kind of role would mess you up, instead of being therapeutic.

Yeah, with this I didn’t go in my own head the way I usually go with roles and dig deep down for things to draw upon. This was just say the lines. But there was still a bit of something going on.

How was it to play a sixteen-year-old boy.

Yeah that was weird, [Laughs] especially because my girlfriend in it [Raffey Cassidy] is really fourteen or fifteen. It was kind of… yeah.

Was it a hard role to shake, to let go of?

No, because it was just refreshing. It was almost like it was just 2D. I didn’t go 3D with it. I didn’t get in. I just kept on the outside. His dialogue does all that for you. I just showed up and was present. I said the lines. And it’s one of the darkest roles ever, when you look at it, but it didn’t touch me that way. Looking at it now I’m like ‘whoa, that is deep!’ But yeah, it was refreshing. When I went away from the audition, after I’d met Yorgos I wrote ‘Act the Yorgos way’, and I hadn’t even got the part yet. Because he’s creating a new way, where you don’t have to get so in yourself.

You also like to box?

Boxing is just great, it’s just you and him in the ring, you’re not thinking about later on, what should I eat, or did I make this phone call. You’re just there, and it’s an artform. It’s one that you can’t perfect as well. We can say who the best boxer is, but the best boxer would probably tell you that he’s not perfected it, just like acting.

Is it a good way to let off steam after the shoot?

I don’t do it for that reason, or to get angry. I don’t do it for that… I just like it. I’m learning from it. I love getting in the ring.

Will you think about doing it professionally at some point then?

I’ll see where it goes. I’m getting my boxing licence in a few weeks.

So, it’s not just a hobby?

Yeah, I’m hopefully competing soon.

What do your agents say to that?

They actually don’t know [Laughs]. It’s to do something else as well. I never want to be known for just one thing. If I’m interested in something I want to go for it. Photography’s another thing I like. There are a lot of things I want to do.

So, is it acting or boxing?

Oh no it’s acting. Boxing can only last for what, how many years? But you can tell stories all your life.

Have you got beaten up in the ring?

Oh yeah. Well I had a bit of scratch, two weeks before I came here, had a busted lip.

Surely you have to play a boxer on screen at some point?

I do yeah, I want to. But with all the boxing films, what ruins them is they show the boxing. For example, What Richard Did, we know he’s the best rugby player, we don’t see him play rugby, but we know he’s the best, we know he’s the top lad. So, with boxing there needs to be a film done with what’s going on outside the ring.

What’s your favourite boxing movie?

Raging Bull. And they did show boxing, so it’s one of the only ones that really works.

If it was 3 or 4 years ago that you were doing ’71, and you would have been pretty young. Even at that stage did you think that these are the kind of people I want to work with?

That’s it. I was put into that circle. I was blessed in the way I’ve stayed in that circle of good people to work with. Bart Leyton is another one. He did The Imposter. I’m in his next movie [American Animals]. And these filmmakers are just so different from each other.

What has given you this opportunity? Is it just luck? Or just met the right people at the right time?

I don’t think luck is involved in anything. I believe in being faithful.

You mean religious?

Well not super, but I’ve been very blessed to work with all these people, and I really do hope to continue.

You’ve got good taste in movies. Where did you pick that up?

When I started taking off in the acting world, [director] Jim Sheridan (My Left Foot, In the Name of the Father) had this place called The Factory. It was basically this place where you brought actors and non-actors and experimented with them with cameras, and it was literally a cold factory. These filmmakers were there and they’d show us these old movies that I had no clue about. I was learning life lessons and mannerisms, how to talk to ladies. Being educated.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer is in cinemas November 16, 2017

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