Barry Keoghan has been a spine-chilling psychopath. An inexperienced World War II mariner. An American college student trying to pull off a rare book heist. A fresh-faced private during the Great Famine.
You might not recognise his name instantly just yet, but his distinctive freshwater eyes, narrowed to an almost permanent squint, have conveyed an impossibly diverse (often terrifying) spectrum of emotions in some of the biggest films of the last couple of years – a few becoming almost instant cult classics.
To say that the Dublin-born actor is boundless in talent and versatility is an understatement, showcasing his talent via directorial greats such as Christopher Nolan and Yorgis Lanthimos in the likes of Dunkirk, Killing of a Sacred Deer and American Animals.
He’s now been nominated for BAFTA’s EE Rising Star Award, confirming everything we already know – that he’s just about to topple over the precipice and straight into household name big-time status.
We chatted to Keoghan about modest beginnings, Batman and being a fanboy…
What was your earliest memory of film?
I guess it was while growing up with my granny. I got into it while watching old movies like Cool Hand Luke and On the Waterfront.
What drew you to them?
The life lessons. There’s a front that we all put on. When his mum passes away, he cracks a little, slips, gets upset and then he’s back to this bravado of coolness.
In the old films, there’s lessons of how men talk to women and how they treated them.
What was the moment when you realised you wanted to be an actor?
Yeah, it was Basketball Diaries, the true story about Jim Caroll. He goes on heroin in New York at the age of 13. It’s incredible. There’s an attachment from me to that film because my mother was on drugs from a young age, and you see the relationship between him and his mother. So you know, that pain and that relationship they got across was so powerful.
Is acting therapeutic for you?
It is definitely therapeutic. I was interested in the expression, releasing pain and just being vulnerable. Just getting to do all of these things that you don’t necessarily get to do day-to-day.
You’ve had a big couple of years, how’s that been?
It’s been really, really nice.
Are you surprised by everything that’s happened?
Bit surprised, you know. I’m a huge fan of anyone that I work with and have worked with. I mean, Tom Hardy? It’s unreal that it’s a job. It doesn’t feel like it, I’m having fun and getting to meet cool people and travel the world and stay in hotels. You know, it’s nice.
So Killing of a Sacred Deer was terrifying…
I’m not that terrifying.
How was it working with Yorgis?
I definitely want to work with him again. I didn’t realise when I was working with him that he was one of the greats until I went away from that movie and I was like, “Fuck, he’s like Kubrick”.
He has a very distinctive style…
So distinctive, and then I saw The Favourite. He’s a good man and he is so caring. From the films he makes people probably have this idea of him that he must be cold, he must be dry. He’s not, he is the most caring man ever.
Was it exhausting to film?
No, it really wasn’t. I should have been exhausted, I should have been like, ‘oh that was trippy or that was dark,’ but I wasn’t. It was such a fun environment and cool set.
I read that you developed a special relationship with Colin Farrell…
He’s just a beautiful person. One thing I learned from him is that when he’s talking to people he’s present. It sounds really easy, but it’s just such a hard thing to do. He’s been really good to my brother and my brother as well. He’s just a great man, a family man.
And how was it working with Christopher Nolan?
Being a big fan of Batman and Inception, that was surreal. I did Dunkirk before The Killing of a Sacred Deer so it was weird going from a big set onto Yorgis’ set. Dunkirk was like a dream, you know, planes and boats. He creates this world where you don’t really have to act. He’s a master.
Who would you like to work with next?
Paul Thomas Anderson, definitely, he’s on everyone’s list. Barry Jenkins, there’s a ton of them.
What kind of roles do you usually look for?
I suppose there’s three elements: good director, good story and good character for me, and if I can get two out of three, then happy days.
Are there any types of roles that you would just be like, ‘no, I’m never doing that’?
I want to stay away from the dark mischief thing, the sinister stuff. I want to now reinvent and go into a new light of not just a lead man but maybe just a character-driven story, with a good topic.
Would you ever do a comedy?
I would love to do comedy.