Dubliner Barry Keoghan has caught the US me­dia’s at­ten­tion af­ter stand­out per­for­mances in ‘Dunkirk’ and in Yor­gos Lan­thi­mos’s ‘The Killing of a Sa­cred Deer’. PAUL WHITINGTON spoke to the young ac­tor about get­ting ad­vice from Colin Far­rell and the proud gr

Irish Independent - Weekend Review - - FRONT PAGE -

Peo­ple around th­ese parts have been talk­ing about Barry Keoghan for quite a few years, ever since he showed up as a raw 17-year-old in Mark O’Con­nor’s 2011 crime drama Be­tween the Canals, and en­coun­tered that un­for­tu­nate cat in Love/Hate. From the very start there was some­thing dif­fer­ent about him, and this year, the rest of the world has no­ticed.

Dur­ing the Cannes Film Fes­ti­val, Va­ri­ety named the Dubliner as one of 10 young ac­tors to watch, and the Hol­ly­wood Re­porter called him “the next big thing”, while last month En­ter­tain­ment Weekly pre­dicted Keoghan would soon be “ev­ery­where”.

The rea­son for all this fuss is two per­for­mances, one in Christo­pher Nolan’s Dunkirk, the other in Yor­gos Lan­thi­mos’s ex­tra­or­di­nary and un­set­tling psy­cho­log­i­cal drama The Killing of a Sa­cred Deer, which was pre­miered at Cannes and goes on general re­lease this week. In it, Barry de­liv­ers a po­ten­tially ca­reer-mak­ing per­for­mance as a su­per­fi­cially po­lite young man with a nasty se­cret agenda.

He is Martin, an earnest soul who talks a lot and has at­tached him­self to Steven (Colin Far­rell), a wealthy neu­ro­sur­geon. Steven has a thriv­ing prac­tice, a beau­ti­ful wife (Ni­cole Kid­man) and two teenage chil­dren, but seems a cold and with­drawn man, and his re­la­tion­ship with Martin is a puz­zle. He meets the boy to chat over lunch, and buys him ex­pen­sive gifts.

At first we sus­pect the worst, but their friend­ship, if one can call it that, is mo­ti­vated by guilt, not sex. Martin’s fa­ther died on Steven’s oper­at­ing ta­ble dur­ing a heart pro­ce­dure, and the sur­geon now feels com­pelled to act as a kind of sur­ro­gate. But Martin, af­ter in­vei­gling his way into Steven’s fam­ily, re­veals his ghastly plans for re­venge.

The Killing of a Sa­cred Deer is as sur­real, arch, mis­an­thropic and vi­ciously funny as any of Yor­gos Lan­thi­mos’s films, and it’s re­mark­able how eas­ily Keoghan has fit­ted into his ec­cen­tric aes­thetic. “I’d wanted to work with him for ages,” Barry tells me, “I went to Greece to do an au­di­tion for him, then went straight to Lon­don to shoot Dunkirk. And right af­ter that, we be­gan mak­ing this. It’s been a mad year.”

His char­ac­ter in Sa­cred Deer speaks qui­etly but seems al­most psy­chotic, and I won­der how Barry man­aged to get to grips with him. “Nor­mally, we tend to do this whole back­story on the char­ac­ters we’re play­ing, but Yor­gos doesn’t want you to work like that, he didn’t want us to have mo­tives or any­thing, it was al­most just, you know, don’t let any­thing out, keep it all in.

“That’s his way and you un­der­stand it from watch­ing his other films, like The Lob­ster and Dog­tooth, so with Martin it wasn’t re­ally un­til I saw the fin­ished film that I re­ally un­der­stood his story.” Shar­ing long scenes with Colin Far­rell and Ni­cole Kid­man must have been pretty in­ter­est­ing, too. “It was fan­tas­tic, and one thing I learned from watch­ing them was how they talk to peo­ple on set, and how they treat ev­ery­one the same, from the run­ner to the light­ing per­son, they’ve time for ev­ery­one and that’s how you do it.” Far­rell, he says, is “just a leg­end, and such a gent”.

Colin was just 24, pretty much the same age as Keoghan is now, when a break­out role in Joel Schu­macher’s Tiger­land made him an in­ter­na­tional star overnight, an ex­pe­ri­ence he strug­gled to deal with. Did Barry talk to Far­rell about cop­ing with sud­den suc­cess?

“He did tell me that stuff can go men­tal when you’re young and ev­ery­thing is hap­pen­ing for you, but he thinks I’ve a good head on my shoul­ders, and he knows that I’m aware of the dan­gers and that I can see the fine line be­tween

I can see the fine line be­tween films and re­al­ity — I’m al­ways in touch with where I’m from, you know

films and re­al­ity — I’m al­ways in touch with where I’m from, you know.”

That would be Sum­mer­hill, in Dublin’s north in­ner city, where Keoghan was born in the win­ter of 1992. His mother died of a heroin over­dose when he was small, and af­ter a pe­riod in fos­ter care, Keoghan was taken in and raised by his grand­mother.

“She’s my mother’s mother, so it’s just like hav­ing my ma around. She raised me well, I’d like to say, and my aun­tie as well, Lor­raine, they’ve been re­ally good to me. My granny’s great, and she’s not too fazed by it ei­ther — she’s very proud.”

On the day we speak, Keoghan is about to bring her to the Dublin pre­miere of The Killing of a Sa­cred Deer.

“She’s see­ing it tonight,” he jokes, “so I’m hop­ing that she lets me back in home af­ter she sees it.”

Grow­ing up, Keoghan loved movies, and draw­ing, and peo­ple-watch­ing. “I’d see peo­ple on the street and they’d in­ter­est me,” he says, “and I’d go home and try to draw that char­ac­ter, and fig­ure out what their story was. Creat­ing char­ac­ters was a big thing for me.”

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