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Barry Keoghan's Real-Life Story From Childhood To The Banshees Of Inisherin

In a relatively short amount of time, Irish actor Barry Keoghan has established himself as a rising star in Hollywood. 

From his turn as a young sailor in Christopher Nolan's "Dunkirk" to disillusioned telepath Druig in Marvel's "Eternals" to an enigmatic Joker cameo in "The Batman," Keoghan was gaining a reputation for scene-stealing turns even before the Oscar juggernaut "The Banshees of Inisherin" hit theaters. 

In a 2022 interview timed to that film's release, the actor discussed his career thus far. "I don't ever want to get to a stage where I think I have it figured out," he said. "So the scene-stealing thing — it's nice, but I don't want to be known as that. I want people to see me and think, 'That boy can hold a movie.'"

The actor has certainly impressed his co-stars. In 2019, Colin Farrell presented his "The Killing of a Sacred Deer" co-star with a rising star award, saying "For him to out every bit of hope, and pain and curiosity in to his work but also be a man of great generosity and warmth fun, little bit of madness — just the right measure is the most impressive thing." 

A few years later, Farrell and Keoghan would team again for "Inisherin," earning both Oscar nominations (and the first for Keoghan). In some ways, it feels like the beginning of a subsantial Hollywood career; in others, it feels like the culmination of an incredible true life tale.

Keoghan had a tumultuous childhood

Keoghan endured much trauma in his childhood. According to IrishCentral, he grew up in Summerhill, a rough Dublin neighborhood. The son of a drug addicted mother, Keoghan and his brother were taken out of her custody and placed into foster care. By the time the actor was 10, he'd been through 13 different foster homes. Afterward, he found a more permanent home with his "nanny" (grandmother), Patricia.

Keoghan was 12 when his mother passed away; during an appearance on RTÉ's "The Late Late Show" in 2019, Keoghan remembered her fondly. "She was very young [when she died], she was 31," he said. "I have great memories of her. I'm very proud of her."

The actor went on to explain that while most of his foster parents treated him well, Koeghan understands poverty and hardship.

In 2022, he told GQ his mother's passing "wasn't a 'sudden death' kind of shock" and explained that his father was never really in the picture. While staying with his nanny, Keoghan became engrossed by films starring storied actors like James Dean and Marlon Brando. It inspired him to do impressions, and he would often don different personas when he visited local shops.

He landed his first film after an open casting call

When he was 16 years old, Barry Keoghan answered an open casting call for the Irish crime drama "Between the Canals"... and landed a role. The actor said in 2017 that he began acting a bit in school, landing parts in holiday plays. He wasn't planning on going to university, but hadn't yet figured out his next moves. A bold decision to try out for a film changed his trajectory. 

"I saw a note in a window for a street casting," he recalled. "So I called the (number on the) street-casting thing." Keoghan met with the film's director, Mark O'Connor, and was offered a role.

"Between the Canals" starred then unknown Irish actor Peter Coonan ("We Have Always Lived in the Castle") and Irish singer-songwriter Damien Dempsey as hapless Dublin gangsters struggling with their lives of crime on St. Patrick's Day. Keoghan appeared in the small role of neighborhood teenager, Aido, and per Rotten Tomatoes, the film received mixed reactions from audiences. However, The Irish Times praised "Between the Canals" and said about its storyline, "Picture Richard Linklater's 'Slacker' after a rowdy weekend with Shane McGowan and you're almost there." 

The part also the way for Keoghan's training at Dublin's prestigious acting school The Factory (now known as Bow Street Academy). As reported by Extra.ie, in 2012, Keoghan was accepted into the school's first full-time program sans an audition. However, Keoghan left the program early to pursue a Hollywood career.

Keoghan trained with famed Irish director Jim Sheridan

When Keoghan began his acting training at The Factory, he was blessed with the expertise of high-caliber creative professionals. As noted by Entertainment Weekly, in part, Keoghan's tutelage came from acclaimed Irish director Jim Sheridan ("In America," "In the Name of the Father"). Sheridan and his wife Kirsten Sheridan co-founded The Factory. 

After Keoghan received his Academy Award nomination for best supporting actor in "Banshees," The Factory posted a touching tribute to their former student on Instagram

"From the first day when he [Keoghan] turned up demanding to see legendary Casting Director Maureen Hughes, his charm, raw talent and ambition won us all over," reads the post. "For those of us lucky enough to know and work with Barry Keoghan back in the days of The Factory, the recent news of his Oscar Nomination comes as no surprise." 

In an interview with The Irish Mirror, Jim Sheridan expressed his thrill over the "Banshee" Oscar noms, calling his former student "amazing."

A television role earned him an unfortunate nickname

Long before most U.S. viewers had heard of Keoghan, he had a recurring role as Wayne, a teenage gang member, in the fourth season of the Irish television crime drama "Love/Hate." The series, which ran for five seasons, starred well-known Irish actors like Aiden Gillen ("Game of Thrones," "Sing Street") and explored the gritty underworld of the Dublin crime syndicates. Over the course of its run, the popular "Love/Hate" garnered multiple awards and nominations (per IMDb), and catapulted Barry Keoghan's fame in his native Ireland. Unfortunately for Keoghan, his character became well-known for one particularly horrific action: In Season 4, Episode 1, Wayne killed a cat ... with a machine gun. After that, fans began to refer to the character as "the cat killer."

In 2016, Keoghan spoke to the Irish Mirror about his inability to escape his "cat killer" moniker. The publication noted that the actor's cat-killing scene "proved to be one of the most controversial moments in the history of the hit show, making Keoghan an instant celebrity." The actor joked, "I'll never get away from that cat. I was in the MetLife stadium in New Jersey about two years ago. I think there was about 90,000 people there and someone pulled me [aside] and said 'You're the guy that shot the cat'."

The actor impressed critics with his blockbuster debut

In 2017, 25-year-old Barry Keoghan launched his Hollywood film career with back-to-back acclaimed performances in "Dunkirk" and "The Killing of a Sacred Deer." 

In the former, he played an ill-fated civilian sailor named George Mills. A teenage deckhand, George sails aboard the Moonstone — a privately-owned fishing boat headed toward Dunkirk. The crew of the boat includes Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance), his son Peter (Tom Glynn-Carney), and George, who rescue a traumatized soldier (Cillian Murphy) from the brutal sea. Realizing the ship's war zone destination, the soldier panics and blinds George in a skirmish. George only appears in a handful of scenes, yet Keoghan shines in a heartbreakingly sweet, three-dimensional portrayal of the character. The ensemble cast of "Dunkirk" is peppered with an impressive, seasoned cast including Kenneth Branagh, Cillian Murphy, and Tom Hardy: In lesser hands, George may have become a flat, forgettable character.

In the latter, he played Martin, a young man who develops an unhealthy relationship with a cardiothoracic surgeon and his family. The film, a tense psychological thriller, gave Keoghan a showy role where he could display significant range.

Critics took notice of the actor's stand-out performance, and a 2017 Variety article cited Keoghan's roles in "Dunkirk" and "Sacred Deer" as impressive, naming him one of ten up-and-coming "actors to watch." Similarly, in an interview with Keoghan after the release of both films, The Hollywood Reporter called the actor "Hollywood's Next Big Thing." Keoghan told the publication that he draws on his tough childhood experiences to inform each character he plays. "I try to just be there and be present and use that history that I have. I have a different story to tell," he said.

He and Farrell first co-starred in Deer

Although "Dunkirk" earned him more eyeballs, Keoghan's turn as Martin Lang, the creepy teenager who makes a sudden appearance in the lives of Dr. Steven (Farrell) and Anna Murphy (Nicole Kidman) in the Yorgos Lanthimos-helmed "The Killing of a Sacred Deer" feels in may ways like his equivalent of Edward Norton's "Primal Fear" performance. All shy and innocent on the outside, both performances allowed fresh-faced, talented actors to create truly unsettling characters. 

Keoghan's Martin is a troubled 16-year-old who reaches out to Dr. Murphy to ostensibly gain closure in his father's death. The boy begins to enact a twisted version of justice on the entire Murphy family — Martin's father died on Dr. Murphy's operating table and the kid blames the doctor. The small film earned a respectable $7 million at the box office.

In a 2017 interview with W Magazine, Keoghan said the film's atmosphere "was a very fun, family set. Colin and Nicole were like a mother and father. It was very easy-going." 

After the two Irish actors reunited onscreen in "The Banshees of Inisherin," Keoghan spoke to Letterboxd about their relationship. He said he considers Farrell a mentor for his personal life as well as his professional life. According to People, the two friends even lived together while on location filming "Banshees."

He didn't don a Russian accent for Chernobyl

On the Emmy award-winning HBO miniseries "Chernobyl," Barry Keoghan played Pavel, a young, conscripted Soviet soldier sent to clean up the mess left by the tragic nuclear meltdown. 

As part of the decontamination unit known as "The Liquidators," the horrors Pavel witnesses take a deep toll. Keoghan plays Pavel's meltdown and dark dehumanization with an authenticity that makes the character's dark transformation ooze with heart-wrenching believability. The show provided a stark look at humanity (and the lack thereof) in the face of manmade disaster. "Chernobyl" was widely praised by critics and audiences alike, and received an impressive score on Rotten Tomatoes.

Keoghan's performance in "Chernobyl" tugged at heart strings as he subtly displayed the bleakness of his character's predicament, often primarily through facial expressions. However, one thing missing from the actor's role — and from the rest of the stellar ensemble cast's performances — was a Russian or Ukrainian accent. But this was no mistake on Keoghan's part. The series creator, Craig Mazin discussed this purposeful omission in the online special "The Making of Chernobyl," arguing that even actors who have mastered foreign accents sound more authentic when speaking with their natural dialect. He said issues arise when "people start acting the accent."

His American Animals role was based on a real person

In the 2018 heist drama "American Animals," Keoghan was cast as Spencer Reinhard, an American college student longing for excitement. 

Together with his friend Warren (played by Evan Peters), Spencer plans to steal a rare book collection from the Transylvania University library located in Lexington, Kentucky (sadly, no vampires make an appearance here). Spencer acts as ringleader of some college students-turned-thieves when he and Warren recruit their friends Eric (Jared Abrahamson) and Chas (Blake Jenner) to help with their crazy scheme. International travel, crazy disguises, references to "Reservoir Dogs," and intriguing hijinks ensue before the FBI catches up with the group. Keoghan portrays Spencer as an affable, quiet art student who doesn't truly comprehend what he's doing — his crazy plans quickly move beyond his control.

The plot of "American Animals" feels compelling and fast-paced, and the bizarre story that it highlights is completely true. In fact, the real life counterparts of the heist participants appear in the film. Keoghan and the real Spencer Reinhard spoke to IndieWire about the cautionary aspects of the movie. "It's not 'Oceans 11,'" Keoghan reflected, "It's more like 'Dog Day Afternoon.'"

Keoghan has a passion for pugilism

In 2017, Barry Keoghan decided to test his pugilistic skills in the boxing ring. In a taped interview with Off the Ball, Keoghan described his love of the sport and how he began training and sparring when he was still in high school.

The actor's first scheduled bout, however, came on the heels of his star-minting work in "Dunkirk" and "The Killing of a Sacred Deer." According to Irish Boxing, Keoghan registered to participate in the 2017 Celtic Box Cup — a co-ed international boxing tournament in Dungarvan, Waterford, Ireland.

In 2020, the actor drew on his own boxing experiences to portray Dymphna, a former boxer turned drug dealer, in the Irish crime drama "Calm with Horses." Keoghan told The Face that part of his interest in the film stemmed from his frustration with Hollywood boxing movies, and said, "They [the films] get the boxing right, but they don't get the person." 

In a 2022 interview on Ryan Tubridy's RTÉ Radio One, Keoghan announced plans to open an inner city youth boxing center with childhood friend and Olympic gold medalist Kellie Harrington. "Me and Kellie are looking to get something going in the inner city, for the younger kids, with a bit of boxing and drama, a youth project of some sort" he said, "I'd like to say it's part of the Irish thing, looking after one another, and it does come from a [humble place of gratitude]."

"I'm good, man, I'm really good. I'm not one of these actor-boxers who hit the pads and look great. I'm there to compete," he told The New York Times in 2022. "The thing with boxing is, it's the only time I feel really present. You can do meditation — which I don't — but people go on about feeling in the moment, and for me, that's when I'm boxing. You're totally immersed in this state that I can't describe. I get that with acting as well."

He has embraced fatherhood

Keoghan became a first-time father in August 2022, and he has embraced the role of dad. The actor and his girlfriend, Scottish orthodontist Alyson Sandro, welcomed their son Brando (named after Marlon Brando) and Keoghan chatted with PopSugar about fatherhood.

"I just want to go upstairs and hug him now," the beaming father said. He's taken to Instagram to document his son's new life, too, and included a Gaelic caption on one photo of Brando, calling him "a young CúChulainn" after an Ulster warrior in Irish mythology.

Keoghan has taken to family life well, and in his interview with British GQ, he reflected on what home means to him. The actor explained that his home is wherever Sandro and Brando are present. When Keoghan attended the 2023 Golden Globes award ceremony, Sandro took to Instagram to express her confidence in her boyfriend's talent. According to a screenshot in the Irish Sun, Sandro (whose Instagram account is private), posted the message, "Good luck you have definitely got this in the bag. Lots of Love, me & B xxx." Keoghan gushed in his response to his girlfriend, and wrote, "I have already WON with you."

Keoghan almost played The Riddler

When Barry Keoghan took on the cryptic role of "Unseen Arkham Prisoner" in "The Batman," his mannerisms and dialogue foreshadowed a sequel to the blockbuster film, and a potentially large role as Batman's archnemesis. All signs pointed toward Keoghan as the Joker, a character portrayed memorably by many before him — among them Heath Ledger in "The Dark Knight Rises," Caesar Romero in the "Batman" TV series, Jack Nicholson in Tim Burton's "Batman" movie and Joaquin Phoenix's Academy Award winning portrayal in "Joker." 

Although Keoghan's future in the potential new Batman franchise remains unclear, the actor told MovieWeb, "Obviously I'd love another crack. I've got a ton of back work done on him. If an opportunity does arise but, you know, they make the call, and I've got to respect that."

However, when Keoghan first expressed interest in Matt Reeves' dark vision of the Batman, he didn't plan on playing the Joker. According to Entertainment Weekly, the actor initially sent in an audition tape for the part of the Riddler (which eventually went to Paul Dano). British GQ posted his impressive audition video on Twitter. Keoghan told Entertainment Weekly that when his agent informed him he would play the Joker, he couldn't publicly share the news.

His Banshees role was written for him

In Martin McDonagh's satirical Irish drama "The Banshees of Inisherin," Keoghan plays Dominic — the abused son of the village's police officer, Peadar Kearney (Gary Lydon). Dominic is seen as Inisherin's "simpleton," and could have easily come across as a "village idiot" cliche. Keoghan portrays him with a sweet childlike innocence, however, infused with a disarming wisdom that offers some profound truths to Pádraic Súilleabháin (Farrell). To some degree, his character represents all that can be good and bad about this sleepy fishing village — and how quickly everything can go wrong.

In an interview with District Magazine, the actor broke down the role. "You're trying to hold onto that rawness, that untrained thing you had," he said of the character's naievete. "Which is the beauty and what people want to see, that unpredictability." 

As Keoghan told the Los Angeles Times, McDonagh was on his dream list of directors to work with, and he put McDonagh's photo on his phone to manifest that desire. 

"I looked at it every day," he said. "I remember one of my friends was like, 'Why do you have a picture of Sting on your phone?' I was like, 'That's not Sting, that's Martin McDonagh!'. Ultimately, the actor's close friend Farrell told him about McDonagh's script for "Banshees," and revealed that the filmmaker had written the role of Dominic with Keoghan specifically in mind. The actor went on to explain that he said "yes" without hesitation ... and without reading the script.