How Barry Keoghan manifested a role in ‘Banshees of Inisherin’

In four photo panels, Barry Keoghan covers parts of his face with his hands, until the final one in which he smiles.
Barry Keoghan didn’t want his abused and lovelorn character in “The Banshees of Inisherin” to feel too tragic. He calls Dominic “a pure, innocent, harmless wee lad.”
(Charlie Gates / For The Times)

Before he’d ever even met writer and director Martin McDonagh, Barry Keoghan had a photo of him as the background image on his phone.

“I was like, ‘Put the picture on your phone and manifest it,’” Keoghan recalls, speaking at the Ham Yard Hotel in London. “I looked at it every day. 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!’”

Keoghan’s digital vision board worked. In March of 2020, the Irish actor got a call from his friend Colin Farrell, who told him McDonagh had written a new script for a film called “The Banshees of Inisherin,” and he had a part for Keoghan.


“I didn’t take it in, obviously, but I didn’t know what was actually happening,” Keoghan says. “I was like, ‘Oh, yeah, yeah, sure.’ And then Martin emailed me. He said something like, ‘I’ve written a part for you in my new movie and I’d love to meet you and talk to you about it.’ I said yes right away — I didn’t even read the script. He’s one of the best filmmakers out there, and he’s Irish as well. This movie is about home, so to be part of that and to be in that McDonagh squad was nice.”

The film, set on a fictional Irish island in 1923 at the end of the Irish Civil War, centers on two best friends, Pádraic (Farrell) and Colm (Brendan Gleeson), whose friendship begins to dissolve in an increasingly violent way. Keoghan plays Dominic Kearney, a troubled, sometimes hapless young man who tries to be a supportive pal to Pádraic. Dominic grapples with an abusive father and unrequited love for Pádraic’s sister, Siobhán (Kerry Condon), but Keoghan didn’t want the character, whom he describes as “a pure, innocent, harmless wee lad,” to feel overly tragic.

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“It was my job to bring an honesty to him and not make him feel like we’ve seen him before,” Keoghan says. “I try to do that [in] every role, but I didn’t really base him on anyone. I wanted to really make him new and fresh. Because this [film] is something that we’ve never seen before. I think the closest thing to it would be, as an Irish movie, the likes of ‘The Field.’ We’ve not seen an Irish film like this before. I really did see it as a once-in-life experience that is not going to happen again.”

The film’s production was delayed due to the pandemic, so Keoghan had a lot of time to sit with Dominic before going to shoot on location on Inishmore and Achill Island last fall. Because he was ill, Keoghan missed the rehearsal process, which ended up being a benefit to his performance. He was able to embrace spontaneity on set and try different versions of the character. Dominic’s physicality, which involved a lot of nervous twitching, was something Keoghan developed ahead of shooting.

Two men sit on a stone wall overlooking the sea in a scene from "The Banshees of Inisherin."
Barry Keoghan, right, stars with Colin Farrell in “The Banshees of Inisherin.”
(Jonathan Hession / Searchlight Pictures)

“He doesn’t have it in the script to do that, so it’s on you to bring something forward,” Keoghan says. “Martin loved it. The constant moving and shifting — he loved it. And when your director loves something, it gives you the confidence to try more stuff. I wanted to feel him [Dominic] in my body. And the costume [helped], with the sweaters and the stick with the hook. It was just a joy.”


Dominic is the source of a lot of the film’s more humorous moments, but Keoghan and McDonagh also wanted him to feel grounded. He couldn’t just be a comedic foil for the leads. It often took several takes to get that tone right.

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“We had a scale of ‘How big do I go? Do I go one to 10?’” Keoghan says. “I’d say five and he’d say yeah — that was my thing with him to understand what he wanted. Because we wanted to humanize Dominic. We didn’t want to make him just for laughs. He has a story, and so it’s a fine line of balancing that. We had a lot of little ways to get there. I never reached a 10. Martin wanted to keep him real. Because it is tragic what happens to the poor boy.”

Although Keoghan has had a lot of memorable roles, including in such films as “The Killing of a Sacred Deer,” “Calm With Horses” and “Eternals,” Dominic lingered with him long after production had wrapped. The actor, who is currently shooting “Saltburn” with Emerald Fennell, wants to keep working with filmmakers such as McDonagh who push him, even if it’s uncomfortable. He’s never fully satisfied after a project, but that’s OK because it leaves room to continue to elevate his craft.

“Some [characters like Dominic] take you to places that are out of your comfort zone, and you may not like it,” Keoghan says. “What I tried to aim for is to go through that feeling or that behavior, and that behavior will create that feeling. Sometimes it’s not the nicest thing to go back to some things, but that’s part of it. You start finding yourself, and you leave a bit of yourself with the character, but a little bit of the character comes with you.”