How ‘The Banshees of Inisherin’ actor made it from a childhood in 13 foster homes to an Oscar-nominated movie star

January 26, 2023, 8:47 PM UTC
Barry Keoghan
Nominated for an Oscar, Barry Keoghan is only 30. He's had a long journey to success.
Samir Hussein—Getty Images

There’s a slim chance you’ve seen Barry Keoghan’s performance in The Banshees of Inisherin with dry eyes. Managing to break a heart in just under a minute, Keoghan paints his character Dominic with a vulnerability and rawness so pure that it rivals the backdrop of clear Irish waters and swaths of green cliffs. 

His performance earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor, alongside costar Brendan Gleeson. The critically acclaimed movie, which depicts a dissolving friendship between Gleeson’s and Colin Farrell’s characters in a picturesque but slow, coastal Ireland town, picked up nine Oscar nominations this week.

At age 30, this is Koeghan’s first Oscar nod. With movies like Dunkirk and the 2022 rendition of The Batman on his résumé, the actor has been wishing, fighting, and working for this moment since the start of his career. The breakout star’s journey was far from traditional or simple. It’s marked by perseverance, a quality he picked up in childhood and took with him as he rose to stardom.

Growing up with an absentee father and a mother struggling with a heroin addiction, Keoghan was placed in 13 different foster homes in Dublin until he finally ended up living with his grandmother at age 10. His mother passed away a few years later.

“As a kid you don’t know what’s happening,” Keoghan said on The Late Late Show back in 2018, speaking of how he would get attached to homes before having to move with his brother to a new one. 

While living with his grandma, who he refers to as “nanny,” Keoghan began watching 20th-century actors and acting in subtle ways: through impressions, prank calls, and trying out characters when entering stores, according to a profile in British GQ. Trying to make it as an actor wasn’t necessarily considered an option where Keoghan was from, but after his mother died, he was ready to work for the impossible. “What more can I lose?” he told himself, per GQ. “The only way is forward.”

‘If you want something, just fight for it’

Work forward is what Keoghan did. While in school, he answered an open call for Between the Canals, a 2011 film that ended up being his first. Director Mark O’Connor told GQ that Keoghan rang him “every few weeks until I eventually cast him.”

Not being handed fame like other A-listers born into the Hollywood business or into well-off households gave Keoghan a fight-for-what-you-want mentality. “If you want something, just fight for it,” Keoghan once told Collider. “I’m not a believer in sitting and expecting and waiting for stuff to happen for me.”

With that role under his belt, Keoghan’s ambition and hunger led to a few other castings until his “break” in the 2014 film ’71, he told Backstage. Meanwhile, he was honing his acting craft at an acting school in Dublin known as The Factory. At one point, he tweeted at famed comic book writer Stan Lee: “Please Make me a SuperHero :).” He soon became one, picking up roles as a superhero in The Eternals and as a villain in The Batman.

He sent in an unsolicited audition for the latter as the Riddler, receiving an offer to play the Joker instead. A deleted scene featuring Keoghan as the Joker garnered 4 million views—likely rewarding for the actor, who was initially intimidated by reprising the iconic character.

“If I want something, I’m going to show you my version,” he told Collider. “I can’t guarantee I’ll get the part or promise I’ll get the part, but I can promise you that you’re going to see something that you’ve never seen.”

Manifesting Banshees

Keoghan has always been motivated more by growth than by fame. “It’s about challenging myself, breaking stigmas and stereotypes, and seeing how far I can push myself with what I play,” he said to Deadline

Unafraid to dream or work for the dream, he developed a wish list of 35 to 40 directors he wants to work with. The Banshees of Inisherin director Martin McDonagh just so happened to be on it. Call it the power of manifestation: As Keoghan explained to Vanity Fair, he received an email from McDonagh about a part for him in the film.

Much like any fan, he then made McDonagh the background on his phone. “I’m a big believer in being spiritual and the laws of attraction—and if you visualize it,” he said. “It’s visualizing it to get the opportunities.” 

But he notes that it’s not just about believing. “You don’t just put it out there and expect it. You put it out there, and you work hard for it,” he told Collider.

Clearly there’s something to that mentality, considering it has landed Keoghan a spot at the Oscars in a couple months. And given what we know about Keoghan, there’s no doubt he’ll keep working for more.

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