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Interview: Barry Keoghan discusses ‘The Killing of a Sacred Deer’

After acting as one of the emotional catalysts in Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, Barry Keoghan returns this fall with one of the year’s best performances to torment Colin Farrell in Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Killing of a Sacred Deer. Cut Print Film caught up with the rising star at Fantastic Fest to talk about his performance and what it takes to live in Lanthimos’ stilted and horrifying world.

*Best enjoyed reading Keoghan’s lines in the thickest Irish accent you can manage.

Cut Print Film: Let’s get down to brass tacks. Colin Farrell’s mustache from The Lobster or his beard here?
Barry Keoghan: This one. This one. He always changes for Yorgos’ movies.

CPF: He’s still got a bit of that Lobster gut.
BK: It just makes him old and a little more interesting looking.

CPF: Colin said that you had some weird dreams during filming. What were those?
BK: Towards the end, it started getting a little draining. Because the beds and the basement scene were shot in order and the hospital, it really takes a toll on you and the dialogue was heavy. It was dark and heavy and the subject as well. It wasn’t too intense, but at the end, I was a bit drained. But I didn’t have any nightmares. I actually might have had a few bad dreams. I remember in Cincinnati we had those Amber Alerts, so they’d wake me up, the kidnappings and stuff. That was freaky.

CPF: Did you shot all in sequence? I’m wondering how that would affect your performance and process.
BK: We kinda did shoot in sequence which helped a lot. I think Yorgos chooses best to shoot in sequence, so that did help, yeah. And all the hospital scenes were done at once as well.

CPF: So Nolan vs. Yorgos…
BK: Who’d win in a fist fight?

CPF: I will take that quote!
BK: I think I’d have to intervene and *bam bam* two of ‘em.

CPF: I think you could take Nolan but I don’t know about Yorgos.
BK: I’ve been asked this question going from that set, to that set. I remember getting out of the car on the set of Dunkirk and going on to The Killing of a Sacred Deer. And the two of ‘em are very similar because they both create these worlds- Nolan creates them practically and Yorgos creates these weird, weird worlds with this weird tone and language. So yeah, they’re both masters of their worlds and they both don’t say much either. Yorgos’ direction is pretty simple, “A bit more faster, slower, don’t move your head so much.” Then Chris, he doesn’t say much to you either, you know. Two takes at most.

CPF: You talk about Yorgos not ever wanting to talk about character with you which sounds weird. But how was that for you?
BK: It was nice, man.

CPF: You liked that?
BK: Yeah, it was refreshing. I wouldn’t like that for every movie but some movies you do have to know your backstory and a lot of that does help and some actors prefer to walk it over, but this one, it was refreshing in saying this dialogue in this certain tone with no emotion attached. ‘Cause, the writin’ was gorgeous. So everything was there when you were saying it. It was dark enough without attaching emotion to it.

CPF: So what did Yorgos do for you if he wasn’t giving you much more than “Faster, slower?”
BK: He was just keeping an eye on where I was going with it. If I did try, as an actor you do try to put emotion to stuff and he’d say, “Don’t act in” and “Keep it minimal.” Not too much but sometimes to ramp it up a little.

CPF: Because there’s this weird, stilted language that doesn’t work in any other movie. So how was it getting used to that mindset?
BK: That tone. From watching The Lobster and Yorgos never does mention anything about that tone. He just says, “Could you say a bit more with this dialogue?” You just commit to this world he’s created with that tone and from his previous films and so yeah, I went in and acting opposite Colin really helped as well because he was in that tone, so you kinda get into that rhythm then. It was nice. A challenge. But it was nice.

CPF: Was Colin one of your main partners to help you develop your character? Or when did you find your voice here?
BK: Along the way, I was finding it. We didn’t do rehearsals. We just blocked scenes, really. And Yorgos likes mistakes. If you mess up lines, you keep going. He loves that. There was no character research, I’m not like that. Just kinda figuring it out along the way.

CPF: Nicole Kidman’s said she’s enjoyed people coming to her with their own interpretations of the film. Is there anything that’s surprised or changed your view since watching it?
BK: That’s the best thing about this move, is people go away hatin’ it. Just absolutely adoring it. I want to work on these kinds of movies where you don’t walk out satisfied. You walk out challenged and being asked questions and everyone has a completely different interpretation of that movie. That’s good. As for what I found out about myself with people coming up to me, yeah, creepiness. You know, how creepy I was.

CPF: Because I’ve both you and Colin say seeing it on screen was more affecting than the process of it.
BK: Big time. With the music and everything. When I read it, you have that feeling, obviously. When we were filming, it wasn’t that intense, so we didn’t get that whole, “This is gonna be dark” but when we seen it, it was disturbing. Proud as well. Very proud of it.

CPF: So what’s your big takeaway yourself?
BK: That I can go to places so dark. And that’s what I want to do as an actor, go to completely opposite places and play completely different characters.

CPF: Did you see mother! yet? Because that’s getting a lot of similar reactions right now.
BK: [Not yet] but yeah, I heard. They’re the films! I don’t want to be in a show and tell film where it tells you everything. *using an uncanny American accent* “That was nice. That was a good film,” I want to be in movies that challenge you.

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Junior journalism and film student at Baylor University. Formerly rambled at Rope of Silicon, currently a part-time sports wordsmith and full-time cinephile. I sometimes say funny things. ...This was not one of those times

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