‘The Killing of A Sacred Deer’ interview with Barry Keoghan

by Bonnie Laufer Krebs

There’s a new kid in town making a name for himself on the big screen. Barry Keoghan is a force to be reckoned with and someone we’re going to be seeing a lot of for many years to come.

The 25-year old Irish actor stars in The Killing of a Sacred Deer which opens in theatres today.  The film also stars Colin Farrell and Nicole Kidman as parents whose family is mysteriously threatened. They are a family of four–a surgeon father and ophthalmologist mother and their two children–who one by one succumb to a strange illness.

The strongest and most haunting performance in the film is hands down newcomer Barry Keoghan as Martin, a mild-mannered teenage boy who turns out not to be so mild-mannered. It’s a disturbing role but Keoghan, who we also saw earlier this year in Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, was up for the challenge.

Keoghan’s Dunkirk role isn’t as prominent as his Sacred Deer performance, but movie goers will remember him because his character drives a strong emotional arc. He plays George, who joins a father and son (Mark Rylance and Tom Glynn-Carney) on a civilian boat from England on a rescue mission to save soldiers during World War II.

Sacred Deer is directed by Yorgos Lanthimos, the man behind The Lobster, which was recently nominated for a Best Original Screenplay Oscar. Sacred Deer makes you feel uncomfortable from the get-go as Keoghan’s Martin begins to infiltrate the family he has chosen to target.

From the very beginning we know there is something a little bit off about Martin. The high-schooler has seemingly cultivated a friendship with Steven, Farrell’s surgeon character, who gives his young charge expensive watches and invites him over for family dinner. But Martin, with his flat stare and penchant for lurking in the hospital car park, not to mention his efforts to set up Steven with his own widowed mother (Alicia Silverstone), is unnerving, and Steven begins to distance himself. Here, Martin turns downright evil.

His father, he reveals, died on Steven’s operating table–guilt over which still haunts the surgeon, who was struggling with alcoholism at the time. Martin is responsible for the paralysis gradually besetting the family; Steven can halt its progress if he simply picks one member of his family to die before they reach the critical eye-bleeding stage. (The title is a reference to a myth in which the Greek king Agamemnon kills a stag, the sacred animal of the goddess Artemis; Artemis retaliates by forcing Agamemnon to choose between losing a war and sacrificing his own daughter.)

Barry Keoghan is a unique breed in Hollywood. He is humble, self-deprecating and takes his newfound success in stride. Keoghan was born in Summerhill, Ireland and had a tough life as a child. His mother was a heroin user and died of an overdose when he was young. He and his brother were later raised in various foster homes and then by his grandmother from age 12. Keoghan is also an amateur boxer, a sport that taught him to be tough and how to take care of himself. He decided to try his hand at acting in 2011 and started off in Ireland taking small roles in film and TV.

Best known at home for playing a cat killer in television series Love/Hate, Keoghan is no stranger to dark roles, and Hollywood magazine Deadline said he’d tackled his role in The Killing of A Sacred Deer with “a creep factor that sends chills down your spine”.

I had the opportunity to sit down and chat with Barry Keoghan during the Toronto International Film Festival (who I can assure you is an absolute delight in real life) about working on this film, playing such a creepy guy and how he intends to handle his inevitable success as Hollywood’s next big star.

The Killing of A Sacred Deer opens in select Canadian cities today, Friday, November 3: Toronto, Ottawa, Edmonton, Vancouver, Halifax, Winnipeg, Calgary and Victoria.

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