A wide-eyed Faith Kearney stares in disbelief at the handwritten message Barry Keoghan has just scribbled in the new notebook she has tightly clutched in her little hands. She proudly opens it out to where Keoghan has written: ‘To Faith, it’s faith that we met. I hope you enjoy the movie. Big love, B’.
Faith had me going round looking for notebooks for the autograph for Barry,” says her smiling mum Anita, who is sitting next to Faith’s sister Miya, a huge Keoghan fan too. “She’s totally star-struck. She’s in shock — and I never saw her so quiet.”
Whoever said never meet your heroes, never met Barry Keoghan.
Keoghan may be a Marvel superhero — and, indeed, a DC villain — with the likes of Angelina Jolie, Salma Hayek and Colin Farrell gushing about him, but here at Barretstown children’s camp, he’s making all his young fans feel like they’re the only superheroes in the world. Keoghan calls the kids here at the camp for children with serious illness the real heroes — and he’s right.
Faith (nine) was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes on her Communion day last September. Since then, every day, starting at 7.30am, she endures a punishing regime of glucose and carbohydrate checks every two to three hours and right through the night, as well as twice daily insulin injections and regular visits to Children’s Health Ireland at Temple Street. But for the next few days here, for Faith and all the campers, memories of hospital fade like a distant dream.
Inside the hallway of the auditorium — where campers will watch him star in Marvel movie Eternals this afternoon — Keoghan’s on the red carpet waiting for his VIP guests. They arrive at the doors — many, like Faith, frozen with the excitement — and peep in, before being shunted inside by equally eager parents.
Keoghan makes them feel right at home, chatting and joking and dropping down on to his hunkers. He asks for their names and their mammies’ names too — and he remembers them. If he wasn’t one of Ireland’s brightest and most talented actors, the charming Keoghan would make one hell of a maître d’.
The children’s shyness melts away and they beam in their photos with the film star.
Earlier, arriving at Barretstown, Keoghan (29) was also left awestruck. Growing up in Dublin’s Summerhill, one of his heroes was Paul Newman. It was the American actor who opened the camp for sick children and their families here in Kildare in 1994, as part of his SeriousFun Children’s Network. Today, Keoghan didn’t expect charity CEO Dee Ahearn to hand him a framed handwritten letter from Paul Newman’s daughter Clea, thanking him for continuing her father’s legacy.
On his tour of the camp, an impressed Keoghan pulled out his phone to make a short clip of Barretstown to send to his girlfriend Alyson Sandro, who’s back home in London working and minding their dog Koda, a Czech shepherd.
He’s visiting to cut the ribbon on the new Aladina Studios. Children using the high-tech studios learn their way around the control room, green screens, props room and professional lighting and sound systems. Visiting campers can broadcast their shows from here, while children too sick to travel can tune into the virtual camp — Barretstown Live.
Later, Keoghan talks passionately about how he wants to give back and help children find and follow their spark — just like he did.
“In school at O’Connell’s [O’Connell School, North Richmond Street in Dublin] I got the whiff of the spark, getting the chance to get on stage and having people laughing with me, rather than me just messing about in class,” he remembers.
“In first year, I did a play, My Babysitter Is An Alien. That was the first time I ever acted and I just loved the feeling of it. I was 12 or 13 and O’ Connell’s has a mad big stage so the production used to be massive, with lights and sound.
In the play, the babysitter is minding three young brothers and we’re on the couch giving him grief and there’s improv in there. The lights came up and everyone was laughing and I loved it. I had that feeling of ‘this is really good — I like this’.”
“I found it hard to concentrate in school but a lot of teachers were good to me. Then when I misbehaved — not doing homework and skipping class — they wouldn’t let me do the plays.”
Keoghan discovered his passion for acting after a very difficult period in his young life. In the early 1990s, heroin ravaged inner-city Dublin. “It was a new thing and people didn’t know the effects,” he has said.
He told Ryan Tubridy of his late mother: “The drugs hit the area and it affected all the families and she was one of them that got caught.”
Between the ages of five and 12, Keoghan and his brother, Eric, were moved between 13 foster homes. Their mother died of a heroin overdose, aged 31, when Keoghan was just 12. The brothers went to live with their grandmother, Nanny Patricia, a mother of 10; his aunty Lorraine, and their older sister, Gemma, in Summerhill.
“The textbook version with that is you go down the wrong road because you’re damaged or whatever but that’s not the case,” says Keoghan, who says a prayer to his mother before every audition. “I had people thinking that of me. People always judge people — about the area they come from, or their accent or other stuff but nobody knows what lies beneath all that.
“I had a mission there of trying to prove something — I don’t know if I was trying to prove it to myself, maybe? I still don’t know the answer. I was trying to break that stereotype.”
“I used to think, ‘Wouldn’t it be amazing if I ended it in Hollywood, given everything that’s been dealt?’. There was a fight and the commitment to try prove people wrong.”
“Not that anyone was nasty to me, but I had a good perspective. I thought, given where I came from, it’s not normal to break into Hollywood but wouldn’t that be good if I tried? I want kids to think that. It’s looked at like being away with the fairies.
“That can be dampened by people saying, ‘Yeah, right, you’re going to be an actor…’
“There’s a lot of stick and craic in Ireland — people can be quick to take you down, and sometimes it’s a bit of fun and can keep you humble, but it can damage you and knock your confidence. Luckily, I’d good mates around me and a good family who’re very supportive.”
Keoghan got his film education sneaking into films with pals at Cineworld on Parnell Street, Dublin — and getting barred.
Recently, when he hit the red carpet at this same Cineworld for the world premiere of Eternals — in which he plays Druig opposite the likes of Angelina Jolie, Salma Hayek and Kit Harington — with his girlfriend and two nieces, he joked how they mightn’t let him in.
Keoghan’s first foray into screen acting came after he spotted an ad in a Sheriff Street shop window. He haunted director Mark O’Connor with phone calls and was eventually cast in Between The Canals. An infamous role as cat killer Wayne in Love/Hate followed, and he joined The Factory acting school, a hotbed of young Irish acting talent. “I remember not even having €2.20 to get the bus to The Factory,” he laughs. “You have to really believe that you will do it.”
The roles kept coming but his star status was sealed with his studied, disturbing turn as a psychopathic American teen in critically acclaimed The Killing Of A Sacred Deer, with Nicole Kidman and Colin Farrell — now a great friend and mentor — followed by parts in Christopher Nolan’s box-office smash Dunkirk; American Animals and Black ’47.
These days, despite having Angelina and Colin on speed-dial — and with rumours swirling he’s a hot contender to take the baton from Daniel Craig as the next James Bond, plus predictions he’s in line to play The Joker after his latest cameo in The Batman — there’s still not a sniff of an ego about Keoghan.
“I’ve good people around me, so I don’t fall into that, but the ego thing is more me trying to prove to myself I can notch up another one. I always try to think bigger. Sat next to a big star, I do get pinch-me moments. Growing up watching them, you’re like, ‘Oh my god’ but then you see all the people you work with, who are so professional, and they become like family and then that star thing just goes away — that’s only from a distance. When you know them, they’re gorgeous human beings who have feelings and jobs to do, and a lot of respect comes in then.
“I’ll always be a fanboy — meeting The Rock, talking or texting him, I’m still like, ‘What the hell is going on?’ But seeing their drive, they raise the bar and make you want to reach that level.”
He prods his own motivations and attempts to pick them apart with the rigour, precision and curiosity he brings to all his roles.
“I love it and enjoy it but I don’t know… not that I get imposter syndrome or anything. There’s always something else. I keep asking myself: what is it I’m actually chasing? Because I’ve a comfy life and a lot of good people around me, but what is it I’m trying to feckin’ do; what is it I’m chasing?
“You do all these films and you get to express, and you can release some sort of pain and sometimes not pain, it’s just fun — the question is: what is it am I looking for?
“It’s very addictive. On sets, you make yourself vulnerable, and I try to let all my feelings flood out, and when you do that you’re opening up and there’s a lot of trust. Whoever you work with becomes like a little family and, maybe, that’s one thing I’m chasing too.
“There’s the escape, too. There’s a lot to it…’ he trails off. “As I’m getting older, I’m figuring out. It’s exciting. It keeps me going. But if you feel, you know, it all — bang, that’s me, forget it. I always want to be at the stage where I can better myself. I love that challenge.”
Keoghan often talks about his ‘famous list’, where he notes down names of directors and actors he’d like to work with and his wishes keep coming true. “After I watched The Basketball Diaries, I started taking down notes and I got a moleskine book just like Leonardo DiCaprio, a black and white one, and I carried it around and started writing down things I wanted to do and then I started ticking them off. Then I thought, ‘There’s something going on here’. Then the law of attraction came into my world. People say, if you want success, but I wasn’t chasing any of that. I was chasing contentedness and trying to work with good film-makers. I wasn’t chasing money.
“We all daydream and imagine working here or going there, and I always did that in a way. But following it and doing it, it’s quite insane to see it all coming true.
“The ultimate thing on my list is to have a respectable career and be recognised as a good person who did the unachievable. I’m not saying fame is the thing of success. Success could be a triathlon or climbing a mountain. Fame is not my version of success. For me, it’s being very content and happy and making sure everyone around me is too.”
Keoghan’s brother Eric builds sets and stages and the pair often work on the same films together. “Ah, we’re very close, yeah I see him, but he’s got the sets built and is moving on by the time I arrive to shoot — he was on The Green Knight.”
Keoghan always goes out of his way to champion their part of Dublin. “Where I’m from, there’s so much talent — look at Kellie Harrington.”
What’s in the air, I wonder? “We call it the corporation juice,” laughs Keoghan, who was also an amateur boxer.
Between film shoots and festivals, he visits Nanny Patricia as much as he can and grins proudly talking about his grandmother’s antics down at The Bridge Tavern. “She’d 10 kids, so she is all about enjoying her life with her friends now, having a few drinks. She loves a dance and doing the bingo. All the lads in The Bridge do be texting me, saying, ‘Your nanny is up again on the dancefloor’. She does Wednesday, and Thursday’s the big one, maybe Friday. Sure, she’s out every night. The lads are gas — they keep me in line.”
It’s a short visit this time round but he’s already making plans to get back to Barretstown with his dentist girlfriend Alyson, whose dad is from Cavan.
“Ah, she’s great, I wish she was here. She’s gorgeous — she’s the love of my life, I tell you. She couldn’t come this time as she’s working but I’m dying to bring her back. We spent a good bit of time in the West of Ireland in summer. She got on deadly with my nanny. The Bridge was an experience for her — all the lads. It was brilliant.”
Keoghan insists he’s not one for the pints himself right now. “I’m keeping it good and prepping for a role, so I’m staying in shape.”
For James Bond, maybe? “Bond — I wish. We’ll see what happens with the Bond thing — to follow Daniel Craig would be cool, but really hard. I really want to make this Billy The Kid film — I’ve four scripts and drafts. It’s following a Billy we haven’t seen, not just the legend of the Kid but we see the real Kid.”
At Barretstown, he has big plans for the campers, including coming back to give acting lessons. “I’m thinking of creating a film festival here for the kids, with short films, and get professionals in and a premiere night. I’ve lots of ideas — it’d be amazing.
“If a kid has an ambition to try recording or radio or acting, let that blossom and see where it goes. It could go into directing or something creative. We have the best playwrights, artists, poets in the world, so bring that on. Don’t dampen it or put it out, because they could be the next Saoirse Ronan or Kellie Harrington.”
Or the next Barry Keoghan?
“Ah jaysus, we don’t need another one of them,” he laughs.
In the days after our interview, a deleted scene from The Batman, showing Keoghan as a bloodied Joker confronting Robert Pattinson’s Batman in Arkham Asylum, was released online. Fans couldn’t get enough of his deranged interpretation.
But, maybe, he has another role in mind right now.
At Barretstown, Keoghan was such a natural with the campers and raved so much about his nieces and nephew, it begged the question: Is he getting a wee bit broody himself? “Ah, no,” he said, with a sheepish smile, “No…”
However, in late March, Keoghan posted a mysterious picture on Instagram of himself and Alyson hugging, surrounded by pink and white balloons, at what appeared to be a gender-reveal party. Perhaps Keoghan may be preparing for his most important role to date.
https://www.independent.ie/life/barry-keoghan-fame-is-not-my-version-of-success-for-me-its-being-happy-and-making-sure-everyone-around-me-is-too-41545909.html Barry Keoghan: ‘Fame is not my version of success. For me it’s being happy and making sure everyone around me is too’