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From tragic childhood to Hollywood star, Barry Keoghan lands second Golden Globe nomination

If award ceremonies are any benchmark for success, Irish actor Barry Keoghan was noticed big time in 2021 after receiving Oscar and Golden Globe nominations for his supporting role in the quirky The Banshees of Inisherin.

He was already highly regarded in his home country – given the nickname “Hollywood” every time he walked into his local pub – after roles in a string of acclaimed films including The Killing of a Sacred Deer (with Nicole Kidman), Dunkirk, The Green Knight, The Batman (he plays the Joker) and is a member of the Marvel universe with Eternals.

“People – directors, other actors, movie audiences, awards voters – love him,” writes Esquire, who put the 31-year-old on the cover of its October issue before the release of his saucy, twisted lead role in Saltburn.

“He’s already considered one of the best actors of his generation. But not much about his past would make you say, “Movie star.”

Nah, lads … he had to create that all by himself, says the US men’s magazine, spending seven years in foster care after his mother died of a heroin overdose when he was just a 12-year-old boy.

In Saltburn, the latest film from writer-director Emerald Fennell (Promising Young Woman), Keoghan appears “in every frame and gives a performance that will go down in movie history as the one that made Barry Keoghan a star”.

So much so, the first of the big Hollywood award ceremonies of the 2023-24 season has tapped him for his role.

The Golden Globes (January 7) have nominated him in the best actor category where he is up against some of the biggest A-listers in the business.

Doing it tough of the streets of Dublin and learning the art of acting by method rather than an elite drama school won’t unnerve Keoghan as he faces off with Bradley Cooper (Maestro), Leonardo DiCaprio (Killers of the Flower Moon) and Cillian Murphy (Oppenheimer).

“I don’t wanna have the same projected voice like everybody else walking in, or to sit up straight and deliver my line a certain way, with a certain articulation and whatever,” he said.

“I like that I’m sorta different. I like that I mumble.”

Keoghan tells Vogue is innocent and sweet in the beginning, and then ‘we know what happens’. Photo: Prime Video

Keoghan says that when he was reading the script for the film, he said it was a “realisation of, I’ve probably signed on to one of the best things I’ve ever signed on to”.

“It was jaw-dropping. It was beautiful.

“There’s so much stuff there that I had to read over again. I was just like, ‘This is a proper showcase for an actor’,” he tells Vogue in its December issue.

Set in the mid-2000s, Keoghan plays Oxford University scholarship student Oliver Quick who struggles to find his place on the elite campus and within the college he’s placed in.

He finds himself drawn into the world of the charming and aristocratic Felix Catton (Australia’s Jacob Elordi), who invites him to Saltburn, his eccentric family’s sprawling estate, for the summer break.

The supporting cast includes Rosamund Pike, Richard E Grant, Alison Oliver, Archie Madekwe and Carey Mulligan.

He’s naked quite a bit in this film, including in explicit scenes that push the audience into that extreme uncomfortable or awkward space, such as the naked grave scene, slurping Catton’s mirky bath water and dancing full frontal naked for three minutes around the furniture in the empty mansion at the end of the film.

“It gets under your skin,” Fennell told Variety at the film’s Los Angeles premiere on November 20.

“We just want to make something that makes people feel something. I want to make stuff that you go and sit in a dark room full of strangers and you don’t know what you’re going to feel and you don’t know where you’re going to be probed.

“Everyone has a different take on it.

“Some people are screaming, some people are squealing … some people are turned on, some people are freaked out and some are furious. Some people don’t really care.

“What you want is for people to spill out into the street and want to go and have a drink and talk about it.”

Indeed they are, especially during the frenzied three-month awards season where membership voting, promotion and parties take over Tinseltown up until the Oscars on March 10.

Keoghan’s character joins the aristocrats at Saltburn. Photo: Prime Video

When Keoghan’s career took off, people were keen to find out more about the Irish lad who has also worked with Tom Hardy, Angelina Jolie, Cillian Murphy and Harry Styles.

A 2018 interview on Irish RTE chat show, The Late Late Show, shed more light on Keoghan’s early years in the Dublin’s inner-city suburb of Summerhill during an era of a heroin epidemic.

He lived in 13 different foster homes growing up. His mother struggled with addiction issues and he and his brother Eric were taken into care before being raised by their grandmother and aunt.

“13 homes, you know? If that was on paper you’d kinda go ‘he’s destined to mess up’.

“It was a new thing and people didn’t know the effects,” he said, revealing his mum had passed away.

“The drugs hit the area, and it affected all the families and she was one of them that got caught,” he said.

“I was living with my nanny at that stage [when his mother died] … I was 12. [My mother] was very young. She was 31.

“Every family was good to us.

“As a kid, you don’t know what’s happening. You get attached and then boom, you move [somewhere else].

“It’s a weird one. It’s only when you get older, you can look back and get a bit of perspective on it.

“I have great memories of her and I’m very proud of her.”

His older sister Gemma also gave up work to help look after him and his brother, Eric. She shared one bedroom with her grandmother and aunt, while Barry and Eric had the other.

 

Keoghan started acting in 2011 after answering an ad for a film called Between the Canals – he pestered the producers for more than a year – and then studied acting at The Factory before landing a role in Fair City at 18, according to Dublin Live.

He started making headlines in Ireland when he played the “heartless cat killer” in the RTE drama Love/Hate and by 2017 had scored roles in mainstream US movies including Dunkirk after keeping a list of directors he’d like to work with.

Knowing The Batman needed a Joker, he sent in an audition tape spending “$10 on a cane and a hat at a costume shop”, according to Esquire, and tweeted to director Stan Lee for a role in a Marvel movie (“@TheRealStanLee Stan Lee, Please make me a SuperHero).

According to IMDb, he’s got a TV series, Masters of the Air in post-production, including another three films and two in post-production.

His ambition is to bring home to Ireland at least three Oscars.

In typical Irish fashion, it’s his friends who keep him grounded, and when he’s on home soil, at The Bridge Tavern, he’ll pop in for a drink.

“[It’s] right where I live and it’s been brilliant to us over the years. My nanny walks in and gets her seat no matter who’s sitting there,” he tells Dublin Live.

“All I get is, ‘Alright Hollywood, get us a drink there, would ye?’ That’s all I’m referred to as ‘Hollywood’. I’ve no first name.

“But it’s great to have that sense of humility and being brought back down if you think you’re any way with the stars.”

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