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Barry Keoghan Is Ready to Lighten Up

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Barry Keoghan’s sculpted arms tell two wildly opposite stories: One of death, and one of life. A gnarly scar creeps up his right elbow, slightly purple and protruding. He makes no effort to hide it, wearing a tightly-fitted black t-shirt with sleeves that end well above his biceps. The scar is the lingering reminder of a case of necrotizing fasciitis—caused by flesh-eating bacteria—that struck him shortly before shooting his new darkly comedic drama, The Banshees of Inisherin, which opens today. “I was in a lot of pain,” he says over an iced Americano in the swanky lobby restaurant of the Mandarin Oriental, where he is staying for the New York premiere. “It swelled. They have to leave it open to heal. But it’s like ten days in hospital on a drip, and the frightening part was being told, ‘We don’t know where this is going. It’s a life-threatening infection.'” Instead of rehearsing with his co-stars, Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson, Keoghan was left to consider whether he would die or his arm would have to be amputated. When he finally got to the island where filming was taking place, he was still in pain and needed help getting dressed. “I may have been in a daze,” he says.

His left arm has a happier saga. Around his wrist there’s a bracelet made of pink stones, which he says represents “positivity.” He got it when he and his girlfriend Alyson Sandro wandered into a tarot shop in London with their newborn baby named Brando. The reader pulled three cards, one for each member of their family. “My one said ‘content and happiness,'” he says. “Alyson’s said she’s tired after giving birth, basically spot on. And then Brando’s was, he’s mysterious. He’s like the shady part of the moon. I was like, ‘God, Alyson, what have we brought into this world? This mysterious man.’ It kind of suits him though.”

This left/right dichotomy feels apt for a film actor who can be used to absolutely chilling effect, like his creepy stalker in The Killing of a Sacred Deer and the new Joker for the Robert Pattison era, or to portray pure innocence, like the eager volunteer entering a war zone in Dunkirk or, most recently, Banshees, in which he plays Dominic Kearney, a boy whose simpleton mannerisms are mostly played for comedy until the tragedy of his existence reveals itself in full. That dichotomy has made the Dublin native one of the most thrilling and genuinely unsettling presences in modern cinema. His small, piercing blue eyes can convey either menace or childlike recklessness depending on the part he’s playing, and his loose, almost jittery, movements can be used to similar variation.

Things have been hectic for Keoghan lately. Eight weeks ago he was in the middle of shooting Emerald Fennell’s Saltburn, her follow-up to Promising Young Woman, when Brando was born, and the actor got just one day off for the occasion. (Fennell’s drama marks his first-ever leading role, and production couldn’t afford to miss him more than that.) After the film wrapped, Keoghan and Sandro, who had been living out of boxes, moved to Scotland to be with her family. Before they could get settled they headed off on the Banshees press tour with a very little Brando in tow.

The Mandarin Oriental’s vast windows overlook Central Park where Brando is, at present, touring the scenery, but Keoghan is eager to show me pictures of the baby on his phone. There’s one from a Screen Actors Guild screening of the baby in front of his namesake “Marlon Brando” theater in the AMC Lincoln Square multiplex. Another shows the tiny boy all dressed up for the premiere in a patterned cardigan and a bowtie.

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