Barry Keoghan Lost His Mom, Lived with 13 Foster Families, and Dared to Become an Actor. Now, He’s an Oscar Nominee
In recent years, actor Barry Keoghan has appeared in several famous movies (such as Dunkirk, The Batman, The Banshees of Inisherin) and become an Oscar nominee. He might seem to be a lucky guy, but success wasn’t easy for him. Back when he was a child, he had to deal with a big loss, and his persistence and patience helped him get roles.
Barry lived with 13 foster families over several years
Barry Keoghan was born on October 18, 1992, in Dublin, Ireland. When he was a small boy, his mom had an unhealthy lifestyle and couldn’t raise Barry and his brother. The boys got into the foster care system and lived with 13 different foster families. Barry describes the time like this: “Every family was good to us. As a kid, you don’t know what’s happening. You get attached... and then boom. Let’s move over here.”
When Barry was around 12 years old, his mom passed away. But he still has good memories of her, and years later he says that he’s proud of her. Besides, he still has some things that remind him of her. One particular token is a toy Dalmatian. Barry always takes it with him when he moves, and it reminds him of his mom. “When I’m happiest, I feel like she’s with us.”
It didn’t seem he had a very bright future ahead of him
Barry and his brother spent 5 years in foster families, and were later adopted by their grandmother. Keoghan values her for her sternness. She didn’t let him get smug, even after he became an actor. For example, when he came home from the set, she’d scold him for not making his bed.
As Barry said himself, for a while it seemed like he didn’t have a good future. “13 homes, you know? If that was on paper, you’d think he’s destined to mess up.” And he did create trouble, was “in and out of school”, and never finished his education.
Losing his mom pushed him to becoming an actor
When Barry was young, he loved watching movies with Marlon Brando, James Dean, and Paul Newman. He started testing his acting skills and did phone pranks, trying different accents, and impersonating characters when he went in stores. The people around him didn’t take him seriously, but after his mom died, Barry decided, “What more can I lose? The only way is forward.”
Barry’s career started thanks to a dirt bike
Once, not far from the boxing club he was attending, Barry saw an ad of an open audition for Between the Canals (2011). He had to get the number discreetly, because he was worried about his friends’ reactions. It turned out that all he needed to do to get the role was just show up with a dirt bike, which he did. After that, he started getting other roles.
The turning point of his career was Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk (2017). Barry didn’t even know which role he was auditioning for. He just heard that Nolan was looking for young talents and recorded his audition. Soon, he got a call and was invited to the film. That same year, he worked on another big project, The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017). Barry got several awards and nominations for that role.
He showed persistence and patience to get roles
Getting roles wasn’t always easy for Barry. Back in 2013, he asked Stan Lee on Twitter (he was Marvel’s creative leader at the time) to make him a superhero. But it was only years later that he joined the Marvel cinematic universe in Eternals (2021).
Keoghan also wanted to portray Riddler in The Batman (2022). He taped his audition and showed it to the producer. The role was already taken, but Barry insisted that his tape be watched. Several months later, he got the role of Joker. He appeared in the film for just a few moments, but the deleted scene with him gained millions of views online.
With Martin McDonagh and his colleagues in The Banshees of Inisherin.
For a long time, Keoghan had been a fan of director Martin McDonagh. Barry even had a photo of Martin on his phone. Once, McDonagh wrote to Barry himself asking him to be in his movie. When they met, Keoghan thought of deleting Martin’s photo. He told McDonagh about it and they had a good laugh about it. After that meeting, Barry appeared in The Banshees of Inisherin (2022).
Barry studied acting with animals
As a teenager, Barry loved documentaries about nature. He was stunned by how “animals can say so much without saying anything.” Barry says that everything he knows about acting he learned from animals, and that all the characters he has played are based on an animal.
For example, his Dominic in The Banshees of Inisherin was inspired by foxes. “I was looking at a lot of foxes then, how they’re just feral, you know, in and out. And an open mind and intelligence, they’re very, very intelligent. Dominic is a bit of a feral fox, really, if that makes sense.”
Angelina Jolie thinks he is unique
Angelina Jolie, one of Barry’s fellow actors in Eternals, said, “He’s wonderful, he’s really wonderful. You know, he’s very unique and that’s a fun thing to see these days. There’s a lot of people who can do good work but when strong, unique personalities come forward, and they have their own, something that you haven’t seen before. It’s really exciting, it’s fun to see.”
And Christopher Nolan remembers Barry’s audition for his movie and says, “[He] had innocence, but with stunning sophisticated truth and maturity.” He calls Barry “a dazzling talent.”
Barry wants his story to inspire other young people
His difficult childhood and big loss didn’t break Barry, and he hopes to be an example for other young people. “I went against it, I didn’t dwell on it. I used it as ammunition almost, I hope I inspire younger ones. Whatever you’re into — sports, whatever — just do.”
He proves that persistence helps achieve success, and recently, his career took another turn: he got an Academy Award nomination for his role in The Banshees of Inisherin. When he learned about it, he wrote a post: “And just a note to little Barry, told you we would get there.”