How to Kill a Sacred Deer

Barry Keoghan on good, evil, and Colin Farrell's beard

The idea of a vengeful god is not about supernatural cruelty: It instead adds some logic to the capricious whims of an unfeeling universe. When, as in The Killing of a Sacred Deer, that divine wrath comes from Barry Keoghan as a reserved but determined teenager, then a blindly arbitrary cosmos may seem preferable.

The latest film from radical Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos (The Lobster) made its Texas debut in September during Fantastic Fest, but the actor flew in dressed for an Irish autumn, not for the 90-degree heat of Austin. "I came in the heaviest clothes I had," said Keoghan. "It's so hot, man."

The sheepishness of the Dunkirk star about being so ill-prepared for the unseasonal weather (after all, what visitor to Austin ever is?) is at odds with his controlling performance as the eerily bland Martin. The young man comes with kindness into the lives of two married doctors (Colin Farrell and Nicole Kidman), but his intentions are more Old Testament than New. "The creep factor is up!" said Keoghan. Even his character's name sets off alarm bells. For a teenager, he said, "It's such an old lad's little name."

Austin Chronicle: How much did you know about Yorgos' work and his style?

Barry Keoghan: I'd seen Dogtooth and The Lobsterr, and I had this list of directors I wanted to work with, and he was on that list. When this movie came about, I went, "Get me on it." I remember reading it, but before that I knew already, just by the sound of it, that I wanted to do it. Then I read it, and it was just such a weird world, and that just made me want to do it more.

AC: I can't imagine what it's like, reading a Yorgos script cold, because he does build such unique worlds.

BK: I kinda went in with that tone that Colin delivers his lines in The Lobster. Yorgos, he never really asks for any of that. There's no, "Oh, can you deliver it this way?" His direction is pretty simple, pretty small. It's that Yorgos tone that I don't think even he knows what it is.

AC: How much did it help that Colin had worked with him before?

BK: It did help a lot. Colin was very easygoing on the set, and funny and relaxed, and when someone's relaxed at that caliber, you're comfortable. I was trying little things, and Yorgos would probably go, "No, stop doing that."

AC: And your scenes with Colin have this sense of unease –

BK: They have a sexual feel.

AC: And you can feel that there's something not right about it, even if there's a lot of ambiguity.

BK: He's so innocent. What is this adult doing with this child? Yes, he operated on his father, but he doesn't need to be with this child – this manchild, I call him, as I am 24. You're asking that question, and you do get to see why, but there is that feel. In the script originally, there was a kiss, but Yorgos did away with it.

AC: With this and Dunkirk, you've been cast as much younger than you really are. Obviously, it must cause merry hell getting served at the bar.

BK: Yeah, now I'm looking to transition to playing my age, or maybe two years younger than myself, rather than six years. But it's nice, because you can bring your own experience to it. The older actors always play younger parts better, because they can bring something else to it.

AC: You don't know what you are when you're that age.

BK: No, you don't. It's nice, but I'd like to play my own age.

AC: Stop shaving, grow your beard out like Colin does here.

BK: Yorgos has that now. I think Yorgos took it off him, but that was a different look for Colin, and it really did help. Yorgos sent him a picture of this surgeon with a big beard, and that was what he wanted.

AC: It makes Colin look like a patriarch. Normally, he's clean-shaven, and it takes a few years off. But here he has that salt-and-pepper in his beard.

BK: When he goes into a Yorgos film, he let's himself go. In The Lobster, he got big, and here he grew that out.

AC: It also adds to the creepiness by making the age difference so clear.

BK: It makes him more of a dad. He was saying he got offered a granddad role for the first time, and he wasn't very happy.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer is in theatres now. For reviews and showtimes, visit our listings page.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Yorgos Lanthimos
Gary Hart Biopic <i>The Front Runner</i> to Close Austin Film Festival
AFF Announces Second Wave
New films by Yorgos Lanthimos, Asghar Farhadi added to fest

Richard Whittaker, Sept. 12, 2018

More Fantastic Fest
They're Here! Fantastic Fest Wave One Arrives
First Fantastic Fest 2018 Titles
Overlord, Apostle headline fest opening salvo

Richard Whittaker, July 31, 2018

Exploring <i>The Endless</i> With Benson and Moorhead
Exploring The Endless With Benson and Moorhead
Filmmakers talk science, magic, and bickering brothers

Richard Whittaker, April 20, 2018

More by Richard Whittaker
Life as a War Boy
Life as a War Boy
Dressing as Furiosa's most disposable characters

May 24, 2024

The Garfield Movie
Jim Davis’ comic strip gets an animated reboot with Chris Pratt voicing the iconic cat

May 24, 2024


Yorgos Lanthimos, Fantastic Fest, Film, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, Barry Keoghan

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Keep up with happenings around town

Kevin Curtin's bimonthly cannabis musings

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle