How to Kill a Sacred Deer
Barry Keoghan on good, evil, and Colin Farrell's beard
By Richard Whittaker,
12:00PM, Fri. Oct. 27, 2017
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.