If you thought Yorgos Lanthimos' "The Lobster," was strange, "The Killing of a Sacred Deer" is on a whole other level.
Colin Farrell plays a surgeon living an idyllic Midwestern life with his wife, played by Nicole Kidman, and their two children. But everything starts to take a very dark turn after a teenage boy named Martin infiltrates their world.
Martin is played by a talented young Irish actor named Barry Keoghan, who also had a role in Christopher Nolan’s "Dunkirk" this year. He was raised by his grandmother in a working class neighborhood of Dublin. He more or less stumbled into acting after answering an ad. He’s also an amateur boxer in his free time.
Like many of Lanthimos' works, "The Killing of a Sacred Deer" has garnered strong reactions — as in The New York Times: "As in Mr. Lanthimos’s other movies, no explanation is offered. No boundary is marked between the normal and the supernatural. The normal, in this filmmaker’s world, is pretty weird to begin with. All the characters speak in the same droning, matter-of-fact tone until they are provoked to violent rage. They ask puzzling questions and produce overelaborate answers, not so much like machines but like people doing their best to fail a Turing test."
Keoghan attributes the reactions to Lanthimos' style of direction, which he says was a different kind of experience:
It's the Yorgos way. He has his own rhythms, his own language. It's just a different way of acting.
When Keoghan spoke with The Frame's John Horn, he talked about working with Lanthimos and the experience of being in "Killing of a Sacred Deer."
Did you know the film would get the kinds of reactions it has been getting?
I saw it in Cannes for the first time with an audience and I mean it was a big audience. That was an experience watching that. But the reaction it's getting ... I kind of knew that it'd get that reaction. You kind of know what kind of reaction a Yorgos Lanthimos movie is going to get. I don't think he wants to make movies where people walk out and [say], All right, that's that. I know what happened there. I think he wants to challenge people and ... I really do believe that he's a genius.
I remember talking with Colin Farrell and John C. Reilly around the release of "The Lobster" and I asked them about working with Yorgos and [what] he explains about their characters, their back stories. And they said he gives you nothing, that he doesn't want to talk about the character's history or how they got there. Is that how he worked on this film?
He works that way and it's refreshing. It's the Yorgos way. He has his own rhythms, his own language. It's just a different way of acting. He doesn't ask for that. He never once on set asked, Could you say it this way? Or, Deliver it this way? You go in knowing that's the way you should speak. I took that from watching Colin in "The Lobster" and how people spoke in that. So I auditioned that way. I read the script in that way. There's a lot going on in the head.
So even if Yorgos is not going explain what the movie is about when you're doing scenes with Collin or Nicole Kidman or other actors, are you guys having a cup of tea or coffee saying, What the hell is this movie about? Are you guys trying to piece it together yourselves?
Oh yeah, I had a hard time keeping a straight face on this movie. I just kept laughing. You know, some of the dialogue is just so funny. And when it's delivered in that way it's even funnier. It was funny to film. As much as of an intensive film it is, it wasn't like that on set. It was very relaxed and chill.
The one thing that I think is true about Yorgos' movie is, that even though his characters are caught in extraordinarily difficult and strange circumstances, they don't seem aware of it. They're not really outside of themselves looking in, which is kind of strange that they don't realize that the things that are happening are extraordinarily weird. They're just in it and they don't have perspective on it.
Yeah, definitely. When I looked at "The Lobster," it's like if they were put on the earth that day. That's how they talk. If we were all put on the earth, let's say today, that's how we'd talk because we're not influenced by social media or all sources of media. We all talk in certain ways and in different situations ... And so this is like you being just put on the earth and you don't get time to go, Oh, this is the way I should talk when I'm in this situation. You just kind of say what you're thinking. And that's what it feels like to me. That's how we'd speak — no rhythm.
I want to ask you a little bit more about getting into this movie and your audition for it. Did you send in a tape? Did your guys have you read something from the movie? What was your way in?
Yeah, this was a weird audition. Weird film, weird audition. He got us to do these exercises like throwing a tennis ball on the ground, or having a pen your hand and constantly throwing it up in the air. And I was like, Why is he doing that? And just say your lines. It's just all part of distracting us from attaching emotions or feelings to our words and ... basically getting us to just say it.
That was a weird audition process but it was great. I really enjoyed it. I walked outside and I was like, That was probably one of the best auditions I've ever done. I want to work with him.
There's a scene in "Killing of a Sacred Deer" where your character eats a bowl of spaghetti. Can you talk about shooting that scene and what Yorgos wanted to say? How much do you have a conversation about the scene? Or do you just go out and start eating spaghetti?
That was the second day of shooting. It's not often you get to sit in front of Nicole Kidman in your boxers with a big bowl of spaghetti. So I looked at her like, I'm going to throw this scene around and see what I can do with it. And Yorgos is a big fan of letting the actor see what he [can] do with it first.
So, yeah, I really wanted to stress the whole, I was upset when I found everyone eats spaghetti the same way — more than when my dad died. The less emotion you attach to these words, the more impact it has, I think. That was a fun scene to do. I mean, for the second day as well. It really got me more comfortable with everything.
So when you were growing up, are you going to the movies a lot? Are you watching TV? At what point are you figuring out that maybe the things that you're seeing up on screen are things that you want to do? And does that happen gradually, or one day you wake up and say, That looks fun?
I think there was a point where I was like, Okay, I can make a living out of this. I started getting interested in the craft and watching old movies and they're the ones that reach out to me the most — films like "Cool Hand Luke" and "On the Waterfront." So I start watching all of these and I was getting educated and I started being interested in this acting thing, if that's what they call it. But it's the craft and that's why I started getting interested.
As I started getting into the craft, Jim Sheridan and Kirsten Sherrod and Lance Daly and John Kearney, they all had this warehouse factory. And it was an actual factory where I went to a three-day workshop. There was 15 of us actors. We set up this kind of come in once a week and work with these directors and experiment on camera and look at human behaviors on documentaries. It wasn't an acting school. It was like literally a cold warehouse and we went there and that's where I kind of learned my craft, mostly.
And has it always been the case that you play younger than your real age? I suspect if you go to a pub and try to buy a pint they still card you?
Oh yeah, man. That's that's the worst.
Enjoy it as long as it lasts.
Yeah, exactly. Look, I can play younger. It's better to be playing younger because you've got that experience and it's hard to play older when you're younger. So, yeah, I want to now transition into playing my own age or a bit younger myself.
To listen to John Horn's interview with Barry Keoghan, click on the player above.