Present-day cinephiles revisiting films from the ’70s often find themselves bemoaning today’s dearth of Guys with Faces, the class of actor with a hardscrabble background visible in their idiosyncratically distinctive look. With Hollywood currently flooded by zero-percent-body-fat Ken dolls pursuing a uniform ideal of Instagram-approved facial perfection, a performer like Barry Keoghan reminds us of all we stand to lose.
As he’s racked up his first Academy Award nomination and a wheelbarrow of accolades for his turn as a simpleminded rural boy in The Banshees of Inisherin, the mounting favor for the exciting young actor has exploded into full-blown Keoghan-mania unlikely to abate any time soon. He’s already got upcoming gigs lined up in Emerald Fennell‘s next feature as well as a mystery collaboration with Christopher Abbott, and today brings the news that he’s also added a Billy the Kid biopic to his docket.
Deadline reports that Keoghan will reteam with his American Animals director Bart Layton on a film dramatizing the life and times of the fastest gun in the Old West, a longtime passion project for the actor. He’s given the significance of this larger-than-life figure some thought, telling Deadline, “My interest was in trying to tell a version that breaks from the facade of that cool, calm, and collected gunslinger Billy the Kid that we’re all used to seeing. I wanted to humanize him in a way.”
Sounds a lot like the approach The Green Knight (in which Keoghan played one of the creepy little weirdoes he does so well) took to the mythology of Arthurian legend, a deconstructive film very much in keeping with Keoghan’s tendency toward grounded imperfection. Through the wild array of roles he’s assayed in his still-young career, from an affectless sociopath in The Killing of a Sacred Deer to a mind-controlling demigod in Eternals to a martyred soldier in Dunkirk, the connecting thread has been his interest in exploring the frailties and flaws in strange personalities.
Which brings us back to his indelible face: the boyish yet weathered expression making it impossible to guess his age, those ice-blue eyes set deep in their sockets, a shit-eating grin hinting at a lifetime of barfights. He looks like he’s lived because he has, sent through thirteen foster homes in seven years with his brother as kids. He’s a true-blue movie star of a variety seen less and less these days, and the good news is he’s not going anywhere.
Published 17 Feb 2023
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