A Conversation
Hollywood 2024 Issue

Barry Keoghan on Hollywood’s Irish Wave: “Fecking Good-Looking Lads, Innit?”

The Saltburn star talks about the joys of dancing naked at home, his new level of fame, and his tall friend Jacob Elordi.
Barry Keoghan and Charles Melton pose back to back on the set of the 2024 Hollywood Portfolio shoot. Barry Keoghans suit...
Photograph by Landon Nordeman; styled by George Cortina.

By now, you probably think you’ve seen all of Barry Keoghan. The Irish actor quite famously ends 2023’s most buzzed-about movie, Saltburn, dancing to and fro in the buff. “I see reenactments of the dance scene. Thankfully not the grave scene,” quips a cheeky Keoghan. (Earlier in the movie, he humps a freshly buried plot.) “With their clothes on, by the way, which is good.”

Clothed or not, the virality of that scene shot Keoghan to a new level of fame (and to a special place on VF’s 2024 Hollywood Issue cover, which you can see here). A rising star and previous supporting-actor Oscar nominee for Banshees of Inisherin, Keoghan’s turn as the seductive yet Machiavellian Oliver Quick in Saltburn is so delicious that it earned him a surprise BAFTA nomination for best actor and has vaulted him to the very top of the IMDB StarMeter, where he currently holds the number one spot. But despite his popularity, Keoghan still suffers from a particularly pedestrian syndrome. “I tend to get starstruck a lot,” he says on a videoconference from London. “You see me running around: ‘Can I meet you? Can I talk to you? Can we get a picture? Oh, my God, everyone’s going to go mad about this at home.’”


He most recently felt this way hanging out with Oscar winner Joaquin Phoenix at the Golden Globes, despite the fact that they’re both currently playing the same role—the Joker—in separate DC tentpole projects. “I really study him and the likes of Christian Bale and Daniel Day-Lewis. I love Patricia Arquette as well,” says Keoghan. “There’s so many artists out there that I want to work with, who I feel will push me and bring me to a new space.”

We’re thrilled to have Keoghan as part of our 2024 Hollywood issue. Below, the Saltburn star talks about his baby boys, dealing with sudden fame, and loving his fellow Irish lads.

Vanity Fair: After Saltburn you’re on a whole new stratosphere of fame. How are you adjusting?

Barry Keoghan: It’s new for me, man. It’s quite a scary one as well, because I’m not used to this much attention. It’s overwhelming, if I’m quite honest. It’s almost a different kind of life that you’ve got to be living now. I just want to make movies and fecking play parts and work with filmmakers, and not focus on this noise too much.

Growing up, you were in the foster care system and your mother passed away when you were a child. In Saltburn, your character fabricates personal drama that mirrors situations that you actually went through. Was that difficult at all to handle?

Not necessarily, no. There are difficult moments where I do draw from experiences in my upbringing, and I do go to places to reach for that raw emotion and to present a real discovery there and feeling. That can damage you mentally as well. That’s why I don’t run onto every gig. I take time and am quite specific in what I want to do, because it’s a process. It’s an emotional journey. That’s how I work. I tend to go to places, to relive moments. But with Oliver, there are some mirrors there. It’s quite funny when he plays that moment where his parents are on drugs. It’s quite a moment when we realize that he’s been lying. But no, I didn’t really draw parallels to him the way I have to certain other characters.

I do dance around naked though, in my house. [Laughs.] Everyone does, man. We all sing in the shower. We all act silly when we’re alone and we feel this freedom. It’s one thing that I did relate to. Not dancing around a manor of that sort with that fecking drip hanging about—but I sing out loud, I dance silly and move my body silly.

You told VF previously that the being-naked part didn’t stress you out as much as the dancing itself. Have you watched it since?

Yeah, I’m pretty impressed with how I moved. I was like, “Wow.” In the final moment of the dance, I twirl twice, and if you look at my footwork, it’s linked to boxing. It’s all about footwork and moving the hips and stuff like that. That definitely came into factor, subconsciously. I was afraid to move my hips and move my body in a certain way, but the set was made quite comfortable for me. Once the camera goes up, I always feel a bit safe, and I have the license to kind of waltz in that environment.

Photograph by Landon Nordeman; styled by George Cortina.

How do you feel about the public’s reaction to the dance and your body? Do you feel objectified in any way?

It’s crazy. It can be detrimental to the mind and your mental state if you read into it too much or you look at too much stuff being said. But I wouldn’t go there if I wasn’t prepared for that, or if I wasn’t open to receiving what people want to say. I think it shows an act of maturity in your craft, and if it justifies the story and moves it forward, why not? You look at European cinema and they tend to have a lot of scenes that involve nudity, and it’s not a massive thing, really. But I think it’s true art. It really is. And it’s true vulnerability as well. You’re really kind of putting yourself out there in the most vulnerable state. It’s beautiful to look at. I’m not saying it’s because of my body, but it’s freeing to see that body move around in the way it does. It’s like a moving painting, almost.

And the song, Sophie Ellis-Bextor’s “Murder on the Dancefloor,” has climbed the charts because of the film. It peaked at number two in the UK.

Good on you, Sophie, eh! She’s great. I met her as well and she couldn’t have been more nice. I remember that song coming out years ago when I was a kid, and it being a massive hit as it was. Never did I think I’d be fecking dancing around with no clothes on, moving to the beats of it.

Your off-screen friendship with Jacob Elordi is really wonderful to watch from afar. Are you two still close?

He’s my baby boy. I love Jacob. He’s one of my best friends. Obviously we met on this movie and I was aware of his work, but he’s there for me and he’s always got my back. When we have time, we chat on the phone or we go see one another. That’s the beauty of making movies—you really do spark relationships with your costars.

It’s funny to see the internet go the way it’s going. I’m so comfortable with him, and I can be my true self around that lad. He’s a very intelligent, very fecking well-talented lad as well. And he’s so tall. I just want to say that. We know that for the record, but my God, he’s so tall. I looked at him on SNL the other night and it’s like, “He’s so tall.” We went to the LA Lakers game last year and we sat courtside. He was taller than half of them on the team. [Laughs.] I was like, “Oh, man.” It was brilliant.

We need him on the court. We need him hooping. But hey, we love the short kings as well.

Yeah, the short kings, eh. I’m actually five eight, though. I’m not that short. I mean, I’m short, but Archie [Madekwe] as well is quite tall. The two of them are towering up there, God bless.

There’s so much speculation about your life. People were really wondering if you were going to bring a date to the Golden Globes.

Look, I read all of that, and it obviously gets sent to me as well. But you gotta take it with a pinch. It’s just the response to the movie that’s kicking a lot of stuff about. I tend to stay away from the internet because I want to kind of get back to some meditative stuff. By that I mean boxing or playing the PlayStation or going out on a walk, or stuff that involves me being present. You lose sight of that when you’re on the press tour. It’s about putting the phone down or whatever and taking time to yourself. Be nice to yourself.

The attention must come with a lot of baggage.

It can. You can get very self-conscious. You can read into a lot of stuff. There’s so many pictures out there of you on carpets. You can catch some pictures wrong in the sense of, I didn’t look good there, so it could be very detrimental to you. But I don’t get sucked into that.

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It feels like there’s a cool moment in Hollywood right now where a bunch of new, young male stars are emerging: you and Jacob, and Paul Mescal, Andrew Scott, Charles Melton, Jeremy Allen White, et cetera.

The fecking legends. I love Charles. What a nice guy. Yeah, there is. We’re all quite supportive of one another. Andrew and Paul, they’re killing it as well and representing Ireland. I’m really, really happy for them and proud, and it’s nice to be up there and alongside those lads. But it’s a great group, man. It’s an industry where sometimes it doesn’t go your way and you don’t get a part, but you can only be happy for others and really support them. And there’s such love as well when you’re on these press tours and you’re bumping into one another because you’re all on the same boat. You’re all exhausted, you’re all away from home and you’re all trying to be your entire self.

As you said, Ireland is having a big moment right now.

Fecking good-looking lads, innit? Do you know what I mean? [Laughs.]

You and Cillian Murphy and Paul and Andrew.

It’s nice to be in that company. You know, the Irish—when they’re away, they stick to one another. There’s this kind of language and this energy, that sometimes we don’t even finish our sentences. It’s just like “Eh! Oh! Yer! Eh? Short look! Yeh?” That’s it. And it’s great to see fecking Cillian killing it as well. I love that man. I really do. It’s a great group of lads, do you know what I mean? It’d be good to get us all in one big fecking movie, wouldn’t it?

That would be a great idea. You could even get Ayo Edebiri, Ireland’s adopted daughter.

Exactly. She’s killing it, man. She’s killing. I bumped into her as well at…what was it? I’m losing track. The Governors Ball. Oh, she’s so cool, she really is. Again, there’s so many—Saoirse [Ronan], Alison Oliver as well. There’s so many of us. We definitely have to feckin’ get some sort of movie going. A big ensemble. It’d be like, “Who’s the most Irish?” We’d be all really putting it on. All the accents, oh, God. You wouldn’t understand us because when we all get together, we become more Irish, and no one understands anything that’s being said.

Looking ahead, you’ve got the miniseries Masters of the Air, and you’re also playing the Joker in DC’s The Batman 2. What do you want your career to look like going forward?

The filmmaker and the role and the story are the three boxes that need ticking. I just want to collaborate with people who are out there trying to bring a new approach to it, people that want to take risks. I also want to be challenged and put to the test where I push my limits and learn on the gig. For me, I physically want to go somewhere. I want to physically change and take on a certain walk or a certain voice and really do a character piece. With Banshees, in contrast to Saltburn, I felt there was a range there, but I feel I’ve just arrived in that sense. Artistically, I’m really comfortable with digging deeper to kind of push myself and bring in some more raw emotion—really break myself down trying to search and discover new performances. But it’s just to have fun and have a legacy and have good recognition, and to enjoy it. And to get from what I’m seeking, which is fulfillment and a place of peace.

On top of all this, you’re a relatively new father—your son was born in August 2022. How has it been juggling everything?

Brando Keoghan. He has a lot to live up to, I tell you. It’s great. I’ve seen him two days ago, and I spent some really good quality time with him. I’ve seen him grow. He’s amazing. You see little resemblances and little characteristics coming through, and it’s just beautiful. It’s a new territory for me, and I want to be the best person for him. It’s a very important thing for me—for him to be able to grow up and be proud of his daddy, and to lean on his daddy. And if he has questions or anything, I’m always there for him in that sense of learning and growing with him and failing. [Picks up a stuffed toy wolf.] I’ve got his little wolf here, innit? He’s young, but he’s full of cheekiness already. His smile breaks my heart. When he makes eye contact with you, you just melt.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. For fashion and beauty details, go to VF.com/credits.