It’s thrilling to see a rising actor finally get their dues. Years of training and work pay off with great roles, stellar performances, and public recognition. This process has been taking place over the final months of 2023 into 2024 with Irish actor Barry Keoghan. After years of performances in Irish and English films and smaller roles in American cinema, Keoghan burst into the public eye with his role in 2023’s “Saltburn.” He’s the new darling of MovieTok (do you follow our TikTok?), and audiences are beginning to develop a greater appreciation for all of his work.
I’ve been a huge fan of Keoghan for a few years now, and I’ve been ecstatic to see him get the recognition he so richly deserves. In honor of his newfound stardom, let’s go back and break down some of his finest roles to date.
Druig — ‘Eternals’ (2021)
It’s hard to beat the exposure that comes from being in a movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. While Keoghan was not unknown when “Eternals” was released in 2021, his role as the Eternal Druig remains his most mainstream outing. The movie follows the titular beings, an alien race secretly living amongst humans for thousands of years, as they grapple with the role they should take in the world’s trajectory and protection. The rest of the Eternals are played by a truly star-studded cast, including Richard Madden, Salma Hayek, Brian Tyree Henry, and Angelina Jolie.
Due to its nature as an ensemble film, “Eternals” balances multiple storylines and the usual MCU obligations of establishing a larger world, leaving Keoghan with limited screen time. Still, he makes the most out of the time he’s given. Druig, besides being a key component of the central plot due to his mind-control abilities, is perhaps Keoghan’s happiest role (that means you should buckle up for the rest of this list). His natural charm comes through effortlessly, especially in his interactions with Makkari (Lauren Ridloff), where he really turns on his disarming smile and quick wit. Keoghan might not have the most lines in “Eternals,” but his time as Druig is a great entry point for film lovers to explore his work.
“Eternals” is available to stream now on Disney+.
The Joker — ‘The Batman’ (2022)
It might seem strange to include what is only a brief cameo and subsequently released deleted scene on this list, but watching it will quickly reveal it earns its place here. “The Batman” serves as a cinematic refresh for the Dark Knight, this time played by Robert Pattinson. It finds the crimefighter early in his career, facing off against fellow mastermind the Riddler (Paul Dano) in a match of wits more than brawn.
Every Batman needs a Joker, which is where Keoghan comes in. Even in such a limited appearance, Keoghan makes a huge impression. Various actors over the years have played up different aspects of the Joker’s evil — Jack Nicholson for his cruelty, Heath Ledger for his chaotic nature — and Keoghan reflects the intelligence behind the madness. “The Batman” returned Bruce Wayne to more of his sleuthing roots (his original comics line is called “Detective Comics” for a reason), and Keoghan’s Joker matches that energy. Keoghan plays the character with a smugness that comes from being one step ahead of everyone else, and there’s a glee he exudes from being the smartest man in a room that includes Batman that sends chills down my spine upon watching. With at least one sequel already confirmed, time will tell if Keoghan will cement himself as one of the best Clown Princes of Crime.
“The Batman” is now streaming on Max.
The Scavenger — ‘The Green Knight’ (2021)
Here’s where we get into one of Keoghan’s greatest strengths: playing characters who are deeply unsettling and upsetting. It might not sound like it on its surface, but this is a compliment. No one can make me squirm in my seat based on just a performance like Keoghan can. That performance is right at home in a movie like “The Green Knight,” which is full of stunning and challenging cinematography. Based on classic King Arthur tales, the film follows Sir Gawain (Dev Patel) on his journey to uphold an oath he gave during a challenge issued by the titular knight (Ralph Ineson).
During his travels, Gawain comes across a devastated battlefield, with only Keoghan’s scavenger still standing. Keoghan plays the ensuing one-shot scene brilliantly, beginning with an innocent affection in his questions to Gawain that is nonetheless eerie given the death and destruction around him. As the scene progresses, Keoghan grows more and more pointed, ratcheting up the tension. By the time Gawain and the scavenger part ways, Keoghan has infused the movie with a sense of palpable dread that lingers throughout the rest of the runtime. Again, that Keoghan can do so much with just one scene is a testament to his acting.
You can stream “The Green Knight” on Amazon Prime Video.
George Mills — ‘Dunkirk’ (2017)
A war film is not going to be happy. That’s a given, but even with that knowledge, there are moments in Christopher Nolan’s war epic “Dunkirk” that cut extra deep. Based on the evacuation of Allied forces from the titular beach, the film follows multiple threads of the complex operation, including civilian seamen who helped save countless lives. One of those civilians is Keoghan’s character, George Mills — arguably the soul of the movie.
George is still a young boy, and Keoghan’s youthful face is perfect for playing up the innocence the character represents. The same charm he can use in more unsettling roles can also be used earnestly, and he uses it here to craft someone who’s easy to root for. Of course, war spares no one, and the scene in which George is wounded is a powerful moment from Keoghan. Watching him grapple in real time with the life he imagined for himself and that the hopes and dreams he had are permanently gone is harrowing. It’s one of the most powerful moments in a film full of them, a testament to Keoghan holding his own no matter whom he acts alongside.
“Dunkirk” is available to rent or buy on Amazon Prime Video.
Oliver Quick — ‘Saltburn’ (2023)
Keoghan’s latest work is also perhaps his most audacious. Written and directed by auteur Emerald Fennell, “Saltburn” follows Keoghan as Oliver Quick, a lonely, poor university student in the early 2000s who becomes enamored with fellow student Felix (an also excellent Jacob Elordi) and gets mixed up in the life of Felix’s wealthy family at their titular estate.
Much has been made of some of the more graphic, shocking scenes in the movie, but the real key to all of it is Keoghan’s performance. He fluctuates between puppy dog adoration around Felix to nefarious plotting around any other character in the blink of an eye. As the layers peel back on the story, Keoghan keeps unveiling new facets to Oliver. It’s a performance that rewards repeat viewing, as some of the plot twists are evident from his performance from the beginning if you know what to look for — the mark of a great actor.
“Saltburn” is available to stream now on Amazon Prime Video.
Dominic Kearney — ‘The Banshees of Inisherin’ (2022)
One of my favorite movies of 2022 is “The Banshees of Inisherin,” the simple but compelling tale of two friends (Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson) falling out in 1920s Ireland. It’s bleak, darkly hilarious, and very dialogue-heavy — all aspects right up my alley. Keoghan plays Dominic, another friend of Farrell’s Padraic with a hopeless crush on Padraic’s sister, Sibohan (Kerry Condon).
There’s a profound sadness throughout “The Banshees of Inisherin,” and no one embodies it as well as Keoghan does. He carries an earnest, almost innocent hope early in the movie, which, along with his clumsy advances toward Sibohan, makes him incredibly sympathetic. Like in “Dunkirk,” there’s a moment where Dominic’s dreams are dashed, letting Keoghan give some of his best work ever. He internalizes what happens, feels the weight of it, then pretends it’s not devastating. It’s gripping and earned Keoghan a nomination for Best Supporting Actor at the Academy Awards.
“The Banshees of Inisherin” is available to stream on Hulu.
Martin Lang — ‘The Killing of a Sacred Deer’ (2017)
I cannot rave enough about “The Killing of a Sacred Deer.” Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos of recent “Poor Things” success, the film is a taut, bizarre psychological thriller. The story follows surgeon Steven Murphy (Farrell again), a family man who gets wrapped up in a complex relationship with Keoghan’s character, Martin Lang, a young man who knows much about Steven and somehow has psychological sway over Steven’s family.
It’s a master class from Keoghan from start to finish. The innocence, quirkiness, sadness, and malevolence that he has displayed in each of the roles on this list are all combined in Martin for a breathtaking performance. “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” relies on discomfort and disorientation to work, and Keoghan as Martin twisting every other character around his finger at a whim is the engine that makes the whole thing run. It’s the performance from Keoghan I have thought about the most, and it is the finest of his career.
“The Killing of a Sacred Deer” is streaming now on Netflix.