Barry Keoghan is set to lean into the Irish heritage of Billy the Kid when he depicts the infamous cowboy in an upcoming role.
resh from his Oscar nomination for best supporting actor for his performance as Dominic in The Banshees of Inisherin, Keoghan confirmed the role to Deadline.
He will depict the cowboy in a Bart Layton-directed film. Layton is renowned for directing acclaimed 2012 documentary The Imposter in his directorial debut.
“We’ve seen many versions of Billy the Kid on screen before. 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 humanise him in a way,” Keoghan told Deadline.
“I remember reading about him as a kid, but as we were digging into the project, there were so many things we discovered about his life. There are so many eyewitness accounts, and lots of different versions of his story that didn’t add up but that contributed to the legend.
“I wanted to step outside of the legend that was built up by the papers and tackle the pressure he must have felt from those early days. He was running his whole life.
“I felt related to Billy in the sense of him being a mummy’s boy, but obviously, I took a different path, turning my circumstances into something positive rather than rebelling against them. Nevertheless, there’s a soul and a vulnerability to Billy that I think it’s important to bring, to understand him as a real person rather than the myth that he has become,” he said.
Billy was born Henry McCarty to Irish Immigrants in New York in 1859 before he was orphaned as a teenager and then went on to become one of the most infamous bandits and outlaws in the Wild West during the 19th century.
Billy was a feared gunslinger and is alleged to have shot more than 20 people before he himself died by the gun at the age of just 21.
Layton said there are aspects to the role that Keoghan was “born to do”.
“Our understanding of Billy the Kid is really the comic book version. But the more we researched and the more we discussed, the more it felt like something Barry was born to do.
“There’s a cornered child aspect to Billy that I think Barry really understands, and of the violence he has been immortalised for, not all of it was intended or premeditated. A lot of it was circumstance edging him forward,” Layton said.
Producer Ed Guiney has worked with Keoghan on two previous films and believes he will be perfect to play the outlaw.
“Barry has the ability to capture a duality in the way he acts; there’s great sweetness and gentleness, but also there can be darkness and violence. He can really embody both things at once, and that’s the essence of Billy the Kid.”
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Keoghan said it is a project he himself has “brought from the ground up” and is really excited by.
“Bart’s like a brother, and Ed has always been there for me. To have the two of them stand by me on this, knowing it won’t be a small film, knowing we’re going to have to work hard to get it set up, that means a great deal. This is a project I brought from the ground up, so to have a director like Bart and a producer like Ed bring their styles to bear on it is really exciting,” Keoghan said.
Unfortunately for fans of Keoghan, the movie won’t be shot until the first half of 2024 so it’s unlikely to hit big screens until the following year.