The Irish Banshee Delivering One of the Years Best Performances

The Irish Banshee Delivering One of the Years Best Performances

The last time Kerry Condon worked with Colin Farrell, he punched her in the face. Or, rather, his character did: an Irish crook in the 2003 dark comedy Intermission, who charms Condon’s store cashier before abruptly jabbing her in the nose and fleeing off with the money.
“That’s all the part I had,” Condon tells The Daily Beast’s Obsessed. While a significant player in the film’s spectacular opening sequence, it's the last you see of her in the film. “I was kind of bitter about it at the time, I remember.” Yet she also takes pride in the role. “I was happy, because it was a cool scene,” she says. “You didn't really see the finale coming. But I knew even then that I deserved more, because I’m absolutely capable of a bigger part.”

Nearly 20 years later, the performers have reunited—and the characters they play are on much warmer terms. Condon is speaking to us about the experience in the library at the Savannah College of Art and Design, where she’s in town to receive the Distinguished Performance Award at the SCAD Savannah Film Festival for her work in her new film, The Banshees of Inisherin. In it she makes the argument about deserving the greater part. And then some.

If you enumerated the things about Banshees that are worth gushing about, you’d run out of fingers. (And if you’ve watched the film, we apologise for mentioning that triggering body part.)
First off, it signals a reunion between Condon and Farrell, this time as characters on much better terms. They portray siblings in Martin McDonagh’s ecstatically lauded picture, about the intricate dynamics between friends and family on a small island off the coast of Ireland, set during the Irish Civil War.
Farrell stars as Pádraic, a simple man whose entire world is shattered when his best friend and drinking mate, Colm (Brendan Gleeson), tells Pádraic that he doesn’t want to see or interact with him again. Sweetly—if irritatingly—the well-intentioned Pádraic can’t accept that, refusing to give up attempting to mend the rift in their friendship.

Farrell offers the strongest performance of his unappreciated career as the charming, but never dim, Pádraic. Gleeson is a perfect foil, wearing Colm’s exasperation like a heavy cloak weighing down his whole, huge body. (It’s a reunion for that couple, too, who previously worked with McDonagh on 2008’s In Bruges.) McDonagh’s writing performs a nice waltz between poetry and colloquial: “Some of the sentences are so wonderful, you think ‘Oh, I wish they could be printed at the bottom of the screen,” she says.

Ireland has rarely looked so magical and magnificent as it does here. The film isn’t so much a tourism pitch for visiting the country’s lush green hills and rugged shoreline as it is a spiritual exhortation. Farrell’s sweater wardrobe, in particular, may rival Chris Evans’ Knives Out pullover in the annals of cinema’s most enviable fall knitwear. All of that, plus there is a scene-stealing little donkey to swoon over.
Her character, Siobhán, is the emotional backbone of a picture that is churning with outsized feelings: a steady lightning rod in a storm cloud of petulant men, absorbing and grounding all their explosive behaviour. She’s dynamic in her own right, smart and well-read on a secluded island populated by gossips and drunks—above the pettiness of it all without any condescension toward the people who make up her home, her family.

Each time she’s obliged to run from her cottage to negotiate peace in some conflict or another, she pierces through the impenetrable island fog, like a blaring beam from a lighthouse. The males are the mess. Siobhán is the steady hand. Look at any awards pundit’s predictions, and you’ll see Condon’s name on the list of frontrunners for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination.

“To be honest,” she admits, “it feels kind of bananas.”

As we talk at the festival ahead of receiving her prize, Condon is nearly fizzing with energy—the excited type, when heaping praise on recurrent collaborators McDonagh and Farrell; the apprehensive sort, when thinking about the speech she’s about to give while accepting the honour. Her melodic accent reverberates off the walls, like she is providing a lively soundtrack for the room as much as she is having a discussion. Her penetrating, greenish-blue eyes move along to the melody.

While McDonagh is known in Hollywood for films like In Bruges and Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri—the latter of which Condon had a role in—he’s a prolific playwright as well. In 2001, when Condon was 18, she was cast as Maraid in his The Lieutenant of Inishmore, which The Telegraph called among the “best plays of all time.” (Condon is somewhat of a theater-world prodigy in the U.K.; at 19, she became the youngest actress to play Ophelia in a Royal Shakespeare Company performance of Hamlet.) She also starred in McDonagh’s The Cripple of Inishmaan, making it all the more important that this professional milestone follows a movie that her regular partner and friend authored.

As for what it is about what Condon offers to the characters that McDonagh writes that has made their decades-long union so beneficial, Condon smirks shyly before answering. “I suppose it might be a question for him, since I feel like I’d be bigging myself up to say that.” Or, given the character of the woman she’s cast as, “I’ll be claiming that I’m genuinely kind of wild and damaged.”

While Condon could never have expected the response Banshees has garnered from critics—it presently sits at 99-percent “fresh” on Rotten Tomatoes—or the praise that she’s earned for her performance, there was a giddiness she felt when she first read the McDonagh’s script. “I did go, ‘Oh, sure, this is like one of your amazing plays, but a movie, so everyone will have access to it. Because not everyone has seen the plays or read the plays. Just knowing that it would be in a video form for more people to witness, I was like, ‘Oh, everyone’s gonna recognise how fantastic you are at the Irish stuff.’”

There’s a certain soul-searching demanded of you when you’re on a press tour like the one for Banshees. The film premiered in September at the Venice Film Festival, and its cast has hop-scotched across the globe for other festivals on the way to its theatrical release last weekend. It’s given Condon, whose career has spanned a number of parts (she’s also been in the TV series Rome and Better Call Saul, and is the voice of F.R.I.D.A.Y. in the Marvel Cinematic Universe), time to reflect on what the McDonagh characters she’s done, in particular, have meant to her.
“All of the parts seem to arrive at certain periods in my career where I've needed them or needed that reminder—it always makes me feel like I'm starting again, and that I’m good at this,” she says.

When she appeared in Cripple of Inishmaan in 2008, it had been a long stretch since she’d done theatre. “After theatre, you always feel like ‘I can do anything,’” she says. The encounter renewed her confidence as a performer. Yet prior to filming Banshees, Condon claims she experienced grief “for the first time in my life.” Siobhán came to her at the appropriate time, as she was able to express her feelings through the character. But she also thinks she wouldn’t have been able to provide what the character needed without that experience.

We question if it was the pandemic and the general darkness of the last few years that brought on the anguish. “I hate to admit it, but the pandemic was actually kind of wonderful for me,” she adds, “because it was the first time in my life where I took a year and a half off work.” She has two horses, and she suddenly had time to ride them every day. “I’m just working-class, so I believe I’ve always had a work ethic where I would never take a year and a half off. It would just seem incredibly indulgent or something.” The pain she felt was because she had “lost something very personal to me.”

There’s a nice concept Condon had when she examined the despondence Siobhán seems to feel about her lot in life, that she’s throwing away her potential on this lonely island, wanting for something greater. An hilarious running joke throughout the film is Pádraic’s intimate friendship with his miniature donkey, Jenny, whom he treats as if she were a golden retriever: Jenny keeps following him around, he keeps bringing her into the house, and Siobhán keeps shooing her away. Maybe, Condon thought, Siobhán might have been happy if she had a closer bond with the animals.

“Animals can keep you company, especially if you’re a single person or an old person who’s lost your husband,” she explains. “They’re simply such a lovely company, and they have unconditional affection. I do feel that if Siobhán had linked or been closer to the animals, maybe she mightn’t have been so lonely.”

Condon enjoyed the fact that there were so many animals on set. Pádraic and Siobhán also have two cows and a small calf, whose name is Charlie. Condon’s ecstatic smile virtually pops out of the room: “He was so cute, Charlie, and he's probably a big cow now.”

But the breakout star is Jenny, who has become somewhat of a media favourite ever since the film began screening. As wonderfully small as Jenny looks on-screen, she was also fussy and shy, because she hadn’t been used to being on a film set before. A “body double” was brought in to provide scene coverage when Jenny couldn’t perform, but to also provide her comfort and company. That donkey’s name was Rosie.

If she’s being honest, Condon bonded more with Rosie than she did with Jenny. “I simply felt like Jenny was the star, but I wanted Rosie to know that she was just as special and vital as Jenny was. I don’t want people feeling left out and I despise favouritism. I was therefore acutely aware of Rosie's emotions.

It would be simple to overlook Condon's relationships with her human ones because there is so much to discuss regarding her animal co-stars.

The way that Condon and Farrell portray a sibling relationship that is both groundbreaking and incredibly familiar has garnered them much-deserved praise. Their connection has a comfort and an obviousness. Even if Siobhán and Pádraic's love is unsaid, it nonetheless resounds so loudly that a few of their private moments together wind up ranking among the most heartbreaking moments of the year.

Condon is close with her brother in real life. I speak to him the most out of anyone. He is the one person I have never argued with in my whole life. She reflected on how, whenever she is with her brother, their relationship reverts to how it was when they were preteens. That has an intensity as well as a youthful quality. Farrell and his own sister had a similar bond, thus both actors were able to convey the subtleties of this sibling relationship.

Siobhan occasionally has to take on the role of Pádraic's mother in Banshees. But there's also that timeless, childlike bond, evident in everything from the twin beds in the room they share to the manner of their comfort and quarrelling.
Because you feel so at ease around your sister, Condon claims that you can sometimes act kind of unpleasant around them. You don't really feel that way with a lot of people, but it's extremely calming. I used to have a sort of grimace when I handed it to him. As she says this, her face contorts in a manner reminiscent of Siobhan's in the movie. She's correct. A familial grimace is unique and readily recognisable.

Condon claims that Martin isn't hesitant to depict uncomfortable aspects of mankind that are universally understood but perhaps underrepresented. "He does it in a funny way, but it makes us uneasy. This can be taken in while laughing, but it also resonates.

That's the Irish for you if it's tempting to therapize in this way when discussing Banshees. An outpouring of emotions is wrapped in a grim matter-of-factness like a Claddagh knot. Being on the island during the filming, according to Condon, was deeply spiritual and touching. "You have the impression that something, invisible or spiritual, is watching out for you. Or perhaps there are deceased folks nearby or something."

Her eyes enlarge and somehow manage to portray both calm and mischief. "You have the beauty and the spirituality of it. Additionally, it has a lonely, isolated feel to it. The waves then begin to crash against the coast with such a fury that you begin to believe they have travelled all the way from America. Oh my God, what kinds of souls are they bringing to the shore, you wonder.

With a smile, she adds, "Anyway, that's what I was thinking."

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