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The Banshees of Inisherin Star Kerry Condon on Her Role as the Film’s Moral Compass and Actually Eating During Meal Scenes

In Martin McDonagh‘s The Banshees of Inisherin, two longtime friends suffer a falling out.

At first, Dairy farmer Pádraic Súilleabháin (Colin Farrell) can’t understand why Colm Doherty (Brendan Gleeson), a musician and composer, won’t talk to him anymore. Pádraic’s sister, Siobhán, played by Irish actress Kerry Condon, may be the only person who understands the dispute.  But she’s powerless to prevent its escalation into violence, and it’s not long before everyone on their remote Irish island knows about their bloody feud.

A veteran stage performer, Condon was the youngest Ophelia in the history of the Royal Shakespeare Company. She appeared in McDonagh’s plays The Lieutenant of Inishmore and The Cripple of Inishmaan, as well as his film Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. She handles some of the toughest scenes in Banshees, which is a film of deep, exasperating emotions.

Condon next appears in In the Land of Saints and Sinners with Liam Neeson and Ciarán Hinds. She recently spoke with Below the Line from Ireland.

Above the Line: Banshees is like a period ghosting story in a way, no?

Kerry Condon: Well, Colm’s not actually ghosting Pádraic, he’s breaking up with him. Don’t get me started on ghosting because I wish I could take out a page in the New York Times and write down the name of everyone who’s ghosted me.

ATL: People tend to describe McDonagh’s work as “dark,” but I think he’s actually sympathetic to his characters. What say you?

Condon: I agree. I don’t think he’s very dark, to be honest with you. I think there’s a kind of innocence to a lot of the characters. A kind of sweetness to them, which I think you find in Ireland too. And I think Martin creates characters who are believable. They’re not one-dimensional. Like in The Cripple of Inishmaan, no one’s all nice or all bad.

The Banshees of Inisherin
Kerry Condon in The Banshees of Inisherin/Jonathan Hession/Searchlight Pictures

ATL: I saw you in that play in a production at The Atlantic.

Condon: I’m so glad. Everyone who does theater, it’s because they love it. It doesn’t pay a lot, and it’s quite difficult doing it all the time. Especially that tour. By the time we came to New York, we were all going nuts.

ATL: Were you raised particularly religious?

Condon: I went to an all-girls Catholic school [laughing], but I’ll be honest with you, my parents aren’t religious at all. I was raised in a religious way at school, but when I was home, you know, we never went to church on the weekends or anything like that. I liked praying. It’s kind of nice being quiet and on your own, thinking. I liked getting off school to go to Confession.

ATL: Banshees has the funniest Confession I’ve seen on film.

Condon: David Pearse, the priest, was Johnnypateenmike in Cripple. And the Cripple is in Banshees, he’s the bread van guy. Pretty much everyone I can think of in the movie was in one of Martin’s plays at some point or another.

ATL: The reason I brought up religion is that it’s this heavy, oppressive weight on the island, but no one really wants to deal with it.

Condon: When the priest arrives by boat at the dock, you see the policeman come over and put his arm around him. It’s a beautiful way to show how the church and state were intertwined, the two of them in each other’s pockets, basically.

ATL: Would you say that your character, Siobhán, understands Pádraic and Colm better than they understand themselves?

Condon: I think she can see both perspectives, which I think puts her kind of in a tricky position, to be honest with you. She understands Pádraic’s hurt, and at the same time, she understands Colm’s need [for] solitude and peace. Also, Colm feels like there’s more to life. She also suspects he’s depressed. The two of them are kindred spirits.

ATL: Colm says to her, “You know what I mean.”

Condon: He does. He says to her many times, “You know what I’m talking about.” It puts her in a tough spot because she feels she’s supposed to be the moral compass of the whole situation.

The Banshees of Inisherin
Colin Farrell and Kerry Condon in The Banshees of Inisherin/Searchlight Pictures

ATL: But she doesn’t have a solution to the problem. No one in Banshees does. Should we be left thinking that Siobhán has abandoned Pádraic?

Condon: Yeah. For sure. That was really sad for me, doing that scene. I remember thinking of all the people in Ireland who emigrated, all that hurt and sadness in saying goodbye. Then when Pádraic says, “Say you’ll come back, Siobhán.” I have that line, “Oh, Pádraic…” and she’s hugging him. Martin told me to say that line “like you’re never going to see him again.” Goodbye forever. That goodbye was just like death.

ATL: Leaving Inisherin may not be the solution for Siobhán, either. I’ve read all those Edna O’Brien novels…

Condon: When we wrapped, Martin bought me three of her books, first editions. They’re so beautiful and in perfect condition.

You know when Pádraic writes to Siobhán, he doesn’t tell her about Jenny. But he does tell her about Dominic [Barry Keoghan]. I wonder when she gets that letter, does it affect her? Because she knows she spoke to him at the lake.

ATL: That scene at the lake between Dominic and Siobhán was, for me, the most emotionally raw scene in the movie.

Condon: Siobhán thought she was really kind to him the way she turned him down. But oh my god. Do you know what I mean? The way you treat people can really hurt them, their character forever changed.

ATL: How did you shoot the scene? Were you there for his takes?

Condon: Of course, I’d be there for both. I’m one of those actors, I’m always there for my off-camera lines. I always like to do the scene just as [well] if I’m not on camera because it’s important for the other actors to have something opposite. Which not everybody does, by the way.

That was the last scene I filmed in the movie. We wrapped that day. It reminded me a little bit of Cripple — when he gets up the courage to ask Helen out.

I like the way that Siobhán handles it. Dominic is sort of, you know, tactless with her, has no boundaries, but she still has a kindness and empathy towards him, is a little maternal towards him, and lets him down in a really gentle way. Which I feel like none of the other characters were capable of doing, really.

ATL: Pádraic was, at times.

Condon: When he was drunk. I think that’s Martin, to be honest with you. [laughing] I think that’s Martin writing himself there.

The Banshees of Inisherin
Kerry Condon and Barry Keoghan in The Banshees of Inisherin/Searchlight Pictures

ATL: But how did you get to that point with Barry Keoghan? Were there a lot of rehearsals?

Condon: No, we didn’t rehearse that particular scene. We ran the lines first, but we didn’t really rehearse it. I mean, I rehearsed all my scenes with Colin and Brendan, but I didn’t rehearse that with Barry.

The lake where she’s standing for that scene, that beautiful lake, we had decided that was the lake where the parents of the kids had drowned. Pádraic and Siobhán’s parents drowned there. What happened was one of the parents was depressed and somewhat suicidal and we presumed that one had committed suicide in the lake and that the other one had maybe drowned trying to save them.

When Siobhán starts the scene at that lake, she knows she’s going to leave. It’s a sense of goodbye — a feeling like she was with her parents. But also you think, like, ‘it’s either I leave, or I’m gonna kill myself. It’s gonna be one or the other.’

ATL: McDonagh shoots it that way from behind Siobhán as if she’s going to jump.

Condon: Exactly. That’s what he wanted it to feel like. If you look closely, she has her shoes and her socks off, too. She’s trapped in this grief and can’t get away from the feeling [of], “Will I just kill myself?” Then Dominic comes and interrupts her.

ATL: He saves her, really.

Condon: Yeah. Maybe. That’s why it’s so eerie, her waving at the Banshee across the lake. There are all these moments, like when Pádraic goes into Colm’s house and the poor dog is looking at him.

One thing I know about the movie is that there’s a humanity to the characters when it comes to the animals. Otherwise, it would be so bleak. I loved Colm’s line in Confession when he says, “Do you think God cares about little donkeys dying? I fear he doesn’t.” It’s such a beautiful line because it’s so true.

ATL: There’s an early scene where Pádraic and Siobhán are arguing about whether he’s “dim.” They’re eating dinner and you deliver one of the lines with your mouth full. I’m wondering if that was scripted, directed, or simply your choice.

Condon: Oh, that was my choice. That’s a big thing with me. I can’t bear, cannot bear actors doing scenes when they’re eating and they’re not fecking eating. [laughing] It drives me crazy. Now, it is annoying working my way because you’re eating for, like, four hours straight. I know I’m gonna be eating all day. I know how to time it for continuity and everything. You don’t necessarily want to eat, but this scene is forever. It’s a beautiful script and I wanted to do it properly. So yeah, I always like to be the character that’s eating. I’m glad you noticed it though.

The Banshees of Inisherin is now playing in theaters nationwide courtesy of Searchlight Pictures.

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