Riding high off an Oscar nomination for his supporting turn in The Banshees of Inisherin, Irish actor Barry Keoghan is set to star in a new movie about Billy the Kid that will reportedly lean into the gunslinger’s Irish ancestry and reunite the actor with his American Animals director Bart Layton.
Keoghan has been trying to get the project off the ground for the past three years, though the pandemic certainly didn’t help. Boasting a new script from writer Hunter Andrews, Keoghan partnered with Film 4 and producer Ed Guiney of Element Pictures, with whom he previously worked on The Killing of a Sacred Deer and Calm With Horses, and the actor is now planning to start production in the first half of next year, though Layton apparently expects to direct another film before then.
Deadline broke the news, reporting that Keoghan first told Layton about the project on the set of American Animals, and that when he talked to Guiney about it, the veteran producer found the actor’s pitch undeniable. Guiney told Deadline he was impressed by Keoghan’s “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.”
The project will lean into the Kid’s Irish ancestry and complicated childhood. Born in New York as Henry McCarty, Billy the Kid, as he came to be known, grew up an orphan. He was first arrested for robbery at the age of 16, and by 18 he was wanted for murder in Arizona. He was dead by the age of 21, shot to death by Sheriff Pat Garrett, though his legend only grew from there.
Keoghan told Deadline hopes the role is one that he’s ultimately remembered for. The actor grew up in the foster care system after losing his mother when he was just 12 years old, so he could understand the pressure and relate to the desperate choices faced by Billy the Kid. As a kid, he was intrigued by the legend surrounding him, but these days, he aims to shatter that legend and humanize him by portraying him as a soulful, vulnerable, but nonetheless rebellious man rather than some ice-cold mythological figure of the Wild West.
“This isn’t just a passion project for Barry, this approach is something new, and it’s a version of the tale we hope the world will want to see,” Guiney added in Deadline’s report, which noted that Layton said the role “felt like something Barry was born to do.”
Speaking of which, as a huge fan of American Animals, I feel strongly that directing is something that Layton was born to do, and it’s been a bit of a bummer that he hasn’t directed anything since that excellent 2018 crime film, especially since the project he’s been developing, Ravens, boasts a fascinating premise involving a home invasion and a family that has just won the lottery. Layton also directed the fascinating 2012 documentary The Imposter, about a grown adult who impersonated a missing teenager.
In addition to The Banshees of Inisherin, Keoghan appeared in The Batman last year as one of the Caped Crusader’s most fearsome villains, and he next stars opposite Jacob Elordi in Emerald Fennell‘s thriller Saltburn, which is expected to hit theaters later this year. He’s represented by WME, Entertainment 360 and B-Side Management, while Layton is repped by CAA and Casarotto Ramsay & Associates.