Film

Banshees of Inisherin star Kerry Condon: 'You won't be a beautiful human without empathy'

In the Land of Saints and Sinners required the actress to play a menacing character, a role she relished

Kerry Condon

Kerry Condon. Image: Jeff Vespa/Shutterstock

Yes, it’s another film where Liam Neeson’s armed with a gun on the poster. But In the Land of Saints
and Sinners
, coming to Netflix this week, is more thoughtful and grounded than most. As a gang of terrorists hide out in a small village in County Donegal, they cross paths with Neeson’s Finbar Murphy, a former hitman pulled out of retirement to defend his community, and perhaps find redemption along the way. The film stars Irish acting royalty including Ciarán Hinds, Colm Meaney and Game of Thrones’ Jack Gleeson, all facing off against a ruthless Kerry Condon.

The role is the complete opposite of Siobhán, the sister of Colin Farrell’s character in The Banshees of Inisherin, which earned Condon an Oscar nomination. She calls the Big Issue from Abu Dhabi, where she’s filming a Formula 1 film with Brad Pitt, Javier Bardem and Lewis Hamilton as himself.

THE BIG ISSUE: Are you travelling the world following Formula 1?

Kerry Condon: We’re just doing some other stuff before we start following the Grand Prix in the summer. We started last year at Silverstone, then there was the actor strikes so we had to pause and now we’re starting again in Abu Dhabi.

Does an Oscar nomination mean you get to pick and choose projects and end up in places like Abu Dhabi?

Does an Oscar nomination change things? Yes, in the sense that a lot more projects are coming to me and that I don’t have to audition any more. That’s very nice. It all happened so fast from the moment [Banshees] got released in August to the Oscars. It felt like a whirlwind. I remember wishing that I could pause the whole world for a few days just so my brain could catch up.

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Have you worked on any other upcoming projects that you’re probably not allowed to talk about?

Funnily enough while that roller coaster for Banshees was happening, at the same time I was filming a Star Wars TV show. I think that’s going to come out in November-December. It’s called Skeleton
Crew
. The leads are children and I loved it so much, it was just really innocent and fun. 

In the Land of Saints and Sinners is out this week. Can you introduce us to your character Doireann?

This character, regardless of her political views, is an unhinged, angry person. Her brother goes missing so that’s the catalyst for her getting riled up. Liam’s character isn’t exactly… I mean it’s in the title, he isn’t exactly sin free either. So I knew my role within the story. I’m a villain.

Is playing a villain helped when it’s Liam Neeson you’re up against?

No. Initially, I was a bit like, oh, jeez, my work’s going to be cut out for me because Liam Neeson’s really tall. Tall to a regular person, and I’m pretty small, so he’s really tall compared to me. When I’m standing beside him the audience have to believe that Liam would feel me as a threat. 

Then I remembered various villains in the past that I was affected by, like Joe Pesci in Goodfellas. They might not have been physically menacing but there was something about them that was really nerve-wrecking. Personalities that feel a little unhinged, and unpredictable. So I started to tap into that.

Did that come easily, are you a naturally menacing person?

I’m not at all. It did come easy to me, in a way. I really enjoyed it. And it made me think that sometimes your empathy can be a little crippling, because you can feel really sad for people when you can’t do anything to help them. When I played this character who says what she thinks, it was really relaxing not having to think about the other person’s feelings. I mean, obviously you can’t be like that, you should worry about other people’s feelings. But to play it for a couple of months was fun. 

Ask me about my appearance. How did I come up with my menacing appearance – that’s what you should ask me.

Kerry Condon as Doireann McCann in In the Land of Saints and Sinners
Kerry Condon plays the “unhinged” Doireann McCann in In the Land of Saints and Sinners. Image: Netflix

How did you come up with your menacing appearance?

I was telling you about the height and all of that, I remembered the mother in The Goonies was a strange-looking person. I thought about the idea that people who think negative things, physically they’re not smiley and bright and their energy isn’t nice. All these negative thoughts and negative vibrations manifest in your body. I wanted to not be pretty. I went with one of the Manson girls for the hair. I saw a picture and there was something a little creepy and so I ran with that idea.

Were you glad when it was over and you could stop being intimidating?

I wasn’t in a big rush. It’s harder to play a sensitive character. It’s draining, it’s hard to feel sad and sensitive all the time.

The more you talk about it, the more tempting it seems to switch empathy off.

Don’t do that! Because then you won’t be a beautiful human being and what’ll the world come to if none of us care about anybody?

Doesn’t the world seem like it’s already on the way there?

I hate to think so. It’s great for a few seconds to be able to go – you know what, you’re annoying, fuck off. But ultimately, you’ll end up alone.

Kerry Condon stars in In the Land of Saints and Sinners, available to watch on Netflix from 26 April.

This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine, which exists to give homeless, long-term unemployed and marginalised people the opportunity to earn an income. To support our work buy a copy!

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