Despite being the third actor to play the role inside of six years, it’s no small thing to portray the Clown Prince of Crime. Indeed, as soon as The Batman opened in theaters last month, almost the entire internet chatter was about that cameo where out of seemingly nowhere, Barry Keoghan showed up under heavy prosthetics as an unnamed Arkham Asylum inmate. One who is obviously the Joker.
With his intensely disfigured facial scars and green hair he stands a long way from either Joaquin Phoenix’s Oscar winning Mistah J or the one portrayed by Jared Leto in Suicide Squad. He even has little in common with the last Joker to have a major appearance in a Batman movie, the unforgettable Heath Ledger. But that is unmistakably the Joker who consoles Paul Dano’s Riddler about his plan going sideways, just as it’s unmistakably Barry Keoghan giving a very Barry Keoghan-like spin on the character. Something which became all the more apparent after Warner Bros. and director Matt Reeves released a second, deleted scene in which Keoghan’s Joker has his first on-screen confrontation with Robert Pattinson’s Batman.
Despite being only 29 years old, Keoghan has already amassed quite the career of playing weirdos and outsiders, and probably in more than one movie that you’ve seen. It’s for that reason we here at Den of Geek have compiled the handy dandy list of previous projects you’ve seen the newest iteration of Gotham’s court jester.
We begin with what is arguably Keoghan’s most famous film to date, and ironically the one where he plays the most well-adjusted character. Appearing in a genuinely heroic and boyish role, Keoghan portrays “George” in Christopher Nolan’s World War II epic, Dunkirk. George is the sweet kid who joins his buddy Peter (Tom Glynn-Carney) and his father Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance) as they sail across the English Channel, participating in the biggest (and most desperate) naval evacuation in history. This was the event where thousands of civilian boats and vessels came to the maritime rescue of hundreds of thousands of British soldiers stranded in France after the fall of Paris.
George is a good kid who wants to prove his mettle, and it’s a bittersweet but noble turn from Keoghan. One of the few on this list!
The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017)
Here might be the first movie to make Reeves consider Keoghan for the role of Joker. In director Yorgos Lanthimos’ first full English-language horror movie, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, Keoghan at first glance appears to play a tragic but disturbed lad named Martin. See, Martin’s father died on an operating table beneath the knife of a well-meaning surgeon named Dr. Steven Murphy (Colin Farrell), and the good doctor feels some sympathy and pity for the kid.
But in trying to comfort and mentor the kid, dark secrets from Dr. Murphy’s past emerge, as does Martin’s literally cursed hatred for the man—a curse that very well could take the lives of Murphy’s family, including his wife Anna (Nicole Kidman). This is about as “elevated” as an A24 horror movie can get, with its origins lying in the Greek tragedy of Iphigenia in Aulis by Euripides. And at the heart of those scholarly pretensions is Keoghan’s smug, and ultimately terrifying, smirk.
American Animals (2018)
Bart Layton’s followup to his groundbreaking documentary The Imposter is a curious mix of truth and fiction, dramatizing a true crime case with actors as well as using the real people alongside them. It’s the story of a group of privileged college students who decide to rob a library. The plan is so wild that it’s fascinating they could possibly ever think it would work.
The film delves into the psychology of these otherwise squeaky clean young men and what drove them to the central event. Keoghan plays Spencer, one of the two who initially fantasize about the heist, with Evan Peters as Warren. Not playing a villain for a change (or certainly not a typical one), Keoghan’s picture of Spencer is of a young man craving drama caught up in a plan so dumb it barely even seems real. An ensemble piece where Keoghan once again shines.
Calm with Horses (2019)
The directorial debut of Nick Rowland is a brutal tale of a former boxer Douglas “Arm” Armstrong (Cosmo Jarvis) employed as an enforcer for an insidious crime family in rural Ireland, torn between his loyalties to them and his desire to be a good father to his autistic kid. Keoghan plays Dymphna, a volatile, spiky livewire who manipulates Arm, flitting between friendship and treating him like his personal attack dog. Keoghan is scary, despite his diminutive size in comparison to Jarvis. He’s charismatic but dangerous in an excellent but stressful movie following an inevitable descent into hell.
HBO’s classic 2019 miniseries Chernobyl puts Keoghan’s youthful, expressive face to good use. Cast as young Soviet “liquidator” Pavel in episode four, Keoghan is tasked with the unenviable job of shooting radioactive dogs around the titular nuclear disaster site while still maintaining the audience’s sympathies. That he’s able to do so is a testament to both Craig Mazin’s nuclear period piece and Keoghan’s pure talent.
The Green Knight (2021)
Here is yet another creeper in the Keoghan catalog. The actor’s unnamed “Scavenger” in David Lowery’s twisted Arthurian fantasy is a small part; a character who is just one of many people Dev Patel’s deeply flawed Gawain meets on his seemingly doomed quest to discover the Green Knight’s chapel. However, Keoghan’s episodic appearance in the film is also the first illuminating test of the hero’s character. When the man-who-would-be King Arthur’s heir meets Keoghan in the aftermath of a battlefield, the rich nephew of a king wears the airs of a knight, and yet is so uncharitable to the young serf who gives him direction as to have to be shamed into offering him recompense after supposedly losing a brother in that battle.
Yet Keoghan’s Scavenger shows up again shortly afterward, as we learn he directed Gawain into a highwayman’s trap where two accomplices, both women, easily best and disarm the faux-knight. Keoghan then personally lays claim to Gawain’s great magical axe—the measly prize the main character got by entering into a veritable suicide pact with the Green Knight one year prior. Now, Keoghan would’ve screwed over Gawain no matter what, but the way in which this meek character and his compatriots can so thoroughly humiliate the film’s protagonist, leaving him begging for his life barely a few miles outside of Camelot, is the first of many examples where we find Gawain’s chivalry left wanting. Nice find, Scavenger!
Still, lest you think Keoghan is becoming typecast, particularly in the popular realm of superhero films, he also appeared in the competition across the street’s most ambitious superhero movie from last year, Eternals. Love it or hate it, this Chloé Zhao picture was a refreshing departure from Marvel Studios formula, and one which played fast and loose with the genre’s conventions. Take Keoghan’s character Druig. Likely introduced with the intention of being a red herring for untrustworthiness due to Keoghan’s unconventional appearance, Druig is an alien immortal who has the ability to control the minds of humans by the thousands. He’s also the one to break up the Eternals’ merry team by walking out on the other Eternals instead of cooly standing by to watch our species slaughter each other with rudimentary weapons.
Many likely suspected Druig would be the traitor in the titular heroes’ midst, which might’ve made the revelation that golden boy Ikaris (Richard Madden) was the bad’un a surprise. Indeed, Druig returns in Eternals’ third act to be revealed as one of the noblest of this odd super-family. He stands up loudly to Ikaris’ genocidal notions, and he has a subtle and amusing romance in the margins with Marvel’s first deaf superhero, Makkari (Lauren Ridloff).