If you ask Kerry Condon, she still isn't exactly sure how Martin McDonagh came to envision her as The Banshees of Inisherin's Siobhán, the stoic voice of reason within the darkly comedic film. The Irish actress has known the filmmaker for more than half her life, since being cast at age 18 as the zealous, cat-loving Mairead in his play, The Lieutenant of Inishmore, a role that couldn't be more different from Siobhán. "Like, she's the lieutenant of Inishmore! She has a gun and she's, like, shooting everyone who pisses her off!"
Shy of a decade later, Condon appeared in another of McDonagh's plays, 2009's The Cripple of Inishmaan, playing an equally intense character known as "Slippy" Helen, before reuniting with the director for 2017's Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, in which she had a small role as a secretary who gets punched in the face by Frances McDormand's character. As McDonagh conceived his follow-up to Three Billboards, he wrote the character of Siobhán expressly for Condon.
Siobhán is the long-suffering sister of Pádraic (Colin Farrell, with whom a 17-year-old Condon previously worked on the BBC series, Ballykissnangel). Set on the isle of Inisherin as the Irish Civil War wages on the mainland, The Banshees of Inisherin revolves around a conflict between Pádraic and his longtime drinking buddy, Colm (Brendan Gleeson), after Colm abruptly declares that they are no longer friends. Siobhán attempts to broker peace between the two, equally empathetic to and exasperated by the plight of these men. Amongst all the bickering fellas, she is a soulful, calming presence and perhaps the only rational individual on the entire island. For her performance, Condon received her first Oscar nomination.
"I've watched the Oscars since I was a child. It was such a big deal in our house," she tells A.frame. "I actually remember Angela Bassett being nominated for What's Love Got to Do With It." Now, Condor is nominated alongside Bassett for Best Supporting Actress (the latter for her performance in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever). "Honestly, I kind of just find myself laughing, because I can't believe it. It's something I've wanted my whole life."
As a young girl growing up in Tipperary in central Ireland, she always dreamed of becoming an actress. Henceforth, she will forever be Academy Award Nominee Kerry Condon.
"I know!" exclaims the actress. "And so if I'm disrespected, I'll be like, 'What the feck, man? I've been nominated for an Oscar! How do you mean you don't know anything I've done?'" She lets out a laugh, "Obviously, I'm not going to be like that! I'm going to be calm and collected. But, in my mind, I'll think that."
A.frame: You've known Martin for many, many years. Do you remember when he first mentioned The Banshees to you?
Vaguely, kind of, but it was a different script. It had the storyline of Pádraic and Colm, but there was also this other person who comes to the island and there was a shoot-out and all this stuff. It was different. That was years ago, and there has been a couple of other scripts that he's written over the years that never got made. So, a little part of me was like, 'Oh, that's great,' but I wouldn't be holding my breath, because I wouldn't know what he'd do next. Also, I wouldn't put pressure on him or feel that he owes me anything. It was only when he started to revisit it after Three Billboards that I started to think, 'Oh gosh, this could be really happening.'
I've always done the plays and I never thought that I'd get a part in the films, so I was really thrilled that I was going to get a chance to be in one of the films. Because the plays were so brilliant, and if I'd only done the plays in my life, I really wouldn't have minded. It's not like I needed everyone to know that I was connected to Martin. I knew it, and that was fine with me. But it was just knowing that it was going to be seen by more people. Because sometimes I feel like, 'Oh, it's too bad people didn't see The Lieutenant of Inishmore, because it was so brilliant.' That's the thing with films, they're forever. I loved that I was going to be in something that would be there forever, and you could see it forever.
Did Martin tell you that he'd written this role with you in mind?
He didn't, no. We would be very kind of — what's the word? — business-y. It would've been a bit weird if he'd said, 'Kerry, I wrote this for you.' I wouldn't know what to say, really! [Laughs] It was business-y and matter of fact, like, 'What'd you think about this line? And what'd you think about that?' I've known him so long, so there wouldn't really be a conversation like that. It's only when the thing came out that he was like, 'Oh, I wrote it for Kerry,' and I was like, 'Oh wow. Did ya? Thanks a million!' I wouldn't be so arrogant as to presume that he's writing things with me in mind or whatever, and I wouldn't dream of asking him what he does be thinking about when he's writing, either. It's kind of none of my business. But obviously, I was really, really flattered. And you know, I felt like I earned it a bit, too.
How did you know that playing Siobhán would challenge you as an actor?
It was subtler than the other roles I'd done for him. The other roles I'd done were younger characters who had that arrogance of youth, and they were real mouthy, and sure of themselves. And I played them when I was very young too, so I was really kind of cocky, I suppose. This one, I remember thinking, 'Oh, it's very private, and she's not as spunky as the other ladies. There's a sadness to her, but a hopefulness. There's two things going on at the same time. She's depressed, but she can't be so depressed that she doesn't want to get out of bed and leave the island.' That was a little bit of a challenge for me, because I definitely came to it with the sadness and, I would say, the depression kind of vibe. That was sort of easy for me.
The tricky part was not getting into that sadness so much that she wouldn't have the drive to leave. I had to sort of balance it out. And Martin helped me with that. And the costumes helped with that too, the colors of the costumes; otherwise, it just would've been one note, really. It just would've been like, 'Oh, Siobhán's sad, and her life's sad. She's the forgotten woman and nobody pays attention to her.' It required a bit of thinking in the rehearsal room.
The other parts that I've done for Martin have been real empowering. Like Mairead in The Lieutenant of Inishmore, she's the lieutenant of Inishmore! She has a gun and she's, like, shooting everyone who pisses her off! She's just very empowered, whereas, this tapped into the sad part of me, and that was... sad. I felt lonely and sad sometimes, like I wasn't that important. All the boys were having a laugh, and I was on the outside. I mean, I wasn't. Colin and Martin and all, they were pure mad about me and really nice to me. But I think I leaned into that feeling, and I definitely felt quite lonely while we were filming this.
I hope every now and then you snuck off and gave Jenny a pet to feel a little happier.
Oh, sweet Jesus, I gave Jenny a pet and I also gave a mint to the horse Minnie all the time. I was mad about Minnie, because I've got horses myself. And then also, Jenny had another little donkey with her, Rosie, that wasn't on camera. Rosie was off camera to keep Jenny calm, and I was mad about little Rosie. You know, Rosie wasn't getting the limelight, and I just didn't want her to feel like she was left out, I reckon. I had lost my dog, as well, leading up to the film, and I had her for 15 years.
I lived alone with her for 15 years, so she meant so much to me. In the evenings after work, I'd go to the beach by myself. There was a beautiful beach that was deserted near my house, and I'd go swimming in the ocean. And I really could feel like my little dog was with me. I really felt loved and safe. The island felt very spiritual to me. The nature of the island was really healing for me. I felt like there was something in the air that was taking care of me, probably what I imagine Siobhán felt sometimes. But I suppose like anything, it starts to wear down in you after a while if you're alone all the time.
It sounds almost like Rosie was sort of the animal manifestation of Siobhán. She's there to be supportive, but she needs love too. She needs attention and to know she matters.
Exactly! And really, I can't stand favoritism, so I always make sure that people don't feel left out. So, of course, my heart went to little Rosie, because I was like, 'We wouldn't be able to do this without Rosie! Because, otherwise, Jenny'd be all scared.'
Just like Pádraic would be.
Yeah, so Rosie was just as important. I felt like I needed her to know that.
I'm so sorry to hear about your dog.
Oh, my little princess! Listen, she had a beautiful life. And we all have to die sometime. It's almost three years, so I'm kind of coming to terms with it now. But aye, it was rough enough in the beginning. The light going out in her little eyes, it was awful.
I'm glad you were able to have such an affirming experience out of that grief.
And a beautiful gift for taking care of her my whole life! It's all part of being alive, I suppose, all those goodbyes, and the highs and lows. At least I'm experiencing life in the full of it. It's all okay.
By John Boone
A.frame, the digital magazine of the Academy, is excited to celebrate and honor the nominees of the 95th Oscars across several branches by spotlighting their nominated films, craftsmanship, and personal stories. For more on this year's nominees, take a look at our Oscars hub.
Editor's Note: For parity, A.frame reached out to every nominee in the Best Actress in a Supporting Role category for an interview.