Kerry Condon: ‘I Don’t Think Anything Has Ever Come Easy to Me’

An ardent animal lover, the supporting actress Oscar nominee for “The Banshees of Inisherin” channeled grief from her dog’s death into her performance.

Kerry Condon described the nomination as “a dream come true.” She said, “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with admitting that you’re ambitious.”Credit…Ariel Fisher for The New York Times

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By Kyle Buchanan

Kerry Condon had hoped to be among her horses when last week’s Oscar nominations were announced. If she kept busy tending her farm in Seattle, she figured that no matter the outcome of the early morning announcement, the work required to care for those two animals would help ground her in normalcy. After all, what do they know about Oscar odds?

“If I’d hugged them at 5 a.m., they would have been like, ‘It’s almost feed time, where’s our hay?’” she said. “They would have been having none of it!”

It didn’t quite go down that way, since work conspired to keep her in Los Angeles, where the Irish actress has lived for the last decade. Still, Condon is hardly complaining: On that fateful Tuesday morning, she received her first Oscar nomination, for Martin McDonagh’s “The Banshees of Inisherin,” in which she plays the feisty but lonely Siobhan, who counsels her brother, Padraic (Colin Farrell), through a feud with his best friend (Brendan Gleeson), fends off an enamored suitor, the oddball Dominic (Barry Keoghan), and wonders if there’s more to life than what can be experienced on the cloistered island where she grew up.

It’s a breakthrough role for the 40-year-old Condon, who met me for lunch in Los Angeles just days after her nomination to discuss a career full of ups and downs. “I don’t think anything has ever come easy to me, so I have the opposite of a sense of entitlement,” she said.

Though Condon grew up in the country town of Tipperary, she was always keen to make her mark in Hollywood: When she was just 10, she even wrote an unanswered letter to the well-known agent Mike Ovitz, asking him to represent her. (It didn’t work, but you’ve got to admire the chutzpah.) After graduating from the equivalent of high school, Condon worked in theater and could be seen in supporting parts on dramas like “Rome,” “Luck” and “Better Caul Saul,” but the major screen role that would kick her career into a higher gear had been hard to come by until now.

“I think she’s probably been better than a lot of the directors and material she’s had to work with,” said McDonagh, who cast Condon in many of his plays and conceived “Banshees” with her in mind. “I always wanted to try and write something for her that would capture how brilliant she is onstage, but in a movie.”

With her Irish accent and impish sense of humor, Condon has been a welcome presence in every awards ballroom, though all that glad-handing can take its toll, she said: “I’m extremely introverted and I live alone, so when I come back from those things, I need to be hooked up to a drip!” Still, she’s thrilled to have the recognition, excited to be nominated alongside her three castmates, and ready for whatever happens to her screen career.

“If it doesn’t change, and I still have my little peaks and valleys, at least I’ll be more equipped,” Condon said. “And I’ll also know that passes as quick as the good fortune passes.”

Here are edited excerpts from our conversation.

How did you feel the day before the Oscar nominations were announced?

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I was busy in my house and I felt occupied, but as the day went on, my body was feeling really nervous and I was like, “Damn that subconscious! It’s obviously on my mind.” But I did go on a beautiful hike by myself and I clocked the moment, thinking, “I’m actually really happy right now. So just remember that if it doesn’t work out tomorrow, I was happy today and I didn’t have it.”

Did you sleep well that night?

I did but I could sleep through a nuclear bomb. I’m telling you, they should study me. I was going to turn off my cellphone and have my manager give the news to me like a regular business day — I was trying to be all cool so if I didn’t get it, I could take that moment privately and get myself together. But Colin called me and was like, “Do you want to watch it together?” Then I had to debate that for three hours because I was like, “What if one of us gets it and the other one doesn’t? Do I want to experience this massive moment with other people?” At the last minute, I said, “I’ll go to your house and watch it.”

And on West Coast time, that means getting up before dawn.

It was the weirdest thing getting up in the dark and scurrying out the door. Honest to God, it felt like we were doing something illegal! It’s just so surreal to be at anyone’s house at 5 in the morning, sober and in your pajamas, but I’m really glad I shared it with other people because it felt nice to get hugs in that moment. Whereas if I’d have been on my own, it would have been amazing, but it also would have been like, “God, Kerry, you’re such a loner!”

In a statement released that morning, you described the nomination as “a dream come true.”

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with admitting that you’re ambitious. It’s not like I’m Lady Macbeth and I’m stabbing the competition. I watched the Oscars when I was a kid and it’s always been on my radar. At the same time, was my happiness dependent on this? No, I’m not that much of a superficial person.

You’ve worked with Martin McDonagh several times on plays. What took him so long to write a great film role for you?

I don’t know, but I never got on his case about it. I was just really happy that we had been friends for so long. If I’d say, “Oh, I’m up for this job, I’m down to the last two,” and then I wouldn’t get it — which was the story of my life for a few years — Martin was one of the very few people in my life who’d say, “You’re great, and that guy’s a terrible director.” He always kept me going with things like that, and that was enough. I remember Martin got me a lovely bracelet saying, “It’s the journey that matters in the end,” and I still have it.

How did you feel when he offered you “Banshees”?

I can’t remember because my dog died just before Covid, and the lead-up to my dog dying was a whole thing. I was very distracted, and on the horizon was this possible “Banshees” thing, but I couldn’t think beyond my dog. I paused everything. I said to my agent a year before that, “I’m not doing any jobs, I have to see this through. I don’t care what I’m missing, I have to be with her.” It was hard because I lived alone with her, and when you don’t have children, she was just everything to me.

That death had such a profound effect on me that it made me go, “Why aren’t people crying all the time? Why aren’t people talking about the fact that we all just disappear?” I remember thinking it was like when you lose your virginity: You hear about sex and you’re like, “What is that?” And then you have it, and the world cracks open, and there’s no going back. That’s how it felt with grief: I was like, “Oh, this is something I am going to have to deal with throughout my life.”

Is that something you were able to bring to Siobhan, who has been taking care of her brother since their parents passed away?

That was my starting point. I felt that Siobhan was stuck in that grief and not able to grow and be her own person because she had to fill the mother shoes with Padraic. Grief is a lonely journey. After a while, you can’t keep going on about it, because people are like, “I don’t know what you want me to say.” It is something you have to go through alone, but Martin had to control me in that because I think it was getting too sad sometimes. He was like, “She has to see that there’s a possibility of a change and that there’s more to life. There has to be an element of hope.” So I felt like it really came at the perfect time in my life.

It’s ironic that Siobhan is so hostile to her brother’s donkey, since you’re such an animal lover in real life.

That was really hard for me! I was always saying to Martin, “I feel like Siobhan would be happier if she would just let the animals in the house, and if she liked animals as much as I do.” And he was like, “I don’t know if that would be enough to fulfill her life.” But I’m different. I feel like animals are enough to fulfill my life.

People have really responded to the scene where Dominic confesses his crush to Siobhan. That clip has trended on Twitter several times, and you and Barry are both terrific in it.

I think he’s manipulating the internet — I’m like, “Somebody’s behind this, and I bet you any money, it’s Barry!” That was the last day of the shoot and the last scene I did. I had always imagined that Dominic had done things to Siobhan over the years that really unnerved her, like maybe stolen some of her clothes off the washing line. But at the same time, she was evolved enough to be kind to him in that moment, which made her even more beautiful a character.

Why do you think Siobhan gets so angry when Dominic asks why she never married?

Oh, that’s a good one, because it’s hitting a nerve. I talked about that with Martin: “Are we saying that she’s a virgin?” We both came to the decision that she hadn’t had sex with anyone, because it’s Catholic Ireland and that would have been unheard-of, but maybe somebody came from the mainland one time and there were the very startings of a romance. But she couldn’t leave with this person because she was stuck on this island, so it was shut down very quickly. So when she’s asked, “Were you never married, and were you never wild?” I think it really irked her that she never had the opportunity.

Have you ever felt a loneliness like Siobhan’s?

Because I was never married, does that ever bother me? No. I could be monogamous, but I don’t really care about marriage, and I don’t really know why everyone cares about it.

I’m kind of ambivalent about it myself, although I’m the first person to cry at weddings.

I get emotional at weddings, too, which is so stupid. Sometimes I’m like, “There she goes, my friend’s gone. Her loyalty’s to her husband now, and there goes our years.” But my goal has always been to be an actress, never to get married and have children. I don’t think it’s something I should do just because I’m a woman. I’ve never followed conventions, and I’m hardly going to start now.

How did you feel when you wrapped the film?

Funnily enough, I was a little bit glad because by the end of it, it was starting to take its toll. That line to Siobhan of, “No wonder no one likes you,” that was starting to ring in my ears a little bit. And I know for Colin it was taking its toll too, with all the rejection and thinking, “Am I stupid?” If you have to stay in those spaces long enough, you can’t help but have them in your thinking. I found myself coming home some evenings after a great day, and all of a sudden, I’d just be bawling for five minutes. I didn’t even know why I was crying. I just knew there was a heaviness to it, and I was ready to let it go.

How did it feel once the movie returned to your life in such a grand fashion, from a Venice Film Festival premiere on to awards season?

Looking back, it has been an absolute whirlwind since Venice. Everything has happened super, super fast — so fast that I’m getting nervous for the Oscars coming, since it’s going to be all over then.

At least you’ve got a few weeks to savor things until it happens.

But still, things end. And isn’t that sad?

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