Barry Keoghan Opened Up About His Late Mother’s Heroin Addiction And Said He Thinks About Her While Experiencing “Massive Loneliness” In Hollywood

After spending seven years in foster care with his younger brother, Barry’s mom died of a heroin overdose when he was only 12 years old.

Content warning: This post discusses drug addiction.

Off the back of his leading role in one of the buzziest movies of 2023, Saltburn’s Barry Keoghan is undoubtedly one of the brightest stars in Hollywood today.

closeup of him in a suit at an premiere

From making his film debut in 2011 to being nominated for his first Oscar in 2023, Barry’s been working his way up for well over a decade — and he isn’t stopping there.

barry and austin butler talking at an event

In a new cover interview with GQ, the 31-year-old — who’s already worked with filmmakers like Christopher Nolan, Chloé Zhao, and Yorgos Lanthimos — shared his goals for the future, revealing he hopes to collaborate with directors like Barry Jenkins, Paul Thomas Anderson, and Greta Gerwig, to name a few.

him with the cast of dunkirk at the premiere

“I don’t want to get to a place of fulfilment, weirdly,” he told the outlet. “I want to keep chasing this fucking thing, whatever it is.”

Of course, if you’re familiar with Barry, you’ll know his astronomical rise is made all the more impressive by the difficult circumstances he experienced as a child growing up in Ireland.

For context, we don’t know a whole lot about Barry’s dad, though his mother, Debbie, faced addiction struggles throughout his childhood.

At five years old, Barry and his younger brother, Eric, were taken into foster care, where they spent the next seven years of their lives being moved between different homes.

Barry and Eric saw their mother on weekends, and eventually, when Barry was 12, were finally able to move in with their grandmother, where they were raised partly by their older sister in a two bedroom home.

It was around this time that their mother died of a heroin overdose. Barry has previously described this as "the worst day of [his] life," but also said that the tragedy made him stronger and fueled his desire to reach success.

So, after developing a love for old Hollywood movies while living with his grandmother, Barry eventually bagged his first acting gig when he answered an open casting call for the Irish movie Between the Canals in 2011 — and the rest is history.

Now, reflecting on his journey to stardom, Barry told GQ he can barely believe it himself.

closeup of him holding up his BAFTA award

“It’s crazy when I think of it,” he said. “I was saying to my friend last night — I was just looking out at the [Hollywood] sign and, y’know, I wanted this as a kid. I dunno why I wanted it, but I wanted it.”

He continued: “It brings back memories, in a weird way — it’s hard to have memories of a place you’ve not been in, but I watched all those old movies, and was fascinated by Old Hollywood. This was stuff I dreamt of, as a kid.”

Despite now living his dreams, the Dunkirk actor candidly admitted that there’s also a major aspect of loneliness that comes with a life in showbiz.

“A massive loneliness. It’s hard not to talk about that, or to pretend that’s not there,” he said, going on to admit that he often thinks of his mother in moments of isolation.

“She was in the hospital,” he recalled, reflecting on the period in his life when he started to develop a love for performing. “She was battlin’ a lot of stuff.”

“She’s many years passed now, but I always think about her anyway,” he said. “It’s always just in and around achievements that it’s really prominent —’cause you’d like to celebrate that wit’ ’er, y’know?”

But, despite the loneliness, Barry also made it clear that his success has plenty of perks, too — like meeting his Hollywood idols, for example.

barry leaning into the camera and grinning wide with his award

As well as a surreal encounter with Daniel Day-Lewis in Brooklyn, Barry recalled meeting Leonardo DiCaprio, whose work is particularly significant to him.

“They say never meet your heroes, but nah,” he said of meeting Leo. “I loved What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, but Basketball Diaries, for me, there was a personal connection — with my mother being on heroin.”

A closeuo of Leo on the red carpet

In the 1995 film, Leo stars as a budding high school basketball star named Jim Carrol who develops a heroin addiction. Barry recalled that the story “hit home” for him, with regard to his mom’s own experience.

a young leo standing in front of the movie poster

“I really could relate to it, a lot,” he said. “There’s a scene where he comes to the door and he’s begging his mom, can he come in? I was witness to that — that happened at my granny’s house, ’cause my granny was my mother’s mother. And it was similar.”

And having been through so much in his life already, it’s no surprise that Barry has plans to take his story to the big screen.

“It’s called The Cut Man. It’s about my upbringing,” he said of the project, which apparently already has a script, written by Hunter Andrews.

You can read Barry’s full GQ cover interview here.

If you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse, you can call SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) and find more resources here.

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