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Kerry Condon on Channeling ‘Trainspotting’ for IRA Thriller ‘In the Land of Saints and Sinners’ and Upcoming ‘Star Wars: Skeleton Crew’: ‘It’s Really Adventurous’


Having won a BAFTA (and landed an Oscar nomination) for her role as Colin Farrell’s kind-hearted but cynical — and distinctly less donkey-friendly — sister in Martin McDonagh’s darkly comic “The Banshees of Inisherin,” Kerry Condon is back in her native Ireland for her next film role. 

Set in the height of the Troubles in the mid-1970s, Robert Lorenz’s Irish Western “In the Land of Saints and Sinners,” which launches on Netflix Friday, sees the actress ditch all niceties to play a hard-nosed, mean-as-hell, extremely potty-mouthed and very violent IRA gang leader trying to lie low in rural Donegal following a deadly pub bombing. But it’s not long before she’s up against Liam Neeson, whose demeanor as a quiet widow and secondhand book dealer masks a secret identity as a local hitman for Colm Meaney’s village mobster. Like any good Western, the two eventually face off in a final shootout in a traditional Irish pub, trading blows, bullets and smashed pints of Guinness. 

For Condon, talking over Zoom from just outside of Seattle, Wash., where she owns a farm for rescued horses, she never intended to return to home soil so quickly for another film. But the opportunity to play someone so delightfully menacing — and appear for the first time with Neeson — was just too much to turn down. 

“In the Land of Saints and Sinners” arrives amid a particularly busy period for the actress. She recently returned home from Abu Dhabi, where she’s been filming scenes for “Top Gun: Maverick” director Joseph Kosinski’s as-yet-untitled Formula One action drama for Apple TV+ — playing a racing engineer as part of an all-star ensemble cast including Brad Pitt, Damson Idris, Javier Bardem and F1 legend Lewis Hamilton (who also produces). Later this year, she’ll appearing in Disney+’s family-friendly galactic spinoff series “Star Wars: Skeleton Crew” with Jude Law, and is soon heading off to film a supporting role in another feature film.

But while the work may be coming in thick and fast — and definitely took an upswing in the wake of “Banshees” — Condon says she’s very conscious of not wanting to take on so much that she’s moving from “film set to film set” and never on her farm with her beloved horses. As she explains to Variety, she needs to be in nature, “otherwise I feel kind of sad.”  

What was it like playing a mean, violent, murderous and foul-mouthed IRA fighter?

It all came about after we’d finished filming “Banshees” and I was back in Los Angeles, and I thought about going back to Ireland and doing another part. Usual I try and change it up — I don’t want to do too much of one thing. But the part was so good that I didn’t care. I had a lot of fun coming up with ways to be menacing and scary and be those type of people — usually when they’ve been drinking — who you say something to and they turn on you, people that you’re nervous around. I just wanted to tap into that. Because I’m quite small, I had to come up with ways. I also had a bit of inspiration from Begbie from “Trainspotting.” He’s not the biggest guy, but you’re absolutely scared of him. 

Was this your first film with Liam Neeson?

Yeah. And I’d wanted to [work with him] because of “Schindler’s List.” I remember when that came out. It very inspiring for me when I was wanting to be an actress, just that an Irish person could get that far, that they could get that movie and then they could get nominated for it. So he was kind of a North Star. But we don’t have a lot of scenes together, because we’re trying to find each other. 

But you do end up in a pretty epic gun fight. Is it every actor’s dream to at some point have a shoot-out on screen with Liam Neeson? 

I was actually thinking about it when I was doing it, and I can see how you could get into the action genre and not want to leave it, because it’s so much fun! It felt like when I was playing with my brother as kid, peering around the sofa. But learning how to shoot on camera was a little more challenging. It’s trickier than you think. Obviously, you can’t be blinking every time you shoot. 

And for that shoot out to happen in a traditional Irish pub… it’s sort of like the much more violent version of “Banshees.”

I know! Getting to smash the pint glass… I could have done that forever.

Banshees” was obviously a huge success. You’d done plenty before then, but was that the first time being caught up in the awards season circus and that whole process?

Yes, 100%. And I still look back and think I made so many mistakes. But it all happened really fast. Once it premiered at Venice, it was really like this domino, and it was just a matter of keeping up with it. And at the time, I was shooting a “Star Wars” TV show. I was filming that and promoting the movie all the way up to January [2023]. So that was rough. It was an amazing gift — I was in this incredible TV show and this other thing I was in was taking — but I was bollocksed. I was living off boiled eggs and bananas for months, just because I had no time. It was wild. But I asked Colin [Farrell] and I was like, “Wow is your life like this? It’s this what it’s like all the time for you?” And he was like, “No, this is a new experience.” So even he was feeling it.

How was the experience of having much of Hollywood consider “Banshees” your breakout performance, even though you’ve been appearing on stage and screen for the previous 20 years? 

I mean, I’ll take it! Thank you! I don’t mind taking 25 years and then have this moment where everyone thinks I’m starting. Because part of me feels like I’m only warming up anyway. 

You’ve got some pretty big projects coming up. How’s Joseph Kosinski’s F1 film coming on? 

It’s been great. I’ve been learning all about engineering and Formula One. I’m trying my best with that, but physics and maths were my worst subjects. My dad did have a garage growing up, so that’s kind of familiar to me. But Joseph is so insanely prepared and I like preparation, so it’s been really lovely and seamless. It’s an ensemble piece, because there are so many people involved in an F1 team. But I bring the brains, I would say.

And you mentioned you were shooting a “Star Wars” series, which is Disney+’s “Skeleton Crew.” There seems to be a lot of excitement about it. 

It’s so great. I don’t even have kids, but I’d pay to see this. I loved it. I loved being on it. There was something about it that was so innocent and playful and lovely. People say don’t work with kids or animals, but I don’t know about that. And also when children are good actors, they’re kind of out-of-this-world good. So watching some of the kids’ scenes, it was amazing. Jude Law’s in it and I’ve worked with him before. But it’s really adventurous and they got such great directors for each episode – the Daniels, Bruce Dallas Howard, Lee Isaac Cheung, David Lowery. It was a pretty amazing group. And of course, Jon Watts who created the whole thing. 

As you said, “Skeleton Crew” was shot before “Banshees,” but did a lot of work come after? When you’ve been a part of the awards season, and won a BAFTA and been Oscar-nominated, does it change things? What’s that experience like?

Yeah, loads of scripts come through. But then you’re in another position where you’re trying to navigate what do you want to do. And then you’ve got to watch all these movies and Zoom with these people. There’s so much homework, because you want to do justice to every script that comes your way and read it and actually consider it. So that’s been tricky, and I’ve asked lots of actors who are more successful than me, like, “How do you navigate? How do you pick what to do?” And everybody’s answer is different. So I don’t know if there’s a right formula.

And then another part of me is very conscious of the fact that I do love my free time. I really do need to be in nature. Otherwise, I feel kind of sad. So I have to be aware that yeah, I want to work, but I don’t want to just go from film set to film set for five years with no life and with my horses getting older so they don’t see me so much. People with children are considerate of their children. So I feel like I can do the same with my own personal life, too. I think it’s important. 

What animals do you have on the farm? 

Horses, horses, horses! And a cat. A dog. And six chickens. 

Speaking of animals, do you have any update on the wellbeing of the main star of “Banshees,” Jenny the miniature donkey?

I know she’s retired, and she’s in a place kind of like my farm. She’s just living out her life. And every once in while, Martin [McDonagh] gets a picture of her and sends it on. She was young when we first got her, but she’s since filled out.