After an accomplished yet understated career spanning more than 20 years of theater, television and film, Kerry Condon is having her moment in the spotlight; that’s thanks to her wry, heartbreaking performance in Martin McDonagh’s “The Banshees of Inisherin.” Prior to receiving a best supporting actress nomination at the 95th Academy Awards, Condon was best known for her recurring guest spot on “Better Call Saul,” as well as her supporting role on HBO’s “Rome.” She can be seen next playing a baddie opposite Liam Neeson in Robert Lorenz’s “In the Land of Saints and Sinners.”
What’s your worst audition horror story?
That’s easy—it was for Oliver Stone, and he kept me waiting for five hours. I think it was around the time he was doing “Alexander.” I can’t blame him for keeping me waiting; all I know is I was in a hotel waiting around for hours and hours—and some of the other people who were waiting were getting drunk in the bar. Then I go into the audition and he says, “So what have you prepared?” No one told me I had to prepare anything; I just thought we were going to be chatting! I was like, “What do you mean?” and he was like, “You’re supposed to have something prepared.” And I swear to God all I could think of—because I had just played Ophelia in [the Royal Shakespeare Company’s 2001 production of] “Hamlet”—was [her] “Oh, woe is me” [monologue]. That was bad. But now, I’ve wised up. If I don’t think I can do a good audition, I would rather not go in. You’ll only be berating yourself for years.
What advice would you give your younger self?
I hate this question, because nobody gave me advice, and I had to learn the hard way! But if I was to give my younger self advice, as a person, I’d just say, “Don’t be so boy crazy.” When you make mistakes and learn the hard way, you don’t really repeat them. So part of me thinks, I don’t know if I would change things. I’m able to stand up for myself. I remember there was a [nude] scene in “Rome,” and I thought, No, I’m not doing this. I’d done so many nude scenes, and I’d had it. I thought, I’m drawing a line. I’m not a porn star; this is ridiculous. Luckily, the script supervisor was a woman, and she stuck up for me. And my lovely co-star Allen Leach was like, “Whatever Kerry wants.” I remember having to wait upstairs while they talked to the producers in America, and I was like, “Call them! Tell them I said hi! I’m not backing down. I’m not doing this.” In the end, I didn’t have to do it. And funnily enough, the director sulked and shot a shit scene because of his attitude. And I remember thinking, Well, that’s on you, pal. And so I don’t really think I would give my 19-year-old self advice, because part of me looks back and goes, I wasn’t a fool.
“The Banshees of Inisherin” Credit: Jonathan Hession
What role has shaped you the most as an actor?
It would be a tie between Mairead in [McDonagh’s play] “The Lieutenant of Inishmore” or Rosie in [the HBO series] “Luck,” because there was a level of commitment required by those parts that [made] any other job from there, to me, seem easy. There was something about those jobs and what I had to do to pull them off. I played Mairead for a year and a half [with the RSC], shaved my head for the role, and played her again in New York four years later. In “Luck,” not only are you saying lines with [director] Michael Mann, but you’re on a racehorse who is trained to run as fast as he can around a track. So I’m on a racehorse, on a track with a camera, with Michael Mann. And just to put a cherry on top, with Nick Nolte, who is practically like an animal as well!
What’s your dream role?
I don’t have a dream role because I just tend to think about things that come to me. I don’t have something that I’d love to play.
What performance should every actor see and why?
Lili Taylor and River Phoenix in [Nancy Savoca’s] “Dogfight.” The two of them are so brilliant, subtle, brave, and perfect. I don’t think a lot of people have seen that movie, and it’s so beautiful. Lili Taylor takes on a role where she’s basically playing an ugly girl. I don’t think there’s such a thing as “ugly,” personally; but for the context of the story, this bunch of Marines play a game where they have to find the “ugliest” date. River finds Lili, and she’s this really naive, sweet, innocent girl. And there’s this scene where she’s getting ready to go out and she looks way overdressed, and her makeup is crazy. And she comes down the stairs thinking she looks really pretty, and he goes under his breath, “Oh, Jesus,” when he sees her. It’s basically your worst nightmare—but then the movie is so beautiful.
And for her as an actress to have the balls and to swallow her own ego to take on that role made me go, Oh, my God, if you could just stop being vain, you could be an amazing actress. I learned that very early on: Don’t be playing beauty pageant bollocks; that’s boring, and there are loads of girls who can do that. You want to play the other ones. There’s this scene where River is smoking a cigarette and watching her play the piano, and it’s basically him realizing: Oh, she’s really sweet; I really like her. And he totally changes his opinion and starts to feel really guilty. It’s so beautiful.