Inside Dublin’s Bow Street Academy, Where Barry Keoghan First Trained – The Hollywood Reporter
Since he has been nominated for an Academy Award and a BAFTA (which he later won) for his scene-stealing supporting performance in Anisherin from InisherinThere has been a lot of talk about Barry Keoghan’s inspiring rise to fame.
As will likely be etched into Irish folklore as his Hollywood trajectory continues its steep climb, the Dubliner – born in one of the city’s most disadvantaged neighborhoods – would spend seven years in foster homes as a child. It was only in 2010, when he was 18, that Keoghan’s love of movies was piqued by a shop window ad looking for actors for a new, locally filmed crime drama. Three years later, he landed a role in an Irish TV series love hate (which would become a breeding ground for young Irish talent), followed by 2014’s independent successes 72before launching internationally in 2017 with both Dunkirk And Kill a sacred deer.
While Keoghan’s basic on-screen training may have been almost entirely of the on-the-job variety (and with some of the biggest names, both in front of and behind the camera, working today), it’s not entirely correct to say that he’s never seen it. He attended any kind of acting school. In fact, he was one of the first pupils at what would later become First College Dublin, the National School of Screen Acting in Ireland, otherwise known as the Bow Street Academy.
Bow Street – named after its location on the road that was home to the original Jameson whiskey distillery – has helped train some of Ireland’s most famous rising stars, including the likes of Niamh Algar (SgtAnd raised by wolves), Jack Reynor (transformersAnd Midsmar), Ann Skelly (Neversrecently announced Four love letters) and Brian Gleeson (Bad sistersAnd Poor disguise).
But while the school now offers a wide range of programmes, classes and courses, its humble origins – when it first began life in an old recording and training studio known as The Factory by Dublin’s docklands just 13 years ago – were less formal or structured.
“I saw Bowie rehearsing there, and U2 was there,” recalls Shimmy Marcus, a filmmaker who rose to fame in 2009. Soulboy who is now the artistic director of Bow Street. “But by about 2010 he was pretty much dead.”
Then there were the three directors – John Carney (who went off rather spectacularly with his debut Once Just three years ago), Kirsten Sheridan (daughter of Jim Sheridan, with whom she co-wrote in Americaand Director in 2001 disco pigs), and Lance Daly (who just made a name for himself with the 2008 Irish drama kisses He will later direct the 2018 hit Black ’47) – took the lease. The original idea was simple: to have a space dedicated to cinematic creativity – a place for filmmakers, created by filmmakers.
“We envied musicians who could go to a coffee shop with their guitars and hang out and just get together and get creative. Managers can’t do that,” Marcus notes. “So the idea for The Factory was to get together: brainstorm ideas, bounce ideas off each other, develop them and work with some in-house actors to maybe make some low-budget movies.”
The problem, according to Marcus, was that many of the actors available at the time had no specific screen training, and the experience of those who went to drama school was limited to the stage. So they started doing the training themselves, setting up a workshop with Screen Ireland aimed at Screen Acting. Word spread, and it wasn’t long before a number of now well-known names, including Reynor, Gleeson, and Dairy girls Actress Louisa Harland. Keoghan was also one of the originals.
“Barry had someone knock on our door saying, ‘I heard about this place, I want in,'” Marcus says. (In an interview with Irish IndependentKeoghan recalled that he was struggling to find bus money to take him to The Factory at the time).
Raynor – who will be cast by Carney later Singing Street — quickly led to the idea of an Actors Studio Night, where Marcus says they could “throw a few bucks toward the light and warm” and practice together, staging scenes, improvising ideas, creating characters and doing interviews, all without any structure or formality. “It was like a gymnasium, a breeding ground for creating anything.”
Marcus remembers a moment when they acted out the scene magnolia Where John C. Reilly says “I lost my gun today,” and Carney — who knew Reilly — called the star to tell him right away afterward.
Shortly after setting up The Actors Studio, co-founder Daly returned to Dublin from Los Angeles, where he was filming the 2011 drama The good doctor With Orlando Bloom. He brought fellow Dublin teammate Gerry Grinnell, who had been Bloom’s acting coach, back with him.
“But what we didn’t know was that he was also Heath Ledger’s acting coach for nearly 10 movies,” says Marcus. As it turned out, Grennell’s client list was the screen greats, including Marlon Brando, Meryl Streep, Sean Penn, Natalie Portman, Tom Cruise, and Oscar Isaac. “He’s one of those unsung heroes.”
Grennell was invited to do a workshop with some of the budding actors at The Factory, and she ended up staying for six hours.
“It was absolutely amazing,” Marcus recalls. And at the end of it, I was like, ‘Got more of this?’ And then he said, ‘I’m just really scratching the surface here.'”
From this initial course, Grennell and the team at The Factory designed and developed a one-year Screen Acting course – the only course in Ireland at the time – which began in 2012 with around 30 students. Keoghan was among the first intake, skills he had already demonstrated meaning he was automatically awarded a place with the need for a Test. But Marcus says he “was gone after about three weeks,” as he really started working his way up pretty quickly.
“He couldn’t sit still, so we were like, ‘Go on, you better hit the road.'”
The factory’s reputation grew rapidly, with many local production companies setting up shop within its walls. Thanks to its founders’ and Grenell’s draw, key talent—including Brendan Gleeson, Saoirse Ronan, Cillian Murphy, and Danny DeVito—will pass and speak for free.
Disaster struck, however, in 2014, just two years into the acting course (and over 50 students graduated), when the landlord refused to renew the building’s lease and issued an eviction notice. The factory, which had already been designated a “cultural asset” for Dublin’s Docklands area, no longer exists.
Sensing they were on to something special in rehearsal and not wanting to give up – Marcus, along with casting agent Maureen Hughes and general manager Paul O’Grady, discovered new, more central premises in the red-brick 17y Century Jameson Building, which was the original home of the famous whiskey-making family.
Renamed Bow Street Academy, this new facility — which Marcus describes as “like Hogwarts” — opened its doors in early 2015 with a much more formal structure for its curriculum, and a larger selection of courses (which has expanded much more since then). “And now we have hundreds of students,” he says.
But the spirit in Bow Street is still the same as it was in The Factory, which is to “understand what your relationship to your environment is and how you function as a human being within that environment.”
And he still maintains a pure focus on on-screen acting, which Marcus says differs from the “performative” nature of most drama schools. “The screen’s acting is oblivious to the audience—it’s the first-person experience you let the camera watch.”
Grennell remains a regular at school, knowing most days he’s not traveling or on set. Several major local filmmakers have also passed on to lend their expertise, including acclaimed Irish TV director Derbella Walsh (who has helmed many of Bad sisters), Damian O’Donnell (East is East) and Juanita Wilson (Oscar nominated short film The Dos).
“We have a lot of guest directors to come and work with students, which is great because they come in thinking they’re not going to be very good and leave thinking, ‘I need some of these phone numbers,’ and they end up making movies with them,” Marcus claims.
Shortly after helping open the school in February 2015, Jim Sheridan came over to do a workshop and ended up staying for a week, finally casting 20 students in his 2016 film Bible.
More recently, Carney, co-founder of The Factory, visited Bow Street for a screen test Flora and his sonhis latest feature and long-awaited follow-up Singing Streetbefore becoming a Sundance hit (and $20 million buy-in with Apple TV+). Flora and his sonThe original alumni, of course, also stars Raynor.
Marcus says Raynor and the cast, who first met at The Factory over 10 years ago, are “very protective” of their time during those chaotic, creative days, often not seeing themselves associated with the more orderly Bow Street academy.
“Niame Alger will tell you she didn’t go to drama school,” he notes. “But she’s right in a way, because we weren’t official — that one-year course was just such a crazy experience.” Algiers has since returned to giving talks on Boulevard Boulevard.
While Keoghan’s time at the school may have been short and before he truly called himself a school, Bow Street is still among the first to celebrate his success (and a picture of him from the “Class of 2011” of The Factory hangs proudly on one of his walls).
The school’s Instagram account posted shortly after his Oscar nomination: “From day one when he appeared demanding to see legendary director Maureen Hughes, we were captivated by his charm, talent and ambition.” “There was no holding him back, and his rise to the top of the industry was a joy to watch.”
For Marcus, who agonizes over the accomplishments of Keoghan or anyone who came through The Factory or Bow Street, watching the rise of the former students makes all the hard work worth it.
“That’s where our reward lies, just watching them and seeing not only how well they do but how well they do it, how humble they stay.”