INTERVIEW | Jon Kenny on The Banshees of Inisherin and a long-awaited return to screen with D’Unbelievables partner Pat Shortt

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Jon Kenny, Brendan Gleeson, and Colin Farrell in THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN. Photo: Searchlight Pictures.

THE Banshees of Inisherin hit cinemas this past weekend with a stellar cast in Brendan Gleeson, Colin Farrell, Barry Keoghan, Kerry Condon, and the Mid West’s own Jon Kenny and Pat Shortt. 

The Limerick Post caught up with Kenny to talk about the film, award hopes, and the long-awaited onscreen reunion of D’Unbelievables – his much-loved comedy duo with Pat Shortt.

The fictional island of Inisherin (loosely based on Inisheer, though shot for the most part on Inishmore) provides the background for the degradation of the bond between long time friends and drinking buddies Pádraic (Colin Farrell) and Colm (Brendan Gleeson).

Set to the backdrop of the Irish civil war, Pádraic finds himself at the film’s outset bewildered by the news that his companion Colm no longer wants to be friends with him because he’s ‘dull’.

With the help of his sister Siobhan (Kerry Condon) and local layabout Dominic (Barry Keoghan), Pádriac aims to resolve the pair’s dispute with wildly varying – and often deeply shocking – degrees of success.

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Director Martin McDonagh has always played homage to his Irish roots, starting his career with multi-award-winning productions like The Cripple of Inishmaan, The Beauty Queen of Leenane, The Lonesome West, and The Lieutenant of Inishmore – all strongly loved mainstays of the Irish, and international, theatre circuit.

This latest installment in his canon sees an unexpected return to those roots after a welcome departure in films like Seven Psychopaths and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.

“[McDonagh] does have a huge affinity and love for the west of Ireland and everything about it,” says Kenny.

“From The Cripple to The Beauty Queen, everything. They’re all magnificent stories about very ordinary people.

“I think the great thing about McDonagh is that the very ordinary becomes the very extra ordinary.

“People often miss out that the smallest things in life can be the biggest – the greatest things. And the greatest things can be the smallest things. I think he just gets that.”

The Banshees of Inisherin was originally written as a stage production during a period of incredible productivity for McDonagh in the mid 1990s before being shelved and, until now, unproduced.

It was to be one installment of the auteur’s Aran Islands Trilogy (along with The Lieutanant of Inishmore and The Cripple of Inishmaan) – based in places McDonagh visited regularly as a child with his Irish parents and brother – the equally talented John Michael McDonagh (The Guard and Calvary).

His parents have since returned regularly to the West of Ireland, with McDonagh himself being said to visit the area three or four times each year.

The film has been well received in Ireland and overseas, with an award-winning debut at the Venice International Film Festival and a highly-lauded stint at the Toronto International Film Festival.

Jon Kenny tells the Limerick Post that, though he couldn’t make the trip to Toronto himself, his son Aaron was at the premier.

“He couldn’t believe how [the audience] just loved it. They went quiet when they should go quiet. It was the typical McDonagh thing, you’re laughing in shock sometimes.”

The film, shot on Inishmore, has already topped the Irish box office this week (taking in more than half a million euro in its opening weekend), and received many tips for Oscar success. Kenny affirms this sentiment with gusto.

“I definitely think it is. I would even think for costume. I just thought the costumes and the colour and the landscape and all that, there’s so many things in there – even apart from the great performances given by Brendan and Colin. The supporting cast there were just huge as well.”

McDonagh is no stranger to Oscar nods with his debut feature, In Bruges, nominated for best original screenplay and his previous film, Three Billboards, receiving awards for best actress (Frances McDormand) and best supporting actor (Sam Rockwell).

The film was also nominated for best picture, best original screenplay, and best original score. His debut short film, Six Shooter, also won the auteur an Oscar for best live action short film in 2006.

Despite the Oscar speculation and the stellar lead performances, it’s the reuniting of two beloved Mid West comedians that has many talking.

Inisherin has a single pub run by Jonjo Devine (Pat Shortt), whose best friend Gerry (Jon Kenny) is one of the regulars. The pair provide a brilliant comic offset to the growing feud between Pádraic and Colm.

Speaking about the D’Unbelievable duo being back together onscreen once again, Jon told the Limerick Post that when he received the script, he knew that McDonagh had created another iconic comedy pairing.

“That’s exactly what myself and Pat’s characters in the film are like. You have this civil war going on on the small island between these two people and, myself and Pats characters, we’re joined at the hip. Everything that Pat says I confirm with a look or a ‘yeah, you’re right’. And anything I say, he says ‘yeah, you’re right there too.”

While the pair had massive success from the late 80s to early 00s, it would appear that a comeback isn’t on the cards any time soon.

Kenny is currently preparing for a national tour in John B Keane’s The Matchmaker, stepping into a well-worn lead role alongside Norma Sheahan.

The Banshees of Inisherin is showing now in the Omniplex, ODEON, and Vue cinemas throughout Limerick.