Type keyword(s) to search


Barry Keoghan Takes Old-Timey Accents to New Heights of Strangeness

With Tom Hollander and Mandy Patinkin burrowing deep into odd voices on their respective shows, it's a fine time.
  • Barry Keoghan in Masters of the Air (photo: Apple TV+)
    Barry Keoghan in Masters of the Air (photo: Apple TV+)

    Masters of the Air is a big, thick slice of handsomely produced World War II Americana, so it's only fitting that one of its biggest stars went for an incredibly heavy American accent for his performance. Barry Keoghan was born in Dublin, but as Lieutenant Curtis Biddick, he hails from the corner of Bronx and Brooklyn in the sovereign kingdom of Noo Yawk.

    It takes a second to register what Keoghan is up to with this voice. His co-star, Callum Turner, also decided to adopt an East Coast blue-collar accent for his character, only for Keoghan to one-up him. "All right, Meatball" becomes "awwright meetbawwwl." When Maj. John ‘Bucky’ Egan (Turner) mentions that he has a meeting with the new CO tomorrow, Riddick replies, "Tudday is tuhmrowrrow." He then heads off to grab a boyger and fries at the sodee fountain. (He doesn't, but you get the feeling he's about to.)

    Keoghan is far from alone in being a non-American actor playing an American fighter pilot. Turner, who plays one of the two main hotshots nicknamed "Bucky," hails from London, while Anthony Boyle (Lt. Harry Crosby) is from Belfast. Most of the command officers are English actors, as are a majority of the rank-and-file. Of the main cast, only Austin Butler and Sawyer Spielberg (yes, son of Steven, who's executive producing the series with Tom Hanks) are American-born. But Keoghan is certainly the most high-profile of this English and Irish cast. He was nominated for an Oscar last year for his performance as a simple Irish lad in The Banshees of Inisherin; and this year he's been all over social media feeds as an Oxford student lapping up Jacob Elordi's bathwater in Saltburn.

    Master of the Air isn't Keoghan's first American role, though he's historically been cast as strange characters with odd affects — a disturbed teenager in The Killing of a Sacred Deer; the Joker in a deleted scene from The Batman — so it's tough to tell if he's perfected a generalized American accent or just a series of oddball one-offs. We may have to keep wondering, because his accent in Masters of the Air is far from a nondescript American accent. Keoghan has burrowed deep into his outer-borough bag of tricks for this one. He's got a bit of 1930s Brooklyn gangster to him, a bit of Bronx kid playing stickball with his pals, a bit of newsie selling papers on the corner. If you asked an American to do an Irish accent and they hit you with a heavily brogued "they're after me Lucky Charms," that's what Keoghan is doing with his New York accent.

    The accent is, to be clear, wildly entertaining. Keoghan's performance contributes to the feeling that you're watching a TV show from the actual '30s, only starring the most handsome lads you've ever seen. It's also mind-bending, on a meta level, to watch Keoghan tumble out of Gangs of New York and onto this show opposite Austin Butler, who spent all of last year locked in an accent prison of his own making, unable to break free of the Elvis impersonation that got him an Oscar nomination. Butler doesn't have much Elvis in his voice as Major Gale Cleven, which only gives Keoghan more runway.

    We're off to a hot start in 2024 when it comes to bold accents on TV. Tom Hollander is another English actor playing an American in Feud: Capote vs. The Swans. Of course, the real Truman Capote didn't possess an American accent so much as he spoke in a manner no other human has ever spoken: high-pitched, lispy eloquence with an acidic bite at the end of every line. No wonder he and Gore Vidal hated each other, they were taking bites from the opposite ends of the same apple. Hollander, as Philip Seymour Hoffman and Toby Jones did before him, luxuriates in the creative freedom that such an alien vocal pattern presents.

    Then there is Mandy Patinkin in Death and Other Details, who doesn't have the luxury that Hollander does in mimicking the vocal patterns of a famous person. Instead, Patinkin — like Keoghan — seems to be embodying an entire genre: call it "world's greatest detective-core." Following in the footsteps of Kenneth Branagh in his Hercule Poirot movies and Daniel Craig as Benoit Blanc in the Knives Out films, Patinkin has carte blanche to take his character, Rufus Cotesworth, out for a stroll, accent-wise. It's a little English, a little Belgian, a little American, settling somewhere in the middle Atlantic, but ready to bolt at a moment's notice.

    But what these various accents have in common might just boil down to timing. Hollander is living up to Truman Capote's unique voice. Patinkin is being a big ol' Broadway-trained ham, perhaps because the Branaghs and Craigs of the world also dared to be so accent forward in their recent films. It's tough to tell what Keoghan's strategy is in laying his New York accent on so thick. Perhaps it’s an unconscious reaction to Chris Evans playing his Steve Rogers character from the MCU — who can't stop telling people he's from Brooklyn — with such a practiced and flat Midwestern accent. In Masters of the Air, Keoghan sounds like he wants to audition for Captain America's Howling Commandos.

    Throughout his career, Keoghan has crafted his characters' voices to track with his physical performance. In Masters of the Air, he's small compared to the more chiseled silhouettes that Butler and Turner put forth, but he's scrappy. His accent sounds like a small dog trying to get out a big bark. It is, if nothing else, a hoot watching Keoghan go so over-the-top. Master of the Air creator John Shiban and writer and co-executive producer John Orloff know the gravity of the story they're telling, so they try to inject as much air into the telling of it as possible. Keoghan doing too much as an American pilot ends up being just right.

    Masters of the Air is streaming on Apple TV+.

    Joe Reid is the senior writer at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.

    TOPICS: Masters of the Air, Death and Other Details, Feud: Capote vs. The Swans, Austin Butler, Barry Keoghan, Callum Turner, Mandy Patinkin, Tom Hollander