Getty Image/Merle Cooper
Barry Keoghan talks about having unwavering trust in his Saltburn director, Emerald Fennell. And for a movie like Saltburn, yeah, you’re going to need to have a whole lot of trust that your director can pull it off. Have you seen Saltburn? It’s currently out in limited release, going wide later this week, so maybe you have? If you have, you’ll probably know which scenes are being referenced here. Without giving too much away there’s a scene of Keoghan’s character, Oliver Quick, at a grave. There’s a scene of Oliver Quick dancing around the Saltburn estate naked. And then there’s a scene that takes place in a bathtub that, judging from internet search queries for “Saltburn bathtub,” is getting a lot of attention. Or, at least, some curiosity.
In Saltburn Keoghan plays Oliver Quick, a young man at Oxford who, during a break, manipulates his way (to put it kindly) into an invite to Saltburn, an estate belonging to the parents of the subject of Oliver’s fascination, Felix Catton (Jacob Elordi). At Saltburn, Oliver does his best to fit in, until he doesn’t. A lot of unusual things happen while Oliver is at Saltburn.
Shortly before Keoghan called I was asked, since Keoghan is out of the country, if we could connect on WhatsApp instead of the phone. At this point, I went into a minor panic because I had never used WhatsApp and had (and still have) no idea how it works. Trying to sign up, I somehow messed the whole thing up. By the time we connected, by regular phone, I had come to the realization I am really bad at WhatsApp…
Hey, Mike. What’s up?
You know what I learned about myself today? I’m bad at WhatsApp.
What? Tell me, Mike.
I didn’t know that before today, but I’m bad at it. I messed it up.
You know what? That’s kind of cool. Kids respect that these days when you’re not good with tech.
I’m usually good at tech, but I’m bad at WhatsApp.
They all pretend they’re not good at texting and all of this stuff, and it’s kind of the cool thing is to not be good at it. But when you’re not actually good at it, that’s real coolness. So I respect that. With me, I’m not good at any of it.
That’s what people say about me when I walk down the street: “There goes real coolness.” Everyone says that.
“There’s real coolness! Mike, he doesn’t know how to use WhatsApp.” Nah, that’s proper cool.
I love those videos when they show teenagers a rotary phone and they can’t figure it out.
Game Boy Color. They wouldn’t know what a Game Boy Color is! Crazy. Crazy.
First of all, Emerald loves you. I think you know that already, but she does not stop talking about you.
She literally just sent me a text there two minutes ago saying, “I love you.”
I’m not messing.
Well, there you go.
I love that woman as well. She’s fucking amazing. She’s been a big part of my life in the sense of looking out for me and always checking in on me and always making sure I’m doing the right things. She’s been an amazing person for me.
Is this going to be a collaboration going forward?
I hope so. I hope so. I really do. She’s amazing. She’s one of the best directors I’ve worked with, and I say that in the sense of she’s so fucking clever. Sorry about cursing, but she’s so clever and so honest.
Oh, you can curse. You can say fuck if you want.
Oh, okay. No, but she is. She’s got a different approach. You know when you find yourself really comfy around someone? It’s because you trust what they do and you kind of understand their approach as well. And there will be times me and Emerald wouldn’t even have to talk. She’ll look at me and I know what to do and I know what not to do. She wants to justify every single motive you have going forward as well as the character and what’s the reason for it. Yeah, she’s just incredible, man. She really is. And she’s such a soft soul as well. And … you know I mean that. Yeah, she really does, she cares for me so much. I just responded to her right now, “I love you, too”
You made a really good point about trust. There are a lot of scenes in this movie, like the one where you are dancing around the house naked. I’m guessing you have to be like, “She knows what she’s doing and I’m going to dance around this house with no clothes on.”
Yeah, and I wouldn’t do that for anyone. I wouldn’t just do it. You’ve got to know, creatively, is it the right thing you’re doing for the character? Does it make sense in the story? Does it push it forward? But with Emerald, every single line in there, every single action, you could question it and she’ll have an answer for it. For me, it’s also pushing me as an actor to show my commitment and my maturity to my craft and allow me that space to elevate as an actor and to elevate as an artist. And to have confidence in making these creative choices that you’d shy away from because you think it’s silly. Emerald gives you that confidence. I don’t know what it is. It’s an aura. She just gives me the confidence to make these bold choices, and she’ll be honest. She’ll be like, “No, that’s not what I was thinking.” Or, “That doesn’t move it.” And that’s the collaborative experience that I’m looking for.
She said that you were the exact representation of what she had in mind for Oliver Quick. That you knew exactly how to play her vision of what this character is.
And I think that’s a testament to her writing as well because, on the page, it’s so clear to me what he is. And there’s so much room also to learn about him and discover him with Emerald. But to me, he’s animalistic. To me, he’s an observer. He’s a lost, confused boy who’s intrigued and fascinated with how humans interact with one another. How humans have certain motives and morals and why they say certain things and do certain things. And it’s an addiction almost to that, along with obsession. To me, that’s what Oliver is. When all that is gone, it’s sort of like, “Fuck, what does he do now?” He’s got the manor, but he wasn’t chasing the manor. That’s just a result of everything.
Well, he dances around the house, that’s what he does now.
Yeah. But after that. The song at the end, that moment there for me is the worrying moment because it’s like, oh shit, what does he do now? And it’s like, God bless what he does now because someone’s going to suffer. He’s got no toys to play with. The boy moves best when he’s in it. When he can control, when he can manipulate and experiment – that’s when Oliver is present and at his best. But when all that is taken away, it’s sort of like … I fear for people.
Emerald compared you to Robert Mitchum. And I thought that was interesting.
Oh, Robert Mitchum she said?
Fucking hell, man. I like that. [Laughs] I was going for Paul Newman or Marlon Brando, but anyway, it’s cool. It’s cool. Those are great references. She always says that, yeah.
Oh, she’s told you that?
Yeah, she said Robert Mitchum as well, I think, to me.
I need to watch more Robert Mitchum movies. I strangely haven’t seen a lot of Robert Mitchum movies.
Now I’ve learned I’m bad at two things. I’m bad at WhatsApp and I’m bad at…
Robert Mitchum references.
What actor wouldn’t want to play Oliver Quick? Even the name is great.
It’s a pure showcase for an actor, isn’t it? If Emerald asked me to do anything, I’d do it. I would do it. If she came knocking on my door right now and said, “I want you to do this part,” I’d do it. No question. I’m all for it.
It sounds like that might happen.
I know. I’m waiting on the knock from all the filmmakers I’ve worked with.
Alright, I’m out of time…
Well, now you can go figure out WhatsApp.
‘Saltburn’ is currently in limited theaters but will be expanding later this week. You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.