Few films this year are as lavish as Oscar winner Emerald Fennell’s sophomore feature, Saltburn. Set on a sprawling estate and starring some of Hollywood’s hottest names, it’s a marvelous, maximalist movie. One of the film’s most memorable performances comes from Rosamund Pike, who spoke with Observer about her role once the 118-day SAG-Aftra strike came to a close late last week.
The actress was ecstatic about the new deal made by her union, saying that the new measures would “benefit actors and our community in all kinds of ways” in the coming months and years. “I’m also mindful of the people in our industry who, as well as actors, have not been able to film because of the strike, so I’m just really pleased that everyone can get back to work,” Pike told Observer. “There’s been jubilation amongst all kinds of people, from costume makers to drivers to electricians to makeup artists.” She even joked about Hollywood agents rapidly losing their voices, with the flow of industry phone calls returning to full force.
Pike was delighted to speak about Saltburn—she called the film “delicious” several times—and there’s little wonder why. The actress, perhaps best known for her sweet turn in Pride & Prejudice or her steely one in Gone Girl, takes on a novel role as Lady Elspeth, the lady of the Saltburn estate and not-so-doting mother of Felix (Jacob Elordi), an Oxford student whose charitable streak causes him to bring troubled classmate Oliver (Barry Keoghan) home for the summer. Elspeth is vapid, “a total lady of leisure,” Pike insisted, and that made the character “such a trip—she was really fun to play.”
Her performance is a major highlight and a consistent source of laughs throughout the Amazon MGM Studios film, which she credits to writer-director Fennell’s excellence: “She’s the mastermind. She’s got such a razor instinct for what’s right. She’s brilliant.” Pike emphasized how the filmmaker helped to create the ridiculously rich, preposterously privileged universe of Saltburn, saying that “Emerald sort of just let us be in that world, improvise, and we had a riot because she creates a very safe environment that’s full of play. That’s why people feel free enough to do the shocking things that happen in the movie”—of which there are many—“because people feel safe and seen.”
Lady Elspeth makes for quite the Saltburn specimen, as she “sits around reading magazines, enviously wishing she was in them, likes nothing more than having her photograph taken.” Pike joked, “I’ve done a lot of preparation for my films in the past, and I think this one, I just have to take a vacation and do nothing for a while.” The role was a refreshing change for the actress, who’s been in the thick of a fantastical world on Amazon Prime Video’s The Wheel of Time for the past several years. Her character there, the magical Moirain, is “a driven, impassioned zealot who put any personal gratification, personal pleasure aside for her cause,” but Elspeth? “I mean, a cause would be the death of her,” Pike said. “There’s nothing so dreary as having a cause. She couldn’t think of anything worse.”
As for the film’s time and place, Pike “loved” that Saltburn was a unique period piece. The movie takes place in 2006, when tabloid culture was reaching its peak. “There was a huge emphasis on female bodies and the awful shaming of people,” she explained. “We had all those magazines from the time on set… and you just saw the actresses who were in the main public eye then. There’d be all the admiration of their outfits on the red carpet, and then very quickly you’d turn the page and there’d be the gleeful dissection of their late night antics.” That impulse bleeds into the film, from Elspeth’s love of gossip to her melodramatic obsession with house guest Oliver’s home life. Meanwhile, much of the film (and, in fact, almost the entirety of Pike’s performance) is limited to the Saltburn estate, but that one location looms large. “That house is a character in the film, of course,” Pike told Observer. “The fact that it was all one location gave us a hell of a lot… We were able to use it all, in all its opulence and idiosyncratic nature.”
Like the massive house it takes place in, Saltburn is a singular film. There are twists, turns, and plenty of jaw-dropping moments. Ultimately, Pike’s recommendation says it best: “I just want people to have a fun and wild ride when they see this film in cinemas.”
‘Saltburn’ opens in select theaters on November 17 before expanding wide on November 22.