Emerald Fennell found her crown jewel in Barry Keoghan for “Saltburn.” Fennell, who won the Best Original Screenplay Oscar for her feature debut “Promising Young Woman,” told Vanity Fair that she cast Keoghan in sophomore film “Saltburn” after seeing 2017 film “The Killing of a Sacred Deer.”
Yorgos Lanthimos’ body horror thriller first pitted Keoghan and Colin Farrell side-by-side prior to their respective Oscar-nominated performances in “The Banshees of Inisherin.” Keoghan portrayed a disturbed teen with seemingly supernatural abilities to kill those who wronged him. The actor went on to play the Joker in “The Batman.”
“I just thought, ‘That’s a once-in-a-lifetime performer. There’s no equivalent,’” Fennell recalled of first seeing Keoghan onscreen. “He’s just so compelling. He’s got a kind of sex appeal and a vulnerability and a physical presence and a sort of darkness, or he can at least communicate these things in a way that is very rare.”
Fennell added that collaborating with Keoghan was like “holding hands and jumping off a cliff, because a lot of the time we were looking to make something that is sort of visceral and surprising and dark and sexy, and that takes a lot of commitment.”
In the film, Keoghan plays Oxford student Oliver, who becomes entwined with wealthy classmate Felix (Jacob Elordi) and spends a summer at Felix’s family’s Saltburn estate. The vacation soon descends into debased debauchery that reflects “carnal desires,” as Fennell teased.
“For that completely overwhelming carnal desire to take hold, there has to be an element of revulsion, there has to be an element of transgression,” she said. “My favorite thing in general is sympathy for the devil. The sorts of people that we can’t stand, the sorts of people who are abhorrent — if we can love them, if we can fall in love with these people, if we can understand why this is so alluring, in spite of its palpable cruelty and unfairness and sort of strangeness, if we all want to be there too, I think that’s just such an interesting dynamic.”
“Saltburn” will open the BFI London Film Festival and later have a limited release November 24 via Amazon and MGM before a wide rollout December 1.