As if “Saltburn” was already audacious enough, the film’s finale — culminating in Barry Keoghan’s Oliver Quick dancing in the nude down the titled manors halls — is quite the note to go out on. For Keoghan, the dance sequence took 11 takes to get it right. “But it could have been 40 and I wouldn’t have cared,” Keoghan told TheWrap. “When you do something like that you want it to be to the point, because it can go either way. So we didn’t stop until we got it, to the point where I put my left foot forward rather than my right [because we wanted it to be perfection.”
Keoghan worked with movement coach Polly Bennett, but the dance wasn’t highly choreographed. “Polly was like, ‘I want you to do this, that and that,’ [but] then she was like, ‘I want you to do it as you.’ She’s so good at what she does that she makes you just feel that you’re not dancing. It [was] a move through the house rather than a dance sequence.”
The main challenge was figure out how Keoghan was going to move through the space, in the nude no less. “It takes a lot for us to be in bare skin. It takes a lot of confidence,” he said. “It takes a lot of knowing your surroundings and knowing where you sit. It’s a statement of his power.” Keoghan did have to laugh at the prospect of his infant son one day discovering the scene. “My kid will pull it up one day and say ‘Daddy, why did you do that naked?’”
But Keoghan said the sequence impressed him more than anyone else. “It was fun to watch myself do that,” he said. “I didn’t know I could move like that! You see those spins at the end? West End, Broadway, here I come!”
Read the rest of our interview with Barry Keoghan below. The interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
TheWrap: What was the initial pitch that drew you in?
Barry Keoghan: It was Emerald for me. The draw was Emerald. She’s fascinating and I admire her work, so when this script came about and she shot me with the idea, it was a no-brainer, to be honest. I was like, “I want to do it. Let’s do it!”
Do you remember reading the script for the first time?
I do and it was definitely out there. I couldn’t believe it, that it was such a showcase piece for an actor, an actor of my age as well, to get to go through all these ranges.
Emerald uses a lot of classic film influences in her work. Were you inspired by any classic films in your portrayal?
I don’t do that usually. I don’t ever really compare or when some directors [say] like, “You should look at this performance for this,” I’d rather not. I’d rather not have something seated in my head because then that’s my default. When I don’t know what to do with the character I’ll fall into imitat[ion] and the comparison that I’ve seen. It’s not what I set out to do. I want to find something fresh with it. I want to find new branches. I don’t want this to be a different cover of a movie.
Oliver acts differently depending on which character he’s interacting with. Did you have techniques set up or character tics?
There is a different act for a different person. I had five Oliver’s, five different notebooks and each one would be a different type of acceleration. He has a different tone or different physicality, or different pace, how he talks and obviously, his costumes changes. But I wanted to [know] from the core, from the root, what’s his motives? His motives change from Oliver #1 to Oliver #3. So when we’re filming, let’s say, scene 72, I’ll go into my books [and] I’m like “scene 65 to 78 is all Oliver #4.”
So I’ll look at that notebook and I’ll pick up some traits, and some some demeanors and some motives that he has to separate that all. It was a conscious thing from the get-go. It was a new thing I thought I’d try that made sense for this movie. I was also like, to play a leading part I wanted to keep the audience engaged and entertained. My job is to entertain, but I wanted to keep them somewhat in the palm of my hand.
You’re doing a lot of physically dirty work in this like. What were those days like to film?
It’s just like any other day. You come prepped, you come committed, [and] you throw it all away and you’re open [to] different directions and different ideas on the spot. For the bath scen for me, on paper it’s like [cringes]. But when you get to the core of it, it’s sad and it’s fascinating. I don’t even think he knows what it is he’s chasing, but it’s something. It’s an addictiveness. I wanted to see that. For me to see what my body does, where I go. How does my body move? Where do my hands go? What’s my face doing along this drain?
Did that drain scene need multiple takes?
I can’t really remember. The tricky part was getting into the bath. When we learned that he was submitting himself, almost sacrificing himself, that drop to the knees made sense then. I wasn’t just crawling into the bath. So it was basically how do I portray giving myself over to this thing? I think we got it down to one, one or two [takes].
“Saltburn” is in theaters now.