Rosamund Pike Says She Loved ‘Saltburn’ Because ‘Playing Shallow Is Fun’

TheWrap magazine: “She’s not the sharpest tool in the box,” says Pike of the glamorous but deliberately oblivious woman she plays in Emerald Fennell’s dark comedy

Rosamund Pike in "Saltburn"
Amazon/MGM

In the twisted and kinky world of Emerald Fennell’s “Saltburn,” British actress Rosamund Pike weaves her way through the likes of the scheming Barry Keoghan, the too-perfect Jacob Elordi and the studiously morose Carey Mulligan; Pike steals scenes but seems oblivious as she does it. As Lady Elspeth Catton, the none-too-bright but entirely glamorous matriarch of a family that lives in “Downton Abbey”-esque splendor in rural England. Pike flits and flirts through the grand halls without a care in the world, painting an indelible portrait of a woman who wears her shallowness like a shiny badge of honor.

From the start, Pike was eager to work with writer-director Fennell, and she admired the script about a young misfit (Barry Keoghan) and the eccentric, rich clan with whom he spends a summer. But the screenplay she first read was only a pale sketch compared to the movie Fennell made.

“If Emerald had put everything on the page that is in the movie, I don’t think she would’ve got anyone to make it,” Pike said, laughing. “I mean, she would, but people might’ve been worried about certain bits. The movie is more of everything: It’s more florid, more raunchy, sexier. Things were pushed to an extreme in the filming.”

But those extremes were a tonic for Pike, because they contrasted so sharply with her part on the Amazon fantasy TV series “The Wheel of Time,” which has been picked up for a third season.

“I’m in the middle of a long-running series where I’m playing somebody very earnest with a cause that she’s prepared to die for,” she said. “And I don’t think Elspeth’s ever had a cause in her life, you know? So it was a kind of lovely antidote to that. It was freeing and fun.”

Her agent told her that the role reminded him of the character she played in the 2009 film “An Education”: a well-to-do young woman who liked to keep things light. “My character Helen (in “An Education”) was sort of beautiful and vapid and her skill was in not opening her mouth too much because she realized that her brain was the letdown,” she said. “Elspeth isn’t quite so worried about that because she has a higher opinion of herself than Helen did. But, you know, she’s not the sharpest tool in the box.”

She laughed. “Playing shallow is fun. I’m not gonna play anyone too intellectual from now on, I think.”

Still, the role was not all fun, fun fun. Elspeth’s pursuit of amusement is designed to keep others, and herself, from looking too deeply. “The architecture of her personality is a defense mechanism,” Pike said. “It’s a social armor she deploys with deft brilliance, because Elspeth is terrified of who she might be underneath. When she has a glimmer of feeling something real, she buries it hard and fast.”

But does it ever get exhausting, playing somebody so determined to deflect real feelings? “Of course,” she said, and then paused. “You’re asking very astute questions. It’s making me uncomfortable.”

A laugh. “I’ve been told by Amazon, ‘Keep it light, keep it light, it’s a fun movie!’ But yeah, you can’t go through finding what Elspeth finds at the center of (her personal) maze without that going somewhere.”

A version of this story first appeared in the SAG Preview/Documentary issue of TheWrap’s awards magazine. Read more from that issue here.

Lily Gladstone Wrap cover
Photo by Jeff Vespa for TheWrap

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