As soon as a clip of Rosamund Pike delivering the line, “I was a lesbian for a while, you know, but it was all a bit too wet for me in the end. Men are so lovely and dry,” went viral, the Best Supporting Actress Oscar campaign started in earnest (at least, it did on Twitter and in my heart). The movie is an absolutely wild, I-refuse-to-spoil-it-for-you thriller in which a young college student named Oliver (Barry Keoghan) spends the summer at his much more affluent friend Felix’s house (read: castle). Enter: his outlandish mother Elspeth Catton, played by Rosamund, who spends her days abhorring anything ugly and reading tabloid magazines while lounging horizontally.
It is a deliciously comedic role for the actress, who spoke to Cosmopolitan recently about her backstory for the character, why she found the marriage between her and Richard E. Grant’s character Sir James so interesting, and how much director Emerald Fennell actually had to beg her to be in the film.
How does it feel to finally be able to talk about this film now that the SAG-AFTRA strike is over?
If there’s one movie that I’m ready to sing from the rafters about, it’s this one. We had such a great time making it and it’s just a riot and a kind of mad, brave, bold, cool film, one that I’m very proud to be in and very happy to talk about.
I was at a Q&A with Emerald she said she “begged” you to be in the movie, so I’m wondering how much begging was actually required, and what made you eventually sign on?
Oh, that’s nice. I mean, she didn’t have to beg. It’s a delicious role and I’m very honored to play it. As soon as I read it, I saw what she’d done and who she created and it’s a very specific, very real, recognizable person, someone who is almost terrified of reality. It’s just much easier to just smother everybody with small talk and keep your toes firmly out of the water of any real feeling, keep everything light, push focus on to other people, lest you have to look at yourself, which would be the most awful thing to have to do. So Elspeth, she’s a shallow narcissistic person who I also find extremely lovable because she’s the master of self-deception. She thinks she’s an incredibly kind and gracious person who loves to take somebody under her wing, until such time that she bores of them and then it’s on to the next. And certainly, whatever sort of lame duck she manages to look after, it’s certainly much easier than dealing with her own children.
Have you had interactions with this kind of English country house family in real life that you were able to draw from for the character?
Of course I have. And I shall not name them. What is acting apart from collecting people over a lifetime? I think it’s like writing. I was talking to an author about a book recently who was talking about their main character and she’d sort of known this character would would make an appearance in her work ever since she’d been a teenager, she just didn’t know when. And I think that’s the same. You look at people and then suddenly a character comes along and you think, Ah, okay, I can use that.
The time period of this film is so interesting because it’s set in 2006, which is maybe the least glamorous era of all time. Where were you in your life in 2006 and how did it feel to go back to the time?
It was around the time Carey Mulligan [who has a brief role in Saltburn] and I were making Pride and Prejudice. It had just come out. Elspeth does very little in the movie, apart from sit around and read magazines. So I was able to read a lot of magazines from the 2000s. And it was astonishing to see what a different time it was. It doesn’t feel that long ago and yet the shaming of women of that time was really incredibly acute. And it was quite shocking to see the gleeful documenting of women’s downfalls. Like, somebody looking fabulous as they went to a movie premiere but, look at her falling out of the cab at 3 a.m. It was the sort of heyday of that kind of mentality that wanted to bring everyone down.
Yeah, this movie is such a time capsule in that way. I read that you all lived in the titular Saltburn house while you were filming, is that true?
Not all of us, only me. It was really fun. The family that owns the house are incredibly entertaining, very generous hosts, quite wild. And after the first night out in the local village pub, followed by a continuation of the night back at the house, I probably appeared like a really, really fun new house guest. And then I had to break the news that actually, I had to work. I realized I’d put on such a good show that I really seem like I would be a riot for the entire summer. But obviously, you know, filming hours are not conducive to partying. I don’t think I left the grounds of the house for a three week straight period, which was quite amazing.
Did you go a little stir crazy?
Yes, but in a good way. I definitely did, but I think it was kind of good for the character.
I loved watching you opposite Richard E. Grant. What did you like about their marriage? What did you find interesting about them as a couple?
Well, Emerald thinks they don’t have sex. So, you know, I know you write for Cosmo, so I feel that that’s the kind of thing I can put out there right at the start.
You can say that, yeah.
I was surprised by that, but she was like, Oh, do you think they have sex? I definitely don’t think they have sex. I was like, alright, okay, okay. That sort of informed who Elspeth was. She’s someone who just wants to be adored, but she doesn’t really want to be touched.
I created a whole backstory, as I’m sure Richard did, of how Elspeth had been pretty wild living in New York. Elspeth was modeling, living a kind of it girl sort of life and, and then Sir Richard started taking her out for dinner and it seemed comfortable and quite nice. And after all the wild nights, it was a bit of a relief to go to a nice restaurant with white tablecloths and have a nice meal. I think she thought she’d met someone who could take care of her. And so she came back to England and was still able to ride the fuse of her wild days, which lent her a deal of intrigue. I think she sat around in her house reading magazines, sort of enviously wishing she was the one in the commercials, not whoever else it was. But I think she was not a great model. She wasn’t as illustrious or high up in the pecking order as she thought she was.
But I think Elspeth knows that even though she’s retired from that modeling life, her beauty gives her a lot of clout in this social circle.
It’s one thing to be clever, but it’s so much better to be beautiful. Everything that I would never say, I was able to improvise as Elspeth. We would always be improvising some incredibly inappropriate conversation at dinner. Anything inappropriate that you really wanted to say sounded completely convincing coming out of Elspeth’s mouth. Unfiltered and vain. A story that glamorizes her at the expense of someone else is perfect.
The dynamic between your character and Jacob Elordi’s Felix is also an interesting one, because it’s mother and son, but Elspeth is obsessed with him in a way that she’s not with her daughter Venetia. How do you and Jacob work to build that rapport?
I met him before we started filming. I wanted to find out what his relationship with his mother is. I wanted to get to know him and be around his energy. We did a lot of improvisation of Elspeth just loving the idea that there was a trail of girlfriends pining over him. Jacob’s character is kind of a very nice person, he’s just so entitled, but I think he genuinely is probably the only nice one of the bunch. Jacob played it so perfectly. I was astonished that he could get the specificity of that type of English boy in that period so bang on. It’s uncanny. He’s a very, very talented actor.
Senior Entertainment Editor
Emma Baty is the Senior Entertainment Editor at Cosmopolitan, where she shapes TV, movie and music coverage, writes celebrity profiles, edits stories across both print and digital, and generally obsesses over all things pop culture. Prior to this role, she worked as Cosmopolitan.com’s News Writer, writing celebrity news stories daily and covering live events like the Oscars. Originally from Grand Haven, Michigan, she currently lives in Brooklyn.