When David Fincher was searching for the perfect Amy Dunne for his 2014 adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s thrilling bestseller Gone Girl, he cast Rosamund Pike because she reminded him of Faye Dunaway in Chinatown. After chameleonic performances as the Bond girl/MI-6 agent Miranda Frost in Die Another Day, the beautiful eldest Bennet sister Jane in Joe Wright’s Pride and Prejudice, and the ditzy, glamorous Helen in An Education, he felt that she had an open, yet unknowable quality that reminded him of Dunaway. Pike’s star-making turn as narcissistic cool girl Amy Dunne earned her numerous accolades, including an Oscar nomination for Best Actress. It’s a career-defining role that has only become more fun to watch as time passes, especially as we become more consumed by the idea of performing for others in daily life. After Gone Girl, Pike has continued to find daring roles that cause viewers to feel compelled by her presence and uneasiness when she’s onscreen, most recently in her Golden Globe-winning performance as Marla Grayson in I Care A Lot. A modern-day Dunaway indeed.
Given Pike’s aptitude for playing complex, thorny women with a wicked sense of humor, she and Academy-Award winner Emerald Fennell are a match made in heaven. In Fennell’s devilish follow-up to Promising Young Woman, Saltburn, Pike plays the icy yet hilarious Lady Elspeth Catton, the “unmaternal matriarch,” as Pike says, of the extraordinarily wealthy family at the film’s center. With her effortless boho chic wardrobe and immediately quotable one-liners, Pike is a scene-stealer. It’s a fantastic depiction of a particular type of narcissistic woman, and she is an absolute comedic force. Elspeth, a character who makes every observation about herself, would be delighted that Pike turns her character into the arguable standout of the film. I was thrilled to speak with Pike over Zoom to discuss her collaboration with Fennell, Lady Elspeth’s lack of maternal grace, and the razor-sharp comedy of Elspeth Catton.
Sophia Ciminello: Hi, Rosamund; how are you? I’m so excited to talk to you about Saltburn today.
Rosamund Pike: Yeah, I’m doing well. It’s fun to talk about this film. You know, if there was one film to want to get behind, it was this one. We believed in Emerald [Fennell] so much and had a blast making it. We all became very close, so it was one of those where it was a bit like Pride and Prejudice back in the day.
SC: Oh, that’s great, and you’re reuniting here with Carey Mulligan, too.
RP: (Laughs) Yeah, the sisterly bond is intact.
SC: (Laughs) That’s good to hear. I would love to start by discussing your collaboration with Emerald. What were your early conversations with her about the film, and what made you want to enter the world of Saltburn?
RP: You know, in the early conversations, I got the sense that we would shoot in this wonderful house; she was very excited because she’d met a family who appeared to be going to let us shoot in their home and really give us all access to this extraordinary house. But really, I don’t think any of the early conversations prepared me for how far the film would go, how intense it would be, and exactly how she and Linus [Sandgren] would collaborate. I mean, there were images that Linus would show us of body parts, and you would think, “What am I even looking at?” It was so erotic seeming, and yet it was only somebody’s shoulder. But the way that the camera’s looking, everything became more florid, more erotic, more charged, more transgressive. So, I think the early conversations didn’t prepare me for that (laughs).
SC: You’re right about Linus’ cinematography because sometimes there would be a shot of an armpit or an earlobe, and I would think, “Why is this making me feel this way?”
RP: Right, you think, “Oh, am I looking at someone’s buttocks? No.” And then you’re compromised for thinking that it’s sexual when really it was just an armpit. Exactly.
SC: And between Saltburn, I Care A Lot, and Gone Girl, you seem to be drawn to really provocative characters that say something specific about the time that we’re living in–
RP: I’m definitely drawn to provocative characters, yes. I want adults to have fun in the cinema. That’s kind of a big draw for me. I want people to be entertained, and I think this is an entertaining, fun thrill ride of a film. I know that twentysomethings are saying, “This is going to be the defining movie of our generation,” which is so wild and exciting to hear. I think it’s the soundtrack and the way she just dares, you know? Emerald just dares to say stuff, to show stuff. She knows the rhythm of the world she’s creating, so it has a pulse and feels like a fun time even when it’s not. But I think that it’s one step removed because it’s set in 2007, but we’ve only become more obsessive as a culture, you know?
SC: Of course.
RP: Everything we do on Instagram is about getting inside people’s lives and homes. Just like Oliver Quick wants to get inside the thing that the gates are normally closed on. That’s what she’s commenting on, and it’s brilliant.
SC: I think so, too. And there are a few lines in the film about how the characters are unable to leave Saltburn. What do you think it is about wealth and that type of closed-off, modern aristocracy that pulls the characters and the viewers in so deeply?
RP: I think it’s because it’s unavailable and unattainable. You know, to live like the Cattons live? That’s unattainable. No matter how much money you make, whatever profession you choose, that’s unattainable unless you marry a son. For other men looking in, they can’t say, “Okay, if I work really hard, I can…” Yes, you can be like Jeff Bezos, but you can’t be like Sir James Catton. That’s the thing. It’s the thing that money can’t buy, although you need money to have it. I think it’s that that makes it so intoxicating and infuriating at the same time. You sort of loathe it and love it with equal measure. I think so (laughs).
SC: I think that’s the perfect way to describe it, and it’s one of the dichotomies explored in the film, too.
RP: Yeah, of course.
SC: Things are beautiful, and they’re disgusting at the same time. You can love them, and you can loathe them–
RP: Loathe them, yeah. And did Oliver love Felix? Does he love him? Does he hate him? You know? What is obsession? Does it sit very closely on that line between love and loathe?
SC: Oh yeah, it really does. And you mentioned the time period, and looking back on that. Emerald talks a lot about this, the film’s gothic influences, and how Saltburn is a flip on that tradition. Were there films or novels that she suggested in prep as reference points or that you brought in from your own experience?
RP: This is one film where I actually didn’t use any other references in terms of character. I’m aware of some references, but I felt that Elspeth just leapt off the page for me, and I felt I had enough references from life, you know? (laughs) Little bits of people I’ve seen along the way and have experienced and their behaviors. I love to play characters who are vain and self-indulgent. I have a lot of fun with that. She’s someone who’s just longing to be photographed, just begging for someone to take her picture. You know, sitting around on set reading the magazines from 2006/2007, just furious that she isn’t in them. You know? (laughs).
SC: Yeah, and I love how she just observes everyone and comments on everything by putting herself into the situation.
RP: Oh yeah, thank you for recognizing that. “Oh, look at me. Oh, that’s awful, but look at how it affects me!”
SC: And she just has the funniest lines in the movie that highlight details from her past. I love the Pulp/Jarvis Cocker joke–
RP: “I was the muse of the Brit Pop generation, yes.” She probably met Noel Gallagher at a party once across the room.
SC: Exactly. You get the feeling that these stories weren’t actually major life events but just little blips that she dwells on now and has to remind everyone of.
RP: (laughs) Right, by saying she hardly knew him, and yet, by saying that she knew him definitely implies that she went to bed with him a few times. I just love the way she talks, because you know she thinks she’s being discreet, you know, because the British aristocracy have a way where you shouldn’t seem to care too much about anything. So she sort of throws it away while making sure that you understood exactly what she intended you to understand. But she still fits the social convention of being flippant and throwing it away.
SC: That’s such a fun, brilliant part of the character. Her relationship with her daughter, Venetia, is also fascinating–
RP: Doesn’t talk to her once! Oh no, once at breakfast. I don’t know if you remember that line at breakfast? It’s about molestation.
SC: Oh yeah, with the dinner that’s coming up.
RP: Yes, with the dinner party and how all of these guys called Henry came, and one of them molested her, and she says, “Oh well, I’ll sit you next to someone else, and he can molest you instead.” You’re just like, “I’m sorry, what?”
SC: Right, and the way she comments on her eating disorder and her being sexually incontinent. It’s dark, but you bring such a comedic tone into it. What do you think that says about her as a character?
RP: She’s the most unmaternal matriarch who’s completely disinterested in her own children and longs for an outsider that she can bestow her maternal grace on. It’s a very curious combination. And I think she’s just the one who’s sort of emotionally anorexic in some ways, Elspeth. She doesn’t dare to feel really, so in the end, when the feeling isn’t allowed, she becomes more and more like a ghost when bad things happen to her because she’s not equipped to deal with them in any way. And she doesn’t let it in because to let it in is to sink down into a bottomless pit. She just sort of fades, like a ghost, I think.
SC: Oh, I love that comparison to her as a ghost; it’s very gothic. Even the way she glides across the room.
SC: And she has little flashes of emotion, but you cut them off so quickly with a cold quip. It’s so smart.
RP: Oh, that’s Emerald’s creation, really. That’s how I heard her in my head when I read it, and it’s a brilliant, specific portrayal of a woman. I know she’s only in the script for a few scenes, but it’s almost as if she was a character in a novel because she’s so well drawn. I’m glad you felt so, too. Thank you.
SC: Oh, of course. I love her wardrobe, too, because she has a done-up yet undone look throughout the movie. She has these sparkling gowns, but then her hair won’t be perfectly done. I loved it.
RP: Ah, me too.
SC: How did her costumes stand out to you when you were getting into character?
RP: Oh, yes, it’s the English upper-class thing where there’s a way in which you have to be super elegant but to try too hard is not the thing. It’s this curious tightrope that if you’re an outsider, there’s just no way you’ll be able to walk it because, yes, you have to dress for dinner, but there are all kinds of rules about exactly how you should do that and what would be not really acceptable and what is acceptable. I don’t know all the rules, but Elspeth definitely does. And you know, 2006/2007, that was kind of Sienna Miller in her sort of boho chic height of influencing everybody, so there are a lot of little fringe jackets and jeans and caftans over jeans and lots of necklaces which caused me a lot of problems in ADR because you know, beads interfering with the sound was a bit of a problem (laughs). But yeah, her wardrobe was great, and Elspeth actually wore some of Emerald’s own clothes. Which is, you know, read into that what you will. Emerald harvested from her own wardrobe from 2006/2007, which is pretty cool.
SC: That’s such a cool detail. I know we’re coming up on time here, but I have to tell you that I learned about this interview when I was watching Gone Girl.
RP: Oh! Wow. How weird. (laughs)
SC: (Laughs) Right? And I didn’t think of Amy Dunne so much with Elspeth, but I did then start to compare her a bit to Oliver–the methodical nature, the planning, the patience.
RP: Oh, now that’s interesting.
SC: And they’re both fun to root for in a twisted way. You mentioned you’re drawn to playing these types of characters. What is it like working alongside them in a film, too?
RP: Well, you know Barry [Keoghan] is such a maverick performer. You don’t know what he’s going to do next and who Oliver is to Elspeth. I don’t think Elspeth ever cottons on to Oliver in any way, really, so for me, I had to treat Barry as Elspeth treated Oliver and saw him as he was. There are other people who start to become more suspicious of him. But yes, you’re right, in the careful planning and the cleverness. You know, clever characters are fun to watch because you admire how they pulled it off. One of the things about Gone Girl is that you just think, “Well, that’s brilliant how she did that. It’s just brilliant.” It’s ingenious, and it requires patience.
SC & RP (in unison): They’re playing the long game (laughs).
RP: And Elspeth, bless her, doesn’t have that kind of intelligence. One of my favorite scenes is when Oliver gives her an excuse to feel better about her dismissal of poor dear Pamela, and she lies and says she has noticed the things that Oliver has pointed out, and of course, she hasn’t. She just got bored and flicked off her friend, but as soon as Oliver gives her an excuse, she loves that. She loves to be let off the hook.
SC: And like she says in the movie, she’s “never wanted to know anything at all,” like the “Common People” lyric.
RP: (Laughs) Oh, I’m so glad you caught that because her lines are so sort of thrown away because that’s how she does it. I’m always sort of amazed that people catch them, but we really do, yeah. It’s great. Thank you.
SC: Well, thank you so much for talking to me today, Rosamund. This was such a fun conversation.
RP: Thank you! And did you see Gone Girl when it came out and then again?
SC: Oh yeah, Gone Girl is a comfort movie for me (laughs).
RP: (laughs) Oh, that’s interesting. I think it’s gotten funnier because we’ve only become more like Amy in the sort of construction of self in social media, so I think it’s evolved as a watch.
SC: Absolutely. It only gets better with every rewatch, just like Saltburn.
RP: Ooh, okay. Exciting, exciting! Thank you.
Amazon MGM Studios will release Saltburn in select theaters on November 17 and wide on November 22.