Freshly furnished with the 2021 Best Screenplay Oscar for Promising Young Woman, Emerald Fennell was inundated with offers. Instead, she tucked herself away to concentrate on her next project, Saltburn.
“I was getting lots of incredible offers, just unbelievable things with people I’ve wanted to work with my whole life.
“But what I realized about myself is that I can only do one thing at a time, and I can only do it in secret. I don’t show anyone until something’s completely finished. I said to my lovely managers and agents [about the offers], ‘Don’t tell me, don’t show me, because it’s too tempting.’ I know that there are things I just couldn’t bear to turn down.
“Nobody knew anything about it until I gave in the completed script. The more people are allowed in there, the less real it becomes to me and the less detailed—and also, in some sort of perverse way, I sort of lose interest. It has to feel private for it to be really honest.”
As well as writing the screenplay, Fennell directed and produced the dark comedy about the lure of wealth, privilege and beauty, and the social havoc they wreak.
Fennell revealed to VF that, in casting for this movie and other projects, she prefers to share a coffee with actors, in lieu of a more formalised audition process:
“I just want to know, really. I don’t know what it is exactly, but it is a chemistry thing. We have to start looking at very complicated things very early on, so I need to kind of know that people are open to that—whether they’re honest, I suppose. Or as honest as any of us can be, or even if they’re honest about lying.”
And she shared that she opts for abstract, open questions to draw her prospective cast mates out and find out what they’re made of:
“A lot of my questions will be things like, ‘Do you like being famous?’ It doesn’t matter how people answer, it’s just looking at: Are we going to be able to get into this honestly?”
Saltburn stars Barry Keoghan as Oliver, who becomes obsessed with his fellow Oxford student Felix (Jacob Elordi) and accepts an invitation to Felix’s family country estate for the summer. Also in the cast are Rosamund Pike, Richard E. Grant, Alison Olivier and Carey Mulligan. Saltburn is made by LuckyChap Entertainment, Margot Robbie’s company, which also produced Promising Young Woman and, of course, Barbie.