Oliver Quick (Barry Keoghan) smoking a cigarette by the lake in 'Saltburn'.

Emerald Fennell on Telling ‘Saltburn’ Through the Eyes of Oliver Quick

Emerald Fennell’s twisty new film Saltburn follows the story of Oliver’s (Barry Keoghan) journey to Saltburn with his wealthy friend Felix (Jacob Elordi). Watching as the rich family pities Oliver time and time again, hearing his tales of woe and trying to make up for his poor upbringing in their own way, Fennell’s film is a masterclass version of the phrase “eat the rich” while focusing its story on a less than reliable narrator in Oliver.

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Keoghan’s performance as Oliver is chilling. Obsessing over Felix while being drawn to the Catton family as a whole, Oliver and his wicked ways are what make Saltburn such a delicious film that captivates us as an audience. Partaking in the global press conference for the film, I was able to ask Fennell about focusing the story on Oliver as a character, especially given how he sticks with the audience after the film is over.

“I think that Oliver feels incredibly relatable to me,” Fennell said. “I think that he kind of announced himself about seven or eight years ago kind of persistently.  He’s sort of like an imaginary friend.  He was just there all the time, and I couldn’t kind of get him out of my head.  And I think it’s no accident to me, I think, that I finished writing this during Covid because if Oliver’s anything, as well as being the person he is, this is a film about looking constantly and not being able to touch, and what it does to you if you’re not allowed to touch the thing you want to touch.”

Looking in but never really knowing

Barry Keoghan as Oliver Quick in 'Saltburn'
(Amazon MGM Studios)

Fennell went on to talk about how Oliver is constantly just observing throughout the film, which we see when he watches characters like Felix obsessively. She discussed how that connected to her when she was writing the script during COVID-19. “We were living in a world where we could only look at each other through screens, that we were constantly voyeuristic, that we were absorbing things that couldn’t see us back.  And so I think that for me, Oliver seems to be kind of all of us, really.  Yes, he’s an outsider.  Yes, he’s a person driven by a kind of love and desire and all of those things.  But he’s also trying to scratch an itch that just cannot be sated.  It can’t be scratched.”

She went on to talk about that feeling, saying “So, what do you do?  You scratch your skin till you get down to the bone.  What do you do?  You do it till it hurts. That’s what he felt to me so much like the embodiment of everything that I was feeling at the time.”

Saltburn is in theaters now.

(featured image: Amazon MGM Studios)

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Rachel Leishman
Rachel Leishman (She/Her) is an Assistant Editor at the Mary Sue. She's been a writer professionally since 2016 but was always obsessed with movies and television and writing about them growing up. A lover of Spider-Man and Wanda Maximoff's biggest defender, she has interests in all things nerdy and a cat named Benjamin Wyatt the cat. If you want to talk classic rock music or all things Harrison Ford, she's your girl but her interests span far and wide. Yes, she knows she looks like Florence Pugh. She has multiple podcasts, normally has opinions on any bit of pop culture, and can tell you can actors entire filmography off the top of her head. Her work at the Mary Sue often includes Star Wars, Marvel, DC, movie reviews, and interviews.