Barry Keoghan and Emerald Fennell strip down “Saltburn”'s 'post-coital triumph' of an ending

Barry Keoghan and Emerald Fennell strip down “Saltburn”'s 'post-coital triumph' of an ending

Plus, the much tamer way the film almost ended.

Warning: This article contains spoilers from Saltburn.

Barry Keoghan says he would be happy if all films ended in a triumphant, naked dance. It's good for the Oscar-nominated Irish actor, then, that his latest film Saltburn builds to such a, well, climax.

The wicked thriller (now playing in select theaters) follows his character, Oliver, a seemingly lonely Oxford student who becomes completely enamored and obsessed with the wealthy and handsome Felix (Jacob Elordi). The lad scores an invite to stay with Felix's family at their titular Saltburn estate one summer, and by film's end, he's used his obsession to great, horrifying effect. He worms his way into the family only to get rid of them one by one until he's lord of the manor, a feat he celebrates with a lengthy, completely nude dance through the estate.

It makes for one of the most memorable film endings in recent memory (if ever), but it almost didn't happen at all. Keoghan recalls a version of the script where Oliver walks through the manor instead, on his way to breakfast, where he is served runny eggs by the butler (a callback to an earlier breakfast scene in the film). But the result just didn't have the emotional and aesthetic intensity writer-director Emerald Fennell was looking for.

<p>Everett Collection</p> Barry Keoghan as Oliver Quick in 'Saltburn'

Everett Collection

Barry Keoghan as Oliver Quick in 'Saltburn'

"A walkthrough didn't have that post-coital triumph. If we all did our job correctly, you are on Oliver's side," Fennell tells EW. "You don't care what he does, you want him to do it. You are both completely repulsed and sort of on his side. It's that kind of dance with the devil. It's like, 'F---. Okay, let's go.' And so at the end, it needed to have a triumph, a post-coital win, a desecration."

Keoghan didn't hesitate when his director asked him to bare it all. Though he had logistical questions, and he admits it was all very much still an open discussion between him and Fennell, in the end, he says, "It totally felt right." He adds, "It's ownership. This is my place. It's full confidence in, 'I can do what I want in this manor. I can strip to my barest and waltz around because this is mine.' Yeah... it was fun."

From the beginning, Fennell knew the shot was a oner (i.e. one long take) with a steadicam, because visually it was meant to be a perfect inverse of the tour Felix gives Oliver of the house at the beginning of the film. From there, Fennell consulted with Elvis choreographer Polly Bennett, who used Keoghan's boxing experience to "choreograph the dance so that it felt like an act of spontaneous joy, but not so chaotic that it would be too difficult for us to follow Oliver from a practical point of view," the filmmaker explains.

Courtesy of Prime Video Barry Keoghan's Oliver Quick surveys the post-party mess in 'Saltburn'
Courtesy of Prime Video Barry Keoghan's Oliver Quick surveys the post-party mess in 'Saltburn'

Though he credits Bennett with making sure he was "comfy" in rehearsals, Keoghan admits he was naturally a bit hesitant to drop trou for that first take. "The initial thing was about me having no clothes on. I'm a bit, ehhh," he says, pulling a face. "But after take one, I was ready to go. I was like, 'Let's go again. Let's go again.' You kind of forget, because there's such a comfortable environment created, and it gives you that license to go, 'All right, this is about the story now.'"

His enthusiasm served him well, because go again and again they did. Fennell says they shot the dance 11 times in total. The seventh take was "technically perfect," she recalls, but it lacked the "absolutely devilish joy" she was looking for. "Barry, to his credit, did it four more times until the one that you see, which has this total f---ing evil joie de vivre that is impossible not to be on board with." For his part, Keoghan, in all his boyish Irish charm, says, "I didn't know I could dance like that, by the way. I was like, 'Wow. Where did them things come from?' Do ya know what I mean?"

Ultimately, Fennell notes the success of the shot came down to this: "He's just not screwing around — neither am I." Well, they may not be, but the audience certainly is. "I'm gratified by the amount of anecdotal evidence of people getting lucky after watching it," Fennell continues. "The premiere was pretty interesting. I got a lot of phone calls the next day from, oh, I dunno...," She pauses for effect, before adding with a devilish smirk, "... happy customers."

Saltburn is playing now in select theaters before expanding nationwide Nov. 22.

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