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Interview: Jacob Elordi on 'Saltburn'.

Interview: Jacob Elordi on 'Saltburn'.

Jacob Elordi is at the service of the filmmaker. Every actor says their time spent on set, playing make-believe with fellow actors and working on their craft is where they feel most at home, and when speaking with Elordi it’s clear that sentiment, for him, is true. It’s been almost a decade since he first began trying to make it as an actor. Now, with 'Saltburn' and 'Priscilla', along with a slew of other projects in the pipeline, it’s safe to say he’s made it.

Much has already been said about 'Saltburn', the second feature film directed and written by Emerald Fennell. She, herself, wrote the film as a way to “sympathise with unlikeable people” as a way to better understand them. One of the characters audiences have grown to have a complicated relationship with is rich and popular university student Felix Catton, played by Elordi. The crux of the film rests on Felix’s relationship with actor Barry Keoghan’s character, Oliver Quick, who Felix believes is of a lower class than him.

For Elordi, it’s a character who, despite some believe to be an unreliable narrator, believes is genuine in his empathy. “I think he’s kind of genuine the whole time, to be honest with you,” he says when asked whether audiences actually get to know or see the ‘real’ Felix. It’s a role that differs from the rest of his filmography — 'Euphoria', 'Priscilla' and beyond. “It was quite wonderful because in my life, so far I have played pretty stiff characters,” he explains. “I’m not very stiff myself; I’m quite loose and floppy. It was nice to be able to play that part of myself which comes a little easier than standing rigid.”

With 'Saltburn', the thing that excited him the most was how Fennell wanted to push boundaries and expose the characters in the film, something he feels audiences “don’t really see in mainstream movies a lot of the time.” Working with Fennell was a dream come true (“She’s got a wicked imagination”) and, rather than taking control and fleshing out Felix’s backstory himself based on the script, Elordi preferred to chat with Fennell. “She just kind of alluded to everybody [in the film] being very human in the worst and best ways possible. I definitely want to be in service to filmmakers always, I’m pretty open to everything. I think that shows in her first film and when she starts speaking. So, I just knew whatever it was, it was something that I wanted to down that road with her on anything. You kind of get that as soon as you hear her speak.”

“I try to hide away from it,” he says, touching on whether he dives into audience opinions and commentary. Instead, the two times Elordi watched 'Saltburn' was in a theatre with a crowd, seeing firsthand the “many” visceral reactions to certain scenes. “We've had this question from a lot of the press who want to know what are some of the most extreme reactions you've heard about in, for example, the bathtub scene,” he says. “I went to a screening in Brisbane when it first played and it was unbelievable because everybody was engaged and gasping and yelling at the screen. I haven’t been in a movie like that in a really, really long time.”

Other works, like 'Brideshead Revisited' and 'Cruel Intentions', helped inform the characters in the film, but musical references specifically helped Elordi get into Felix’s mind (“It just unravelled itself as I went through that world”). What did help the most was living in the posh West London borough of Chelsea for four weeks to settle into Felix’s world. What Elordi hadn’t thought much about, though, was the parts of himself that helped him embody the character. “That’s a good question,” he says when asked if there is any thread that connects him and Felix as a way to find his humanity. “I went to an all-boys private school so maybe there's something in that which ties the two together. I'm sure I've seen a few Felix’s in my time, as we all have.”  

Fashion is integral to the film — it gives context to the character and the varying class structures in the mid-2000s. As part of Felix’s wardrobe, the costume designer had custom Burberry suits made, in addition to wearing other British fashion of that period like rugby shirts. For Elordi, Felix’s style and wardrobe did more than just help him get into the right mindset — it fleshed out Felix’s off-screen backstory. “I bought this old watch from 1952, I think before we started,” he explains. “The whole time I had this idea that it had been from his grandfather or something like that, so I had that little gold watch. Then, there were those LIVESTRONG bracelets and bracelets from his last trip to Indonesia. With all of those, every time I put them on, that was kind of the last piece of the puzzle.”

Although he tends to both avoid watching himself on-screen (“I try to avoid it as often as possible”) and reading outside commentary of his work, now that the film has been out for a month and people have been able to watch and discuss it, his own relationship with the film has flourished even more. “I think it's probably just made me love the movie more [after] seeing the kind of places that it can go,” Eloridi says. “Running into people who have seen it and things like that, that’s definitely a change. But I think it's just it just makes me love it more, you know? For me, personally, the experience is in [actually] making the picture.”

“I think once I wrap the movie, it's sort of done. We wrap it up and [I] put it away and keep that moment sacred to myself. It's not a great change, I'm very glad that we can share it with people and that people can then take from it what they will and build their own world from it. But for me, I think it's healthier to sort of leave the movie when you leave the movie, you know?”

As his 'Saltburn' press run wraps up, Elordi feels certain that he’ll love it for “a very, very long time.” “It'll always be special [to me],” he states. “It means the world to me that they let me make movies! My God, I can’t believe it. I still can't believe it. Every night I go to bed and I’m like, ‘No way.’ I'm sort of pinching myself at the moment. I don't have any time or space [to look back in] for retrospection or anything like that. I'm just kind of in it and just incredibly grateful that that it's happening, and that I get to play a part in this thing that I love so much.”

In two years, Elordi will mark a decade trying to make it as an actor. When he looks back at seven or eight years between him and his 19-year-old self — the one living in his car in LA to try to make his dreams happen — he thinks he’d have some ruthless thoughts for present-day Elordi. “I think he would have said eight years too long,” he laughs.

'Saltburn' is now streaming on Prime Video.

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