The Big Picture
- Archie Madekwe is having a killer 2023 on the big screen with two exceptional performances in very different films, Gran Turismo and Saltburn.
- During a chat with Collider’s Perri Nemiroff, Madekwe recapped how he found the character of Farleigh by pinpointing the perfect posture and collaborating with the costume department.
- Madekwe also explained why he was especially taken by Rosamund Pike and Barry Keoghan as scene partners.
Want to see an actor with great range? Just look at Archie Madekwe’s 2023. He headlined one of the best surprises of the year, the shockingly solid Gran Turismo movie, playing the stoic and laser-focused Jann Mardenborough. About three months after that film’s release, he’s back on the big screen in Saltburn as Farleigh, a rather catty Oxford student with a taste for the finer things in life and a ruthless determination to make Barry Keoghan’s Oliver feel like an outsider.
Oliver first meets Farleigh, but more importantly, Jacob Elordi’s impossibly handsome and charming Felix, at school. Initially, Oliver struggles to fit in, but via a kind gesture involving a flat bike tire, Felix opts to take him under his wing. When summer break rolls around, Felix invites Oliver to join his immediate family and Farleigh at their sprawling estate, Saltburn. While the trip gives Oliver the opportunity to continue to relish his friendship with Felix, it also opens the door to a flood of lies, backstabbing, and debauchery.
In recent weeks, Saltburn has been nominated for numerous Critics’ Awards, which single out the cinematography and production design, as well as Keoghan and Rosamund Pike‘s performances, which also received Golden Globe nominations. Saltburn is streaming now on Prime Video.
When Saltburn was playing in theaters nationwide I got the chance to chat with Madekwe to discuss his killer 2023, how he found the character of Farleigh via the perfect posture and costume, why he was so taken by Pike and Keoghan as scene partners, and loads more.
You can hear it all straight from Madekwe in the video at the top of this article, or you can read our conversation in transcript form below.
PERRI NEMIROFF: Congratulations times two because you’re having one of the coolest years ever with two exceptional performances that are so wildly different!
ARCHIE MADEKWE: I know. It’s really a privilege as an actor to get two very contrasting parts so close to each other. It’s very lovely.
Music and Fashion Prepared Archie Madekwe for ‘Saltburn’
To lean into that a little, when you tackle a role, what’s something that stays consistent no matter the movie, no matter the genre, but then also, what’s something you did to prep for Saltburn that you’ve never done before?
MADEKWE: I think music is always consistent. I always use music just to ground me in the part or ground me in the mood or ground me in the space. It comes and goes depending on the scene or the character, but it was a huge thing for Saltburn. Emerald is well known for making playlists for us, and I made a playlist for Farleigh. I made a playlist for Emerald of a thing that I [thought] felt like the world. So that is something that I always really enjoy.
But I think a first on this one, on Saltburn, because it influenced the character so much, was a real specificity with the clothes. I always try to have an input, but for the most part, I let the very talented costume designers shine and do their thing. But it really felt like something I really wanted to be a part of, and it was a true collaboration. It took us a second to really find it, but there were moments where I was like, “No, this isn’t him. This isn’t him. This isn’t him.” And when we found it, it really allowed Farleigh to come alive.
One of the things I really knew he had to wear, I just was so sure that he needed to wear Gucci loafers. I said it from day one. I was like, “I really see him in Gucci loafers. I really see him in Gucci loafers.” And they were like, “Well, let’s try these. Let’s try these.” And then we bought Emerald, for her birthday, this book called Eton by Ian McDonald. It’s a photo book, and it’s all these pictures of different boys from Eton, the school, in their dorm rooms. The only person of color, the only Black boy in the book who had a real air of Farleigh to him, the way he sat, the way his room was decorated, everything really felt like Farleigh, and on his feet was a pair of Gucci loafers. I showed Emerald and I said, “I told you he would have Gucci loafers on,” and she was like, “Get him the Gucci loafers. Get him the Gucci loafers.” [Laughs] If you look, Farleigh’s always, whether it’s with tracksuit bottoms, whether he’s running outside, he’s always got Gucci loafers on.
Iconic looks across the board in this movie, and I love it so much!
You talk about the costume and the effect that that can have, but what about figuring out physically how he stands and how he carries himself to reflect what he wants and also how he feels in Saltburn?
MADEKWE: Emerald gave me a really lovely note day one in the camera test as we were just working out lighting. She said, “Stand with your feet touching, legs together, and see how that feels.” There’s a real relaxed nature to him, almost like a panther or something. He’s always, not on the prowl, but on the alert. He’s always assessing. He’s always watching. He’s always kind of working out his next move or what’s going on. And so there was something in my physicality initially that sat more with that, and she said, “Can I see what it looks like really upright, legs together, feet together, almost stood to attention?” And then as soon as she gave that note, it really unlocked something for me where I just thought, “Oh fuck, yes. This is it.” He’s always on hyper alert. He’s always on hyper alert because he’s always ready to change tactics, to either make a joke or to stay silent. Whatever it is, he’s always ready for it. So, that helped. When I was given that note and I unlocked that physicality, the character really was born out of that. It was really fun.
Good note. Dude’s got no choice! He has to be on high alert 24/7 in that place.
MADEKWE: He’s on high alert, truly.
Archie Madekwe Doesn’t Think Farleigh Is Mean
To dig into him and his qualities a little more, when you first signed on, what quality of Farleigh’s were you most looking forward to bringing to life on screen, but then also, is there anything that emerged along the way that wound up being more creatively fulfilling to play with than you ever could have imagined at the start?
MADEKWE: Totally. You don’t ever want someone just to be — and I don’t think he is — mean. There were a lot of lines that I was like, “Oh, this guy, he’s sharp-tongued, and he could be catty.” You try and work out, where does that come from? And so it was really fun to really unpack what each of those different things are doing in the moment. Like, why does he say that in that moment? For example, the very first scene you see Farleigh, he walks past Oliver and he says, “Oh, nice jacket,” and it’s so throwaway. But it’s not about being mean to Oliver. It’s about making everybody else laugh because it’s about self. Because then he gets to the English class and he doesn’t even remember who Oliver is. He then says, “Oh hey, nice to meet you,” and it’s nothing to do with him. When he picks apart his essay, he says, “Oh, thus.” That’s not about him trying to be mean. He comes from a world of boarding schools where debate like that is what you do, and the fact that he doesn’t want to jest and play sport with him then gets him the wrong way because he flips it. It was really trying to make sure I knew what each thing was and it wasn’t just him being mean, him being a bully, because I didn’t think he was, and that was really fun.
But, a lot of these dynamics, a really great thing that Emerald does is she does the read-through and then she listens, rehearses, and then rewrites the script depending on what’s come out of those rehearsals. And so, so many new things are born from that. The dynamic between Farleigh and Oliver initially felt way more antagonistic. As we get to that karaoke scene on the couch where they’re almost like nose-to-nose and you have no idea what’s gonna happen, that kind of came out of that rehearsal where we were like, “Hold on. There’s a vibe switch here.” Like, there was really a vibe switch here. And so, some of those initial lines came later. And then the scene with them two in the bed, that wasn’t in the script initially. That was born later. There’s a lot of these things that came out of being like, “Oh, we have to go there because we’re already playing with it, so why don’t we just go there?”
There were a few of those things in the script where we just really pushed it. And then, as that kind of relationship grew, the scene with Farleigh as he comes back at the Midsummer Night’s Dream party, that scene wasn’t in the script initially. That scene actually kind of came probably a week before we shot it. I’m sure Emerald was working on it for a long time before that, but it was so needed. It was so needed for Farleigh to kind of gratify himself and say his piece, the thing that he’d been holding on to with these scornful looks the entire film. He just needed to get it out of him and purge himself of it. It was the most fun collaborative experience I’ve ever had. So great.
Good on her for being open to seizing those opportunities because that switch that happens between those two characters is a brilliant sneak attack. One of the richest relationships in the entire film that goes to places you never would expect in the beginning.
MADEKWE: Totally, totally. That’s why she’s a genius.
Working With Rosamund Pike Was “So Fun and So Gratifying”
I want to touch on some of your co-stars here before I have to let you go. You are right smack in the middle of an exceptional ensemble so in an effort to highlight two people, of everyone in this cast, who were you most in sync with, where the way you like to work was somewhat similar? But then I want the opposite. Who’s someone with a different approach to the work that challenged you to adapt and maybe try something new and for the better?
MADEKWE: That’s a lovely question. I loved the way Rosamund worked. I won’t be lazy, but she kind of encapsulated both of those answers. Something I’d never done before, she was in character five minutes before we called action, and so she was just improvising lines as Elspeth. We jumped straight into it. There was not a moment of me going, “Oh, this is weird. Let me try this.” I just was like, “Oh yeah,” and then Farleigh just came out, and then she just said, “Oh god, and do you remember that thing when we did this?” I looked at her the first time she did it. I remember saying, “Sorry?” And she said, “Farleigh, darling,” and then we were all of a sudden just improvising. Then Emerald would call action and we’d be straight into the scene talking about something else, and then the lines would start. It made the world so rich. It wasn’t something I’d done before. It was the kind of thing you do in your head and it takes someone as experienced and confident as Rosamund to just do it, and remind you, “Oh, it’s okay to do it because this is the work and we’re having fun and we’re playing, and we’re finding these things.” And that comes with experience and time and having a true sense of self as Rosamund has. And that is something that I hope I can take forward with me in other things. It was so brilliant and so fun and so gratifying.
Barry, I guess, sometimes was challenging in the best ways possible. Emerald says he has shark eyes where you don’t know what he’s thinking. You don’t know what he is thinking, you don’t know what he’s gonna do, and that was unbelievably exciting in a scene because it meant you were constantly on high alert. You were constantly alive, and neither of you knew what was gonna happen, and it made something unbelievably electric. He’s a very present, electric actor because he doesn’t know what he’s gonna do before he gets in, and he’s really in the moment in that way. I’m not necessarily prepared and know how I’m gonna say the thing by any means, but maybe I’ve got a sense of where the scene’s moving, et cetera, et cetera, but maybe it moved somewhere completely else in a scene with Barry and I loved that. I loved the excitement of that. I loved the challenge of it, and it was so fun. And I think it really makes some of the scenes in the film come alive in such a rich way.
Struggling to find his place at Oxford University, student Oliver Quick finds himself drawn into the world of the charming and aristocratic Felix Catton, who invites him to Saltburn, his eccentric family’s sprawling estate, for a summer never to be forgotten.
- Release Date
- November 17, 2023
- Emerald Fennell
- 127 minutes
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