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Tilda Swinton's mixed metamorphoses

Indie-cinema luminary gets retrospective in P-Town
By PETER KEOUGH  |  June 21, 2010

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Most people know Tilda Swinton either from her role as the White Witch in the Narnia movies or as the striking-looking woman who in her speech accepting the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her performance in Michael Clayton said she was going to give the trophy to her agent. Or perhaps as the actress whom Conan O'Brian said he would like to portray him if there's ever an HBO movie made about his life.

Actually, these achievements are footnotes in the life of a woman who has been one of the brightest luminaries of independent cinema since Caravaggio (1986), the first of seven films she made with Derek Jarman. Her auteur directors also include Jim Jarmusch, David Fincher, Béla Tarr, and the Coen Brothers. In other words, she's the perfect choice for the Provincetown International Film Festival's Excellence in Acting Award. And she has two recent films, Eric Zonca's Julia and Luca Guadagnino's I Am Love (the latter opens in Boston July 2) that she'll be screening at the festival (June 16-20), along with Sally Potter's 1992 adaptation of Virginia Woolf's Orlando, which will be re-released in theaters later this year.

Congratulations on your Excellence in Acting Award.
To be honest with you, I didn't even realize there was an award. I thought that it was just a sort of retrospective.

Oops! I hope I didn't give anything away. So, no Derek Jarman films in your retrospective?
Had it been a longer retrospective, then there would have been some Derek Jarman films. But I thought there was something quite beautiful about putting Orlando, Julia, and I Am Love together. The thread between anything I do is my ad nauseam interest in transformation. So in all of those films, I think that each of those three beings — I can't call them women — but each of those three beings has the opportunity to metamorphose into something else.

Certainly Orlando fills the bill — changing gender and living for, what, four centuries?
To that date, but now has lived even longer. Still living.

Julia andI Am Love have motherhood as a theme. Has that been something of interest to you since you had twins back in 1997?
I don't know whether it has to do with me becoming a mother or whether it would have been interesting anyway. But it is certainly true. I've just come back from Connecticut shooting We Need To Talk About Kevin with Lynne Ramsay. Which is like the third installment in these Euripidean, Greek-tragic mother stories. It's a — I would call it a predicament, that I'm very interested in. The whole predicament around motherhood and around the place that a woman finds herself in when she's encountering and negotiating the maternal instinct, whether to have it or not. I have a sense that I would have been interested in it if I hadn't had children of my own. Because my own experience of being a mother is quite separate and different from these women's experience.

Other rumored upcoming roles aren't so maternal. Like Nico, the Velvet Underground singer, and countess Erzsébet Báthory, the 16th-century Hungarian aristocrat who bathed in virgin's blood to attain eternal youth.
Those are seeds in the ground. Nico is a project that I've been talking to David Mackenzie about. Báthory is one that Ulrich Ottinger and I have been occasionally watering. But we haven't talked about them much recently.

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