Interview with Tilda Swinton


For nearly 25 years her bright red hair and pallid changeling beauty have illuminated some of the best work by auteurs such as Derek Jarman, the Coen Brothers, Jim Jarmusch, and David Fincher. Most will remember her from the 2007 Oscars, where she accepted the Best Supporting Actress Award for her role in "Michael Clayton" and distinguished herself as the most interesting looking person on the show. And now she'll be receiving another award next week at the Provincetown International Film Festival (which I'll be attending) for "Achievement in Acting" (though she did not know this until I informed her). There she will also be presenting her two latest films, Erick Zonca's "Julia" and Luca Guadagnino's "I Am Love"  (in the theaters July 2) as well as Sally Potter's "Orlando" (which will be re-released later this year), a 1992 adaptation of Virginia Woolf's novel about an Elizabethan courtier who lives for over 400 years and changes gender somewhere along the way. A piece of cake for  an actor with Swinton's range.

I managed to talk to her on the phone while she was taking a break back home in Scotland, having just finished shooting Lynne Ramsey's "We Need to Talk About Kevin" in Connecticut, resting up for her return transatlantic flight to P-town.

PK: Congratulations on your award from the Provincetown Film Festival.

TS: Oh, thank you very much.

PK: How much significance do you put into awards of this type?

TS: I'm not even sure I'm aware. To be honest with you I didn't even realize it was an award. I thought that it was just a sort of retrospective; I didn't realize it was an award. So you called me out there.

PK: Whoops. I hope I didn't give away a surprise. It's the Achievement in Acting Award, they do one every year.

TS: Oh, I didn't know that. Well, fine, thanks for telling me.

PK: So I guess that answers my second question, which is, how much significance do you put into an award of that type. I remember that at the Oscars you said that you were going to be giving your Oscar to your agent.

TS: Yes, it's his.

PK: You're going to be presenting a short retrospective of your films while you're there. Did you choose the ones that are going to be shown?

TS: I have to say that Provincetown has been very enticing to me over a few years and have been asking me to come and I've tried to come a number of occasions, and then suddenly, this year felt like the perfect year because I have this new film "I Am Love."

It felt like a little retrospective of these three films that we've chosen, there was something quite beautiful about putting "Orlando," "Julia," and "I Am Love" together. I don't know if you've seen "I Am Love," or if you've seen any of those films. You may agree, there's a nice feeling about putting those three together. So this year was the best year I could think of to go and present a new film.

PK: What is the common thread that you see in those three movies?

TS: I always say that the lowest common denominator that I can see as a thread between pretty much anything I do is my sort of ad nauseam interest in transformation. I suppose that's the thing that pulls me into any story, or any kind of performance, really, is the possibility to transform. To tell the story of somebody who might be able to transform is great for me. 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.

PK: Certainly Orlando lives for what, four centuries?

TS: To date, but now has lived even longer. Still living.

PK: Was that one of your more difficult performances considering the range of character?

TS: I'm not sure that I identify any of my performances as particularly difficult. Being difficult is not something that I am particularly interested in. It was very particular because of course what was required within this idea of metamorphosis was that this spirit stay exactly the same and not change at all. What I decided to do, was to not change in fact.  So just retaining that was the task with that one. But it wasn't difficult. Nothing was difficult. None of it's difficult [laughs], it's all very easy. The difficult bit is raising the money, that's the difficult bit.

PK: And dealing with the press probably.

TS: No, not at all. What's difficult about talking to you Peter?

PK: Oh, well you'll probably find out as the conversation goes on.

TS: Ok, ok, great.

PK: But you didn't include any Derek Jarman movies in your selection.

TS:  No, it's a very particular selection. To be honest with you, the selection, which was just three, was dictated by the fact that this is the year of "I Am Love." I wanted that to be a kind of reference and pick sort of companion pieces for that new film. For that reason, it just felt that the two companion pieces for this film would be these other two films. But of course, had it been a longer retrospective, then there would have been some Derek Jarman films in there too.

PK: Could you talk about the gestation period of "I Am Love?" I understand it's taken you several years to get this film made.

TS: Well, gestation is right, getting it made, it wasn't all about raising the money for it, although the latter part of those 11 years was about that. It was just that sort of very regular business of an idea germinating and becoming several drafts of a script and then a team coming together very slowly over the years and then finally actually finding the resources to make the film. The truth is, in my experience anyway, these independent films generally take something like that length of time to go from scratch. "Orlando" took us five years, but then we had a great novel to start with. Then with "I Am Love," we had nothing. We just had an original idea. "Caravaggio," which was the first film I had ever made, I know that Derek [Jarman] had been working on it for 11 years. It's fairly commonplace in my experience for projects of this kind to just take that time to develop and grow. And frankly, it's a wonderful thing to have that length of time to develop something. It's quite hairy if you're, you know, living on bread and water during that time. What we dream of is being funded for 11 years. That would be great. Like Stanley Kubrick. That's our dream, Luca's and mine, to develop something over 11 years, but to actually have a stipend to do it on. But apart from that, it's fairly regular, in my experience, to work for that length of time on those films. "Julia," I think, I was only involved for a couple of years on "Julia." But I know that "Julia," was living in Erick Zonca's head for at least five years.

PK: "Julia" and "I Am Love" all have motherhood sort of as a theme. Has that been something that has been more important to you had twins back in 1997?

TS: That's an interesting question Peter, because I don't know whether it is 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, of those two films, this is like the third sort of in these Euripidean, Greek tragic mother stories. So yes, I'm aware of the fact that 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. So yeah, I'm very interested in that. But how much that has to do with my own experience of being a mother I'm not really sure. I have a sense that I would have been interested in it if I hadn't children of my own. Because the truth is, my own experience of being a mother is quite separate and different to these women's experience, all of them.

PK: How is that Lynne Ramsay movie going? Is it done now?

TS: It's quite wonderful, we've just finished the principal photography. I'm completely exhausted because I literally have just woken up. I'm in a jet lag mode from finishing the final days of principal photography. But we're very happy with what we did. We had to work very fast, we only had 30 days to shoot. But we're very, very happy with what we did. And I hope that this time next year it will be emerging.

PK: This is her first film since "Morvern Callar," isn't it?

TS: Yeah.

PK: I'd always wondered what happened to her, since that movie.

TS: Well, I mean, part of the time was developing another project which for very specific reasons [ie; Peter Jackson replaced her as director of "The Lovely Bones" ] never came to be. And then part of the time she's been developing this. She and I have been talking about it for about four years. But for about five years she's been developing this project. So yeah, another long gestation.

 NEXT: Kids have good taste

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