Tilda Swinton, co-star of the "Constantine" Movie!
Known throughout Britain for her idiosyncratic performances and long-time association with the late filmmaker Derek Jarman, Tilda Swinton is nothing if not one of the more unique actresses to come along during the second half of the 20th century. Born in London on November 5, 1961, Swinton attended Cambridge University, where she received a degree in social and political sciences. While at Cambridge, she became involved in acting, performing in a number of stage productions. Following graduation, Swinton began her professional theater career, working for Edinburgh's renowned Traverse Theatre and the Royal Shakespeare Company.In 1985, Swinton began her long collaboration with Derek Jarman, both as a friend and fellow artist. She made her screen debut in his Caravaggio (1986) and appeared in every one of the director's films until his death from AIDS in 1994. It was for her role as the spurned queen in Jarman's anachronistic, controversial Edward II (1992) that Swinton earned her first dose of recognition, becoming a familiar face to arthouse audiences on both sides of the Atlantic and earning a Best Actress prize at the Venice Film Festival for her work in the film. The acclaim and recognition Swinton garnered was amplified the same year with her title role in Sally Potter's adaptation of Orlando, Virginia Woolf's classic tale of an Elizabethan courtier who experiences drastic changes in both gender and lifestyle over the course of 400 years.
Following appearances in Jarman's Blue (1993) and in his acclaimed biopic, Wittgenstein (1994), Swinton earned some of her strongest notices to date for her lead in Female Perversions (1996), in which she played a successful lawyer trying to cope with her own insecurities and self-destructive tendencies. She then portrayed another brilliant, troubled woman in Conceiving Ada (1997), a science fiction piece that cast her as the real-life daughter of Lord Byron, a woman who was widely held to be the inventor of the first computer.
Never one to choose films for their simplicity or mainstream appeal, Swinton subsequently appeared in Love Is the Devil (1998), John Maybury's controversial account of the life and times of artist Francis Bacon. She then portrayed a battered wife in The War Zone (1999), Tim Roth's hellish portrait of extreme family dysfunction. Following on a slightly lighter note with Trainspotting director Danny Boyle's The Beach in 2000, Swinton would later take the lead in The Deep End (2001). Noted for her delicately textured performance as an isolated and protective mother who makes a desperate bid to protect her son after assuming he has committed murder, many critics noted Swinton's performance as a key element to the film's success. The next year, the talented actress took on multiple roles in a complex tale of cyborg fantasy and speculative science fiction, Teknolust, and appeared in a small role in Adaptation, written by Charlie Kaufman and directed by Spike Jonze.
In 2003, Swinton delivered strong performances opposite Michael Caine in the thriller The Statement and Ewan McGregor in the erotic drama Young Adam. She went on to star in the ensemble comedy Thumbsucker and appeared with Keanu Reeves in the supernatural thriller Constantine. In 2005, she would play the White Witch in the much-anticipated live-action adaptation of C.S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia.
An Interview with Tilda Swinton about 'Narnia'
With remarkable performances in films like “Young Adam,” “The Deep End,” and Tim Roth’s “The War Zone,” Tilda Swinton has quietly built a reputation as one of the most striking actresses on the independent scene. But come next December, moviegoers are likely to see Swinton in a very different light. As Jadis, the White Witch, Swinton has taken on the most anticipated role in one of this year’s most anticipated studio films- “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe.”
When I meet Swinton on the first day of my weeklong visit to Narnia’s New Zealand set, she doesn’t look much like the diabolical White Witch. Dressed simply in slacks (no sweeping robes or excessive makeup for this actress), Swinton spent several minutes chatting charmingly about director Andrew Adamson’s Narnia interpretation with members of the online press. It’s hard to imagine someone so nice playing such an evil character, but I’m sure Swinton will more than pull it off.
Q: We’ve been told that you wear seven costumes in the movie…
TILDA: Disney must be pretty pleased about there actually being seven dolls now. (Laughs)
Q: Will they all be Barbies?
TILDA: Yeah, me as Barbie, that’s quite a leap. I’m trying to work out a punk make-up (laughs).
Q: Do you have to do a lot of make-up?
TILDA: There’s not much make-up, no. Which of course is shocking! The most shocking thing you can think of. It’s not very Disney to not have a lot of make-up, is it? Eye liner and red lips. But it’s all good - it’s certainly Narnia. These children (Georgie Henley, Anna Popplewell, Skandar Keynes, and William Moseley) are toiling away.
Q: Had you read the books long before you started working on this movie?
TILDA: No, I read the books this very year.
Q: So you didn’t read them as a child?
TILDA: I don’t what it was; I think the world is divided between those who read it and those who didn’t; or had it read to them. But those were the days before Disney’s marketing actually machine got a hold of Narnia, you see. It’s not like “Harry Potter” and “Lord of the Rings” now, which are pushed down everybody’s throats. In those days people kind of discovered it. Let’s hope children will still be able to discover it.
Q: It’s much more accessible to children than “Lord of the Rings.”
TILDA: Yeah. Well it’s about a children’s world. “Lord of the Rings isn’t,” really. I think the real question, and I speak as the mother of two six-year-olds, the real question is “What do the parents want to read?” And it’s lovely to read the Narnia books to children. I’m not taken to the idea of reading “The Lord of the Rings to my children.” I’d be interested to know if most people discovered “The Lord of the Rings” by reading it themselves or whether people read it to them.
Q: And when did they discover it?
TILDA: I think most discover it when they’re thirteen or something; they get a bit nerdy about it. (laughs)
Q: Have you seen the BBC production of the movie?
TILDA: No, I’ve never seen that. I saw the American cartoon. (laughs)
Q: It doesn’t give you much to go on.
TILDA: Well, you know at the very beginning, this American kid says: “We’re going to stay with the professor.” And you’re going: “No, you didn’t go stay with the professor, you were English and it was the blitz and you were sent away from your family…” (laughs). Slightly different. And that’s going to be great in this film; we’re really laying that down nice and hard.
Q: Yeah, that’s less than a paragraph in the book and I think it’s about the first ten or twelve minutes of the film.
TILDA: It really does set the tone.
Q: It’s something that people need to be told about. It’s sixty years since the blitz.
TILDA: I think it’s the labels on their clothes; I think that’s what does it. You put a little child in a forties coat on a railway platform…it’s tricky, you know.
“The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe,” will be released nationwide in December 2005.
Tilda Swinton: To Hell And Back
It may be cold during the chilly Sundance Film Festival, but elegant Tilda Swinton remains in a perennially chirpy mood. No stranger to this mother of all Indie festivals in the thick of Utah's Park City, Swinton was here to promote "Thumbsucker", one of two films in which she appears with Keanu Reeves, the other being "Constantine".
"Yes, we were talking about having it written into our contracts that we will always work together," she says, laughingly. Though not participating in the print press junket for Constantine, Swinton, who at the time of our interview hadn't seen the film, says she has reason to be optimistic about this latest comic book adaptation which is already generating early buzz, having no qualms about setting foot into the world of mainstream Hollywood, but has a blasé attitude when it comes to worrying whether her films will be widely seen. After all, Swinton is not afraid of doing a Teknolust on the one hand, or a Constantine on the other. "I'm very lazy about people seeing my work. I'm an arrogant believer in the power of films to find itself an audience, and a bad studio film will actually get stumps in a video shop, and is going to reach less people I haven't done many studio films to be honest with you, but a Derek Jarman film that runs for 20 or 30 years is going to reach more people so the reaching people is something that I feel very apathetic about." But Swinton said she "enjoyed the adventures of both my latest Hollywood films," referring to Constantine and the upcoming Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe she completed for Disney. "In both instances, what was exactly the same was that I went into these adventures because of the film makers. Francis Lawrence [Constantine] blew me away when I met him and he was an extraordinary individual. It was fantastic working with him, and both Francis Lawrence and Andrew Adamson, are incredibly experienced. Both of them are first-time film makers actually, because when you think about it The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is Andrew's first live action, so again, there I was, business as usual, working with a first-time film maker, going on this adventure and with that sort of beginner's mind, and that's what I love. I love working with film makers who have that absolute sort of mad, kamikaze aspect to them," she enthuses.
In both films, Swinton plays extreme fantasy characters, the Arch Angel Gabriel in Constantine and the White Witch in Wardrobe. The actress insists that she sees no difference in playing those kinds of characters and more realistic women she has portrayed in the likes of The Deep End or Thumbsucker. "It's all about imagination because they don't really exist. Audrey in Thumbsucker doesn't exist and the woman in The Deep End don't exist, because they're all constructs and so what you're doing when you're playing a character is just making a sort of shadow play for the camera about the person because you can't actually follow a person all the time. All you're going to show is a series of details which is going to mean that the audience can project onto the screen their idea of who that woman is. So when you're acting, you're not actually doing anything real at all, so it's the same whether you're playing the Angel Gabriel or the White Witch." Swinton was nit keen to give to much away about her Angel Gabriel. "There really is so little that I can say about the Angel Gabriel because the Angel Gabriel's been kept in this kind of surprise pocket in the film," hence her decision not to do a lot of press for the film. But working not once, but twice, with Keanu on two such different projects, was a revelation, she says. "I don't know that anything exactly surprised me about Keanu when I first met him. I think he just endorsed what I thought he would be which is that he's like an Angel actually, so open and so up for company, which is what I always thought he would be, and that's exactly what he is."
Swinton is equally excited about her participation in Disney's The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. The actress spent 5 months in New Zealand shooting the film "and had a fantastic time." Swinton says she is genuinely convinced that fans of the classic books won't be disappointed in this big-budget screen adaptation. "I'm really convinced that it will be exactly what it should be, which is a classical, very cinematic adaptation of that book. It's got a really 3D Technicolor, Wizard of Oz feel about it and one of the things that I think is very radical about what Andrew's done, is he is not interested in special effects anymore so everything's real, so you have real creatures. In other words, you don't have, as in Lord of the Rings, 500 extras that are doubled up to make 7,000. but actually have all of those people in all of those suits, being all of those mythical creatures." Swinton says "it was really good fun, and I really, really love New Zealand."
All of this is a far cry from her home in Scotland, where she would like to spend some more time working, the last time having worked on Young Adam. "Of course I would like to work more there and constantly am working with a variety of Scottish film makers to make those happen but it's a slow process." Dividing her time between making British films and those of various budgets across the Atlantic, Swinton is both star and executive producer of Thumbsucker, a critical success at Sundance. A film about an adolescent thumbsucker, petrified of independence, Swinton plays his mother who has her own thumbsucking issues. Swinton was ferociously drawn to the film, she says, because "I saw something really special in director Mike Mills, who, for those who don't know, is a very well-regarded graphic artist, who has made documentary films and has made some of the most beautiful music videos. So I was aware of his work anyway and was always interested in his aesthetics but when I met him and he talked about what he wanted to do in the film, the kind of atmosphere he wanted to create, I totally fell in love with it. It was very difficult to get the film made and we found it very hard to get people to give money for it." But the film did get made and attracted quite the cast. Swinton sees this as being more than your typical coming-of-age story. "I think a lot of coming of age stories focus on the impossibility of communicating with parents, the idea that the parents know exactly what they're doing, and that the only person who has any growing to do is the child. However, in my experience of life, that is just not the case, and I think that's the most beautiful thing that this film does. I mean, who is the thumb-sucker here? Who is the one who needs to separate? Who needs to grow, who needs to bawl like a baby on someone's shoulder? I think that it's a coming of age story in as much as a coming of age for the parents as it is for a coming of age for the boy. It's just that the crucible of the plot if you like, is around him separating and going away to college."
Next up for Swinton, is "a film with a Hungarian master Béla Tarr, called The Man from London which is based on a Georges Simenon novel. It's a sort of European co-production - French, German, I think there's some British money in it. It's about a man who witnesses a murder and it's deeply existential. Béla Tarr is quite extraordinary, a sort of Tarkovsky of his day and I hope he'll forgive me for describing him as that but he's one of the great masters working today. We're shooting in March and I'm going to be developing a variety of things this year."
The 43-year old Ms Swinton is on a roll, it seems, one that takes her literally to hell and back. It's quite the ride.
Tilda Swinton: Young Adam
Known initially for her work with Derek Jarman in the late 80s, Tilda Swinton is a principled artist. While she has described her approach to film as "subverting with art that disguises itself as commerce", "Young Adam" at least gave her the comfort of working in her Scottish homeland, and getting absorbed into the existentialist world of Scotland's finest beat writer, Alexander Trocchi.
It's not always easy pulling off an existentialist mood in cinema, but David Mackenzie has been very true to the book...
I honestly believe it's the purest novelisation of a film I've ever seen. A fly on the nipple, a cigarette on the floor - it's all in the book. And it's all there in the film. It says everything about David Mackenzie's powers as a filmmaker. What he's done is recognise the cinematic nature of the book. It's beautifully realised - it's a beat film.
Were you drawn to the existentialist nature of the film and Trocchi's work?
I've always been interested in the existentialist movement. Alexander Trocchi is an important figure for us Scots. I felt clearly that the atmosphere of the film is about loneliness, and existentialist loneliness - in all the characters, including my own.
So how does your character, Ella, fit into the existentialist scheme of things?
She's in the sort of classic proletarian trap of isolation for a woman. And she has absolutely no one - who can she talk to? She's not a talker, or an intellectual, and she's a woman at a certain stage of her life who's already made a certain amount of choices. For example, to marry and to take on her father's barge, and to have a child.
She's reached that bend in the road where she looks ahead and realises, 'Oh, this is going to go on forever and nothing's going to change it.' The thing that moves me about her, is that somehow in that grimness, when this gauntlet is thrown down to her by Joe [Ewan McGregor], she has the spirit to take it up, and she has the aspiration to look for her Eden. I always think of the word 'abandonment' when I think of the character.
Going back to the fly on the nipple, how was the fly directed?
It was an amazing performer. Very temperamental, it spent a lot of time in its trailer. The description in the book is of this fly on the nipple, and it's rubbing its legs together as if it's carving a minute turkey. So we had this moment with the fly, and we all thought: 'Well, you can't hope to direct a fly. If it walks around a bit, that will be enough.' And it did exactly what happened in the book, and it was just phenomenal. It's just an amazing performance!
Tilda Swinton" Adaptation
Tilda Swinton began her acting her career on the stage. Her long-standing association with the director Derek Jarman began with her screen debut in "Caravaggio" in 1986. She then went on to appear in all his films until his death. More recently she has appeared in "Love is the Devil", "The War Zone", and "The Beach". Swinton talks here about starring alongside Nicolas Cage in the comedy "Adaptation.".
Was it weird watching Nic Cage playing the two brothers - and how like the real Charlie Kaufman was he?
I wasn't around when Nic was playing Donald. I was around with Charlie. It was pretty good watching him. But the real Charlie wasn't around during filming, which was rather kind of him I think. Nic's Charlie is something very particular. You can't really put them together. It's a phantasm.
Why did you do this movie?
It's pretty much the best original screenplay I've ever read, for a start. Then there's the team - they're a fantastic group of people.
What drew you to the story?
I knew Spike Jonze would do something really interesting with it. I think there's something really profound about the film. It's about authenticity and whether it's possible to make anything new. Anywhere. Wherever we are. Wherever we're working, even if we're working in McDonald's. How possible is it to actually make something authentic? And, of course, it's difficult enough in Hollywood.
We don't see you in Hollywood very often. Yet you're playing a Hollywood executive...
Yes, it's a bit of an in-joke. I've been on the other side of the table many times, trying to get people to be sympathetic to projects, and I've been the victim of that kind of intense kindness masking extreme stupidity. So I feel I know the territory. It may be unfair of me but I do feel I know it.