Marrakech: Oscar-winning Scottish actress and fashion icon Tilda Swinton may have shone in Hollywood blockbusters like ‘Michael Clayton’, ‘Doctor Strange’ and ‘Avengers: Endgame’, but she shirks from being labelled a heavyweight in that world alone.
“I am not in Hollywood … I am on another planet,” said Swinton at a recent round-table interview at the ongoing Marrakech International Film Festival.
This remark reflects her deliberate choice to steer clear of being seen as a typical Hollywood star and gaining some distance from traditional trappings of the film industry’s epic center.
The androgynous actress, 63, who has successfully straddled festival friendly films and commercial blockbusters may be onto something here. Excerpts from our interview with Swinton as we talk about ageing, parenting, and how forging strong relationships is the only way forward …
Your sense of style is as brilliant as your performances in films, but are they connected somehow in the way you experiment – your films and fashion?
I think they are connected because the same principle applies. It's about communication, and it's about the relationship. So, I'm not really wearing clothes; I'm wearing relationships. When I wear Chanel, it's because of my relationship with the House of Chanel, or when I'm wearing Haider Ackermann, he’s one of my closest friends. We work together in a very conceptual way, and it’s very engaging. Also, you know, I can’t pretend much as I am a shy person, so going out in public and embracing these relationships is a new way of being in company. They are important to me. It’s very creative and delightful.
How important is feedback on your clothes and your performances to you? Do you listen to it?
I’m a dinosaur who has no relationship with social media, and I never did. So, I am low on knowing much about feedback. But I like to read reviews because I am curious about film criticism. And God, we need it. We need good film criticism and much more. I am always curious to know how the films are received by the critics. But I learned early with Derek Jarman [the late director whose credits include ‘Caravaggio’ and ‘The Garden’] that it can’t really impact you much. It’s not really about that; it’s the audience feedback that’s truly significant because that’s the primary relationship.
I speak to several Bollywood actresses who are over 50 years of age and how they don’t get enough roles due to their advancing age. Do you face that in Hollywood as such?
You know, I am not in Hollywood, so I don’t know about Hollywood, and I am on another planet. I am working very much with filmmakers developing work. So no, if anything, my work is becoming more and more enriching for me. My children [twins Honor Swinton Byrne and Xavier Swinton Byrne] are now 26, so I have fewer school runs and less school organization to do. Now, I have more time. So in fact, in recent years, very recently, I've been able to be more involved in projects that take up longer time.
Have you seen any films in competition at the Marrakech International Film Festival?
No, I haven’t seen any films, and this is one of my complaints because I am leaving before seeing them. But I hear it’s a wonderful competition … I haven’t seen the Moroccan film ‘Animalia’, but I have met the director [Sofia Alaoui] … She seemed great, and I would love to work with her … When you make films, remember it’s a team sport and you need to love the people you work with. You need to not only develop the work with them, but you need to shoot with them through thick and thin in all weathers at 3 am. And you also must go around the world with them for the next two or three years traveling the film festivals. So if you are waking up in the morning and seeing them for breakfast, you have to love them. It must be awful if you don’t like your collaborators.
Apart from producing, have you also done some direction?
I have not directed [a feature film], but I have made a short essay film. I am tinkering, but I have never directed a feature film. You know what, I am trying not to direct, to be honest with you. I love producing and I love working with directors, clearing the path for them to make their work. But I don’t know; I never say never.
Your daughter Honor is also an actress and called you the biggest rockstar. Do you recognise yourself in her?
Did she say that?! So, I have done a neat job of not reading anything, but thank you for telling me. It’s so interesting because I do see myself in her and I see other members of my family in her. I see my mother in her. Funnily enough, I see myself more in my son. But I love Honor so much, and we are so close … My son is placed here [touching her hips], and Honor and I face each other … I will see that I see myself in her, and I really admire that about her. She’s herself, and it’s a nice feeling.
Interestingly, she said the same about you and how you are true to yourself, and how she admires that you listen to yourself and not obey anything else…
She has that same quality even though she’s very young. I am very happy, and I am going to take a tiny bit of credit for clearing the path out of her way so that she and both can grow. I believe it’s the principal job of a parent to get out of the way. So, Honor is true to herself and a very free person. She’s amazing.
For someone who has worked in this industry for so many years, can you tell us a little bit about the emotional cost of working with a diverse set of directors from art-house and commercial cinema space?
That’s a great question. It’s going to sound very mundane, but the most emotionally expensive part of my life is that I live in a beautiful place in the highlands of Scotland, but I work away from it. So coming and going is always like Narnia going through the back of the wardrobe. I have to gear myself up to leave home. After this festival, I am going home this week, and I know I will have to pull myself out of it soon. The biggest emotional cost is the travel and how I must make these relationships work. I work with these different kinds of families who are very distinct – my family with Bong Joon Ho, my family with Wes Anderson, my family with Derek Jarman, my family with Joanna Hogg. They all coexist and are all so different. They all know each other, and it feels quite easy, but leaving home is the difficult bit.
So, you have your special world, but we are quite used to seeing you in some deeply moving and fantastical stories that are not your usual world … So when you go out of your house in Scotland, you are transported to a new place…
I don’t know the answer to it. It’s often a question of a sensibility that I share with a lot of my colleagues. We are so interested in a bit of fantasy in cinema, and that doesn't necessarily mean a fantastical film, but it means a kind of transport. So, for example, the work I make with Jim Jarmusch [‘Only Lovers Left Alive’] always feels like a fantasy. After all, I play a 3000-year-old vampire in Detroit, and there’s always that fantasy element. But in my work with Bong Joon-Ho, it always has this slight leap to it, and that’s just limited to my taste but my interest. Having said that, my work with Joanna Hogg probably exists in what you might call a real world and deals with memory. And my last film I did, ‘The Eternal Daughter’, does have a fantasy element that we really enjoyed playing with. It’s a ghost film, and we worked with tropes of a ghost-story film.
Would it be fair to say that even if you were in a commercial, blockbuster film, you make them work at your service?
You’re going to tell the studios that [with an open laugh]. I have been lucky, but all my projects are always with the people. They don’t ask me unless they want me in a project. And if they didn’t want me, I don’t think they would ask me or go: ‘we actually wish we had somebody else’ after casting. They all know what they are getting because they make a little world for me. I felt lucky to be able to play a role in David Fincher’s ‘The Killer’. The way we played it was kind of experimental. We played that scene repeatedly, but it felt fresh and amazing. But that’s him because he’s working in this huge set-up with proper instruments, but he’s an absolute experimentalist at heart.
Have you ever regretted turning down a filmmaker?
My immediate reaction is no because nothing comes to mind … There are people I know who I love, and I hope we make something together.
Tell us more about the musical, ‘The End’, that’s coming up … Are you singing in it?
Yes, it’s a film by Joshua Oppenheimer who made ‘The Act Of Killing’, and this is his first non-documentary film. It’s about a family who has lived underground for 25 years in this beautiful place. We sing.
What was it like working with Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar, who for the last 30 years stayed away from shooting a film in English? Did you convince him to take the plunge?
I am very happy to say ‘yes’ … He’s one of those examples of people whose work I know very well before I first met him. He has more of a relationship with the kind of Hollywood cinema from the 40s and 50s. I have always loved his work, but I found it strange that he would approach me. I thought none of the women in his films looked like me … But I was amazed when he asked me to make ‘The Human Voice’. I was thrilled about working together.
Do you ever question the motives of a character you play?
See in those moments, I am not an actor.