Tilda Swinton Calling
"I've always known I was a performer," Tilda Swinton reveals during a call from the Denver airport. She's just completed a Colorado visit to promote her latest film, Young Adam. "I'm not sure I ever decided to go into acting. It was just a part of me. I even went to Cambridge instead of film school so that I could perform in a theatre company, but I felt privileged to discover there what I really wanted to do was work in the cinema."
Fortunately, Swinton's "work in the cinema" has earned praise from critics as well as the admiration of discerning movie fans. The Boston Critics and Las Vegas Critics named her Best Actress for The Deep End, and she received a Best Actress nomination from the British Independent Film Awards for Young Adam.
In Young Adam, Swinton plays a woman whose background is a far cry from her own. "I wasn't daunted by that, but maybe I have a brain cell missing in that department," she quips. Ella, her character in the film, lives and works on a coal barge in 1950s Glasgow, whereas Swinton comes from an aristocratic family with an ancestral home dating back to the ninth century. She even went to school with Princess Di, a fact she brushes aside as "the least relevant fact about me." Swinton describes Ella as "a woman who is so disappointed and exhausted and doing thankless tasks and still has the energy to leap into an affair while keeping two beings (husband Les and lover Joe) concurrent."
According to Swinton, Ewan McGregor, who portrays her lover in Young Adam, is "absolutely delightful and very easy to work with." Did he sing to her? "Actually, he did a time or two -- but I'm not going to tell you what he sang," Swinton replies impishly.
Swinton also gives props to director David Mackenzie. "He's extraordinary, a relatively fully-formed filmmaker who knows exactly what he wants," she states.
Evidently, what MacKenzie wanted was to create the right mood for his movie adaptation of Alexander Trocchi's bleak novel. "Young Adam is a film about loneliness and about how it's possible to make contact after recognizing another's loneliness," Swinton explains. "It's also about judgments and the way in which our society rushes to judgment. We must search our heart and be aware of this."
Swinton denies having a philosophy of acting. "I had a conversation with myself about that. But it's such a personal thing. I have a particular pain threshold inside and try not to cross that threshold. But my over-riding principle is 'find the company to work with' -- because it takes more than one to make a film, so find the right group."
Passionate about films, Swinton loves making them, planning them, talking about them. "It would be sacrilegious to do films only for the money," she insists. Since making Caravaggio (directed by the late great Derek Jarman) in 1986, the 44-year-old actress has appeared in over 30 films. None of them have been blockbusters, but most represent high quality cinema. The list includes critically acclaimed movies like Adaptation, The Last of England, The War Zone, Orlando, The Statement, and The Deep End. Swinton's three upcoming films are: Thumbsucker, a comedy with Keanu Reeves and Vincent D'Onofrio; Toyer, a Brian De Palma horror flick; and Constantine, an action fantasy -- again with Keanu Reeves.
"For now, I'm off to L.A. to finish shooting Thumbsucker, then back home to Scotland," Swinton reports. No longer living in a castle, she shares a home north of Inverness with hubby John Byrne and their two children.
Swinton concludes her call with a touch of whimsy by saying, "Sometimes I think performers should really be in only one film." And what would her one film be? "Young Adam, of course."