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Spanning 400 years and a sex change, the vibrant new ﬁlm version of
Virginia Woolf ’3 Orlando represents the latest performing challenge
for TILDA SWINTON. She tells Trevor Johnston how not to act and reveals the trauma of being a Scot with an English accent.
or a Cambridge gal, Tilda Swinton's sentiments are as far away from the professional luvviness of Emma Thompson and the Footlights brigade as you could conceivably imagine. ‘The assumption about performers is that they’re interested in acting.‘ reckons the former Social and Political Science student who’s never done a day's drama training in her life. ‘but that's not true in my case. It seems to me it's such a waste of the cinema and its possibilities to sully it with acting.’
This last word is unleashed in such a pejorative tone of voice. she might as well have said ‘ferretjuggling‘. but her highly contentious attitude is one of the prime indications as to how seriously she takes her work. Today as she perches on the sofa in her publicist‘s office. long red hair swept back. tortoise-shell glasses perched on her nose and an lssey Miyake label peeking out from her jacket collar. she cuts the sort of striking female figure that might. in differet circumstances. simply be utilised for decorative purposes. But that‘s never been the Swinton way.
Just how much she differs from other mere actors. she illustrates with a pointed little anecdote. recalling an impassioned argument she once had with an over-zealous drma student. ‘I remember him saying that what he really wanted to do was to act perfect/w she says with an exaggerated sweep of the arm. ‘so I kept asking him what exactly it was that he wanted to do so well and why. People always say that it ain‘t what you do but the way that you do it. yet I’ve never believed in that. For
‘At every stage we have Orlando being both sexes, so maybe we have Orlando being neither — a person who develops
due to the external influences but whose essential nature remains the same.’
me. it's always what you do that‘s the most important thing.‘
Her list of film credits backs up the point. Having made five features with Derek Jarman. from the painterly ('ami'aggio right through to her Venice award-winning turn as the queen bitch lsabella in Edward II. she‘s become a sort of talisman for his improvisatory. autobiographical output. Yet her choice of other screen projects (from minimalistic sci-ii saga Friends/zip '3' Death to the video incarnation of her Traverse hit Man To Man and Berlin-shot party piece Nature Morte) have shown a consistent willingness to stretch herself in the independent margins of British and European filmmaking. Mainstream offers do flop through the letterbox -- ‘American scripts. British TV scripts. big budget Euro- scripts' — but she‘s got other priorities such as the five year wait for Sally Potter‘s Orlando to fall finally into place and make it on to the screen.
Swinton had read Virginia Woolf’s 1928 novel. a virtual love letter to Vita Sackville- West couched in the form of an ornate historical fantasia. during her teens and describes the effect of discovering that filmmaker Potter (best known for her ambitious feminist extravaganza The Gold Diggers) was a fellow fan of the book as ‘rather akin to finding something that you’d lost down the back of the sofa — suddenly it all makes sense!‘ Assembled
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