12 THE LIST 2‘.) Nov
She’s the queen of the‘gender blending’ performance. She’s slept in a box in the name of art. And she’s starred in an Orbital video. Now TILDA SWINTON could be in line
for an Oscar. Words: Allan Radcliffe
rior to meeting her in the fiesh. it’s virtually impossible
to imagine what Tilda Swinton is like off-screen.
Though the Scots actor commands a global cult
following. she avoids the limelight. rarely doing
interviews. For her lofty. androgynous figure.
compelling blue eyes and distinctive. expressive features. she‘s been described
as ‘enigmatic'. 'regal' and ‘ethereal‘. yet Swinton‘s choice of film roles tells us
only that she's drawn to edgy scripts and idiosyncratic. underground directors.
In a personality-obsessed age. Swinton is that rare breed of chameleon actor.
effortlessly mutating from one role to another without giving away anything of her own self.
liven as I sit waiting to interview her in Edinburgh’s Scotsman Hotel. the
prospect of encountering the real Tilda Swinton. on day-release from her rural
hideaway in north east Scotland. seems very unlikely. This sense of uncertainty
is compounded by the actor having just charged past me. returning from an (1/
ﬁ‘(’.\‘(‘() photo session in full Elizabethan costume.
So will the real Tilda Swinton please stand up? Now divested of doublet. hose and ruff. she joins me and it‘s clear that what those who called her ethereal and regal have failed to identify is that behind the fragile. other-worldly features lurks a pugnacious character and a keen. inquisitive. occasionally overly-analytical mind. During our conversation. she digresses often. never missing an opportunity to take a swipe at cinematic sacred cows. from dear old Dickie Attenborough (‘We may run for the same team at the Olympics. but that's where the similarity ends') to America's Sundance Film Festival. which has a reputation for fostering cutting-edge cinema ('Until recently I was very suspicious of Sundance‘s position in the appropriation of the independent sector").
Her insatiable curiosity and limitless energy are reﬂected in the eclecticism of her (‘V. As well as the prolific film career (around 25 features in fifteen years). she has appeared in ()rbital‘s video for 'The Box‘ and spent eight hours a day sleeping in a glass case in the Serpentine Gallery for an art installation entitled The Maybe. It's the kind of thing you can do when you started your film career in what was a pretty thin period for film production in the L'K. ‘In the 8()s.‘ she says. “it was almost impossible to call yourself a cinema maker in "Britain" — I hate using that word because I don’t think it exists — because there was no sense of there being a commercially active cinema. What you did have. though. were directors like Derek Jarman. Terence Davies. Peter Greenaway and Sally Potter being fostered by the British Film Institute to develop their sensibility with no view to the market. That‘s the time I came from and the sensibility that grew up.‘
()n the state of domestic cinema. Swinton does not subscribe to the recurring assertion that “the British are coming‘. For an actor raised in establishment circles and institutions. who has been described on more than one occasion as an ‘linglish rose’ and who built her reputation acting in British films. albeit arthouse cinema. she might be expected to be less disparaging about the culture that nurtured her. Yet. Swinton deterrninedly confounds expectations. consistently repudiating conventional wisdom.
Her latest starring role — and one tipped to win her an Oscar nomination — is in The Deep End. the second feature from American independent filmmakers David Siegel and Scott McGehee (their first was 1993‘s Suture. about a man’s failed attempt to murder his brother and take on his identity). Swinton. in red