Friday 24 November 2017

Tilda Swinton: 'Giving birth is a murderous business'

Swinton in 'We Need to talk about Kevin'
Swinton in 'We Need to talk about Kevin'

Shereen Low

Tilda Swinton proves she's never going to conform to Hollywood ideals as her latest harrowing role portrays a mother who fails to bond with her son.

With her striking androgynous looks and boyish figure, Tilda Swinton was always going to be a maverick in Hollywood.

How many other Oscar-winning actresses would take the time and effort to haul a heavy portable cinema around the Scottish highlands? All for an independent film festival - Ballerina Ballroom Cinema Of Dreams - which she dreamt up herself.

"Well, why not?" she says, shrugging her shoulders.

Swinton's unconventional home life sees her living with long-time partner Sandro Kopp, a German-New Zealand artist, and her twin children by Scottish painter John Byrne, who lives nearby. The festival was inspired by the lack of cinemas near their home.

"We have to travel quite far to see a big screen and then we get a multiplex experience with about 17 screens of Harry Potter," she continues.

"So it occurred to us to carry a 43-tonne truck from the west to east coast of Scotland and stop off in places where people had never seen Luc Besson. There are film fans everywhere and in every highland glen, there's somebody willing to see something subtitled. It's my honour and pleasure to pull it to them."

While other actresses of her generation - Michelle Pfeiffer, Demi Moore, Sharon Stone - became Tinseltown's golden girls, the statuesque British actress has played the waiting game for the past three decades, preferring to let her work shine in its own time.

After years of working in theatre and arthouse films, Swinton - who was inspired to act by the late director Derek Jarman - burst into the mainstream after starring in Danny Boyle's The Beach in 2000, opposite Leonardo DiCaprio, followed by her chilling role as the White Witch in The Chronicles Of Narnia.

After winning the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her performance in Michael Clayton, opposite George Clooney, the 50-year-old is set to go stellar with her role in the gripping drama We Need To Talk About Kevin.

Starring alongside John C Reilly (as husband Franklin) and newcomer Ezra Miller in the title role, the actress is already gaining acclaim for her performance as stoic and troubled mother Eva Katchadourian in Lynne Ramsay's big-screen adaptation of Lionel Shriver's controversial novel, looking at the lead-up to a teenage boy committing a high school massacre.

A successful travel journalist, Eva is forced to give up her burgeoning career and globetrotting dreams after giving birth to her first child, laying the foundations of an uneasy relationship which continues up to his unspeakable atrocity.

"Eva's identity before she has a child was very much linked to her being the great explorer. Then, here comes motherhood, which, let's face it, is possibly the biggest uncharted adventure," she says.

"Something has strangled her - she's not quite committed to this journey - so there's something in her that's not paying attention. She's looking over the child's shoulder, out of the window - and Kevin knows it. What could be more annoying?"

It's taken more than four years for the film, with its burning questions of morality and motherhood, to get off the ground for Scottish film-maker Ramsay and the actress, who also took the executive producer's seat.

"It was a concern all the way, right into the cusp," she admits. "It was a gamble we had to take."

"The financiers were concerned the film was too cold and too much of a challenge. But somehow we decided to take the chance, and take the audience into the emotional experience of a woman having difficulties with her child."

She adds: "It's a taboo not many people talk about - the possibility of a woman not establishing a bond with her child. Maternal instinct doesn't come every time and it's a shock for many women - more women than we know."

The London-born actress readily admits the harrowing and provocative film isn't easy watching: "You're going into new areas - something you haven't thought about before - and there may be some feelings you haven't hoped for. The concept of a mother who is detached and can't love her son is very uncomfortable."

When asked if it was troubling for her to portray Eva, Swinton is momentarily silenced, before replying: "It's like looking under a rock. It was quite exhausting to constantly look for that uncomfortable place. But the wonderful thing about playing with dark materials is you go home at the end of the day and you're happy it's not your life."

As a mother of two teenagers, son Xavier and daughter Honor, Swinton admits she had her own misgivings about motherhood.

"It is a murderous business, giving birth," she reveals. "I remember realising that my imagination had taken on a kind of brutal capacity it never had before. There's something about the experience of childbirth that stretches your imaginary capacity for brutality.

"Every pregnant woman thinks for one moment that they're actually carrying the spawn of the devil. And let's face it - for all of us, family is a bloody subject. It's not all Hallmark greeting cards."

While she's a fan of Shriver's novel, she insists the movie should be seen in its own right.

"The tone of the book and the film is very different. It was really a question of all of us trying to forget the book a lot of the time," she says.

Despite having described acting as "a major mistake", Swinton looks set to continue her love affair with the big screen, with an upcoming film role in Wes Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom.

"I'm really not interested in acting. Still not. And I've given up waiting for an epiphany of interest to strike," she states.

"It's not like I'm looking for opportunities to do things. I would like an opportunity to have a good sleep and get on with some writing."


:: Katherine Mathilda 'Tilda' Swinton was born in London, on November 5, 1960, the only daughter of Major-General Sir John Swinton.

:: When she was 10, she was sent to boarding school, where she was bullied and homesick: "I don't think I spoke for five years."

:: In 1995, Swinton was 'displayed' as a week-long live performance art exhibition at the Serpentine Gallery in London.

:: She collaborated with fashion designers Viktor & Rolf and was the focus of their One Woman Show in 2003, where all the models looked like copies of Swinton.

:: We Need To Talk About Kevin opens in cinemas on Friday, October 21

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