Interview: Tilda Swinton

Ezra Miller as Kevin, Tilda Swinton as Eva. PA
Ezra Miller as Kevin, Tilda Swinton as Eva. PA
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Unconventional Hollywood star Tilda Swinton talks to Shereen Low about her harrowing role as a stoic mother in We Need to Talk About Kevin.

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 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, who lives in a remote part of Scotland with long-time partner Sandro Kopp, a German-New Zealand artist, and her twin children by Scottish painter John Byrne, was inspired to take to the road by the lack of cinemas near her 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 and stop off in places where people had never seen Luc Besson.”

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.

After years of working in theatre and arthouse films, Swinton 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 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 globetrotting dreams after giving birth to her first child, laying the foundations for an uneasy relationship.

“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,” says Swinton. “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. ”

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. “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.”

Despite having described acting as “a major mistake”, Swinton looks set to continue her love affair with the big screen, with a forthcoming 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 says. “To be honest, I would like an opportunity to have a good sleep and get on with some writing.”

The life and times of Tilda

Katherine Mathilda ‘Tilda’ Swinton was born in London, on November 5, 1960.

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 for a catwalk show in 2003, where all the models looked like copies of Swinton.

We Need To Talk About Kevin opens in cinemas from today.