MARRAKECH – Tilda Swinton, translucent, beautifully elfin, dressed in a striped Chanel kaftan, adorned with a shimmering bib of flowers. The quirky white shirt collar and boyish blonde hairdo add a touch of seriousness to the Scottish actress’ original sense of style, matching her intelligent verbiage that flows seamlessly from her mouth to describe her career.
Swinton will be interviewed at the Marrakech Film Festival (11-19 November), ahead of the closing ceremony. She was head of the festival jury in 2019 and this year she’s returned with her oldest friend and first director, Joanna Hogg, to screen their ghost story ‘The Eternal Daughter’. This year she also receives one of the festival’s honorary Golden Star awards.
Swinton sits side-by-side with Hogg (“The Souvenir”), for whom she plays two roles in the film, their third consecutive collaboration following Hogg’s two “Souvenir” films.
The film is set in a house converted into a hotel where an elderly mother and daughter reunite. The film played in a special screening at the festival. It premiered in Venice in September before showing in Toronto. The release is scheduled for December 2 on VOD and in theaters by distributor A24.
Swinton is a big fan of the Marrakech Festival.
“It’s such a special one. To be honored by this festival is kind of humbling,” she said, and when asked what makes it special: “The curation. The fact that there are so many emerging filmmakers from areas where filmmaking itself is on the rise. Filmmaking in Africa in particular is not really represented at other festivals like here.”
Swinton describes her own work in original terms and suggests asking some of the questions posed to actual actors, who apparently are not her. She is alert and so eloquent that it is quite surreal to hear Tilda Swinton talk about Tilda Swinton and acting in general. Because it doesn’t happen that often that you hear things said so beautifully.
For Swinton, acting starts with relationships.
“I learned with Derek Jarman, with whom I worked for nine years, and with Joanna, with whom I made my first film. That’s for me, working with friends, is the only way to go,” Swinton said.
Swinton starred in ‘Caprice’, Hogg’s 1986 National Film and Television School graduation film. She made her feature film debut that same year in Jarman’s ‘Caravaggio’.
“For years I have worked in a similar way. I made the relationship. The project emerges from a conversation that forms that relationship. Then at some point there will be the question what am I going to do in it? But it is very low in the pecking order. This movie is an example of that. For a long time I would play the younger woman. Then the whole thing went into a spiral. But talking to Joanna was the most important thing. Then the video. Then the material of the film. You would think for real actors, it (the role) was the most important thing, but to me it’s the least important thing.”
It would be hard to pick a particular role that she loved to play, but instead there are arcs in storytelling and in life that she enjoys.
Her credits include ‘Orlando’, ‘The Chronicles of Narnia’, ‘The French Dispatch’, ‘The Budapest Hotel’, the list is long. She controversially played The Ancient One in Marvel Studio’s ‘Doctor Strange’.
“It’s like asking people who their favorite kid is,” she said. “Overall, I’ve come to realize that I’m really interested in transformation. I don’t mean as an artist, but in people’s lives. The fact of transformation, or the way people change. I’m very interested in stories where a portrait of someone goes in one direction, and then he comes to some sort of precipice, and he has to change, he has to turn a corner. I am especially intrigued by those stories and predicaments like that.”
Making shapes is what Swinton does for a living, she says. She does not like to impose restrictions.
“To work with energy and make shapes, and make new shapes that can be useful for people to see new shapes, I think, is kind of what we’re involved in. Trying to open up little holes and corners of the carpet that has not been seen before I think it’s not our business, as artists, to concern ourselves with boundaries I think it’s our business to try and pretend they don’t exist and then come they slap us on the nose and we realize they do exist, so preoccupying with boundaries can be quite counterproductive because you could say, ‘Oh no, that’s impossible.’”
“The Eternal Daughter” is an example of this.
“It may take friends as close as Joanna and I are to dare to do what we dare to do with this,” she added. “Most people would say, ‘Don’t be ridiculous. How can you play someone who is finally in his nineties?’ Two rolls. How is that possible? But you dare when you are in such a relationship.”
For Swinton, it was another homecoming to work with Hogg.
“Get out and exercise in the world, and make other connections. Experiment in other working relationships. For me, as an artist, making different shapes. Then, as it were, to come home to my oldest friend after all this time, as it really feels, is so skinless. It’s so underperforming. Not presented. It is awesome. And in a way it’s even better because we’ve had to wait for it.”
Next up for Swinton is a musical directed by Joshua Oppenheimer, “The End”.
“I’ve been working on a project with Oppenheimer for the past year, an end of the world musical that we’ll be shooting next year, but several other seeds are in the ground and crops are growing, but it’s too early to tell.”
Getting back to work with Spain’s most famous helmer is another option. Pedro Almodóvar and Swinton collaborated in 2020 on a short film based on Jean Cocteau’s play, ‘The Human Voice’. It was the director’s English-language debut. It premiered in Venice that year.
“There are filmmakers I’ve worked with who I’m proud to call colleagues, and who I still talk to about other projects, and Pedro is one of them,” she said.
Swinton has taken risks like this by working with directors she never imagined she would fit in with.
“I have admired Almódovar as a filmmaker for so long. I really revere him, but I’ve considered that his universe isn’t the universe I could ever be in. The same experience I had with Béla Tarr. (She starred in his 2007 movie ‘The Man from London’). I adored Béla Tarr, but I couldn’t imagine ever being in his frame, but with Pedro I felt I knew the language of his cinema so intimately. It felt so familiar to me, in terms of sensitivity. But shape-wise, it felt kind of strange to me. “
She’s not quite his type.
“There’s no one in his movies that even remotely resembles me,” she said. “I’m not Spanish. I’m rather lanky and translucent and have pale eyelashes, and don’t speak Spanish. And I have a kind of calmness that isn’t readily available in many of his portrayals. I had to play a ‘Pedro woman’ when I worked with him. I had to step on a Pedro stage. She’s an actress like I’m not. I thought it was like a masterclass working with him on that. Because I couldn’t really trust my own instincts. I had to follow his. If you’re going to follow someone’s instincts, they’re good to follow. I felt like a session musician working on a score.”
Do the roles she plays stay with her? “I feel like saying you should ask real actors that,” she said. “When I hear real actors talk about getting lost in roles. That’s not my experience. It’s not the way I work. I would be concerned, or rather concerned, and question artists who think the only way they can make their work is to leave the anchor of themselves out of the role and get lost. I’ve never gotten lost.”
Hogg and Swinton envision future collaborations.
“I think, and you’d like to think it’s true of all the work, and maybe it is, but one thing I can guarantee you, if Joanna and I work together, it’s the work of two people who being so curious about what we’re doing but at the same time kind of not knowing what we’re doing and that has to be quite interesting we haven’t worked it out a month before, written it down and told our team, and then go in in the morning and say tap, tap, done. We don’t get to things that way. We just throw ourselves out the window at any moment. The relationship is central to us. We suggest things that are of interest to us. We are lucky to have colleagues and studio A24. It’s like a dowsing rod. We both hold on to it and follow our nose. I hope the audience can feel that too. Two people following their nose.”
With that, Swinton poses for a few photos. When I ask her what she’s wearing, she says with a cheery smile, “It’s my Chanel.” Then the Chanel ambassador, like a mischievous elf who has fished out a stolen treasure and donned it while no one is watching, is whisked away, her airy outfit flapping through the inner chambers of the festival’s headquarters, where the closing ceremony is about to begin. to start.