Take five: Tilda Swinton

Time Out New York Project: Issue #710, May 7-May 13, 2009

Tilda Swinton, 49, is everywhere these days. This most striking of performers, who began her career as an iconic presence in several Derek Jarman films, is now a go-to character actress for an eclectic group of both studio-based and independent artists (everyone from the brothers Coen to Béla Tarr). Just one week after her supporting turn in Jim Jarmusch’s terrific The Limits of Control, Swinton debuts stateside as the lead in Erick Zonca’s character study, Julia, in which she gives a staggering lead performance. TONY spoke with her over a long lunch at an uptown Manhattan vegan restaurant.

How long have you been in New York this trip?

That’s probably the most difficult question you could pose to me today. About three days; I think the level of jet lag is telling me it’s that critical third day. I always have jet lag in America. 

Julia is a multi-country production, correct?

It’s pretty French, shot in America by a director [Erick Zonca] who didn’t speak any English. It’s very much in that honorable tradition of Europeans making films in America—a completely alien view of it. The film is a Frenchman’s eye on America like Paris, Texas is a German’s eye on America. 

Talk a bit about your approach to Julia’s very complicated lead character.

One thing about Julia is that I am an actress playing an actress. Probably she’s more of an actress than I ever have been or ever could be. I think that I’ve dealt in a kind of sincerity up to this point, and she is all about insincerity. You have the sense with her—and I think this is particularly true of addicts—where there’s a schism. The behavior is here and the spirit is there. You can feel the spirit constantly looking for a way out and constantly getting dragged in again. It reflects something I’ve seen in so many people that I really love. I’ve just seen Anvil: The Story of Anvil, and Julia has what I would call “The Anvil Factor.” She’s an extraordinary person. That’s one of the reasons I was so drawn to the film because I’ve always wanted to make a portrait of an addict who was as literally fantastic, fantasy-filled, energetic, resourceful and courageous as so many addicts that I know.

What’s coming up for you?

Ulrike Ottinger and I hope to make a film with Isabelle Huppert next year about Elizabeth Bathory, the Blood Countess. There’s an Italian film we’re just completing, Io sono l'amore, by a very interesting filmmaker called Luca Guadagnino. Lynne Ramsay and I are now developing an adaptation of Lionel Shriver’s book, We Need to Talk About Kevin, that we hope to make at the end of this year. Very long-term, the Thai filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul and I are talking about making a film together.—Keith Uhlich

Julia opens Fri 8.