Tilda Swinton isn’t interested in acting at all

Studio 360
Tilda Swinton

Tilda Swinton in "A Bigger Splash."

Fox Searchlight

Tilda Swinton has made a career of left turns. From a gender-changing 400-year-old aristocrat in “Orlando,” to a soulless corporate lawyer in “Michael Clayton,” to a potty-mouthed magazine editor in “Trainwreck,” Swinton can’t be pigeonholed.

In her latest film “A Bigger Splash,” Swinton plays an internationally beloved rock star on rest after surgery on her vocal cords. With only a handful of lines in the entire film, Swinton’s nearly silent performance is striking. She says she came up with the idea to be mostly silent in collaboration with the film’s director. 

“I just suddenly had the idea that it would all be more interesting — to me at least — if she couldn't speak, and that the tension that's there anyway between her and Harry,” Swinton says.

Ralph Fiennes and Tilda Swinton in a scene from “A Bigger Splash” (Fox Searchlight)

Ralph Fiennes, who plays Harry Hawkes, and Tilda Swinton who plays Marianne Lane, in a scene from “A Bigger Splash” (Fox Searchlight)

Swinton also likes the idea of changing audience’s expectation for what dialogue should sound like in a film, or a play. 

“[Characters] not only sound like playwrights, but they all sound like the same playwright,” Swinton says. “And I think that's a real error. And it's strangely something I think that audiences have got really used to. So it's like, it's sort of like getting children off Gatorade, you know. You have to kind of wean them off articulately and back on to something more interesting in my view.”

Swinton has never been one for doing what people expect. For one thing, she says she isn’t even that enthusiastic about acting. 

“My interests were never in the theater,” Swinton says. “And it was a sort of strange pit stop for me. I went to university as a writer, and when I got there I stopped writing and fell in with some friends who happened to be seriously making theater. And so, just really because I liked them, I kind of started joining in, and when I left university I kind of rolled on into being in a few plays and then going into the Royal Shakespeare Company and there were a couple of years when I was figuring out, you know, piece after piece what I didn't want to do."

"I was just on the verge of going, ‘OK, right, so I definitely don't want to work in the theater. And maybe that means I don't want to be a performer at all’ — when I met Derek Jarman and I then started working in film and I realized that that was a place that I could feel at home — with him at least.” 

Swinton says her interest in performance is limited to two seemingly opposite types of characters: burlesque, clown-like characters in disguises and characters played with a behavioral naturalism closer to documentary. 

“I'm not really interested in the middle stuff which has to do with very articulate and very charismatic performance — or acting, for god's sake. I'm not interested in that at all,” Swinton says. 

The actress has leaned more toward experimental films in her career. She says, though, that the size of a budget or studio name isn’t what persuades or dissuades her from taking a role. She's more interested in getting a sense of it being experimental and exciting. 

“Just as long as it's made by enthusiasts and as long as it's made by people who aren't that interested in knowing what they're doing,” Swinton says. 

The actress is also noted for the many startling transformations she’s undergone for her different roles. 

“That's a really important part of my process,” Swinton says. “One of the few things I actively do is create a new shape. I mean, I have a a deep dissatisfaction with, in an audience, with seeing people in more than one film. I love seeing new faces. I feel if you're going to be in more than one film — which, I mean, I have broken my own rule, I broke my own rule in 1986 when I made my second film so, you know, I'm a hypocrite. But being a hypocrite, it occurs to me that you might as well try and present a new face as often as you can.”