Since her debut film in Derek Jarman’s Caravaggio, this Scottish lass seems to be unstoppable. She has worked with directors such as Sally Potter, John Maybury, and the Coen brothers, not to mention having received an Oscar, BAFTA, Coppa Volpi and a Teddy Award. It is quite remarkable since she still says she doesn’t “have an acting career.”
She began her studies at Cambridge and wanted to be a writer. Somehow that didn’t fit and she became more interested in acting and thought she wanted to join the Royal Shakespeare Company. Luckily she found out quickly that was not what she wanted to do. It was the 1980s and there was no film industry in the U.K. and she did not want to do television. The turning point in her career was when she met Derek Jarman. He was the first practicing artist she had met and she did seven films with him. He was wonderful at throwing a party and delegating work. He worked very straight forward and had a precise budget and was interested in experimental film. It was unfortunate that he died so young.
She then worked with Sally Potter, the director of Orlando. It was a long, hard struggle to make this film due to the financing. She said that she and Sally were flying all over the world in their best clothes trying to sell a costume film on love, death, immortality, androgyny and the universe. Now that was definitely a hard sell. In the end they filmed in Russia with the support of other independent groups. The film did surprisingly well and may once again be released.
When asked if people should go to acting school, She said, “I don’t know anything about acting.” She considers what she does as playing. She believes the less acting the better the performance. She tries to become the donkey in the film, which means she tries to disguise herself. She looks for the energy that is in the responsible frame working within a frame. The hardest role she has ever played was in Julia since the character was a drunk and Tilda Swindson does not drink. To understand this role Swinton hung out with a lot of drunks and then she pretended to be like them. She is very proud of her work in this film. Her career started to blossom with Broken Flowers and Michael Clayton even though she never set out to have a career.
She is on to a new start where she wants to do roving film festivals. Her newest idea has to do with the internet and allowing children from around the world who are having their 11th birthdays and would like to see a particular film in the world, that it be sent to them no matter where they are living. She herself has children, who, it was interesting to learn, have never seen any of her movies and don’t watch television either. It was exciting to see such an extraordinary woman who manages so much effortlessly and still remains a humble and caring individual.