Playing an uber-shady corporate exec in 2007's Michael Clayton, Tilda Swinton snagged an Oscar for best supporting actress, but she grabbed our attention and devotion long before she claimed Hollywood's. She did it first in the artful, groundbreaking films of late, great queer filmmaker Derek Jarman, and then as the gender-morphing title character of 1992's Orlandowhich receives a theatrical re-release this Julyand as the protective mother of a gay teen in 2001's The Deep End.
In director Luca Guadagnino's Italian-language I Am Love, which she also produced, Swinton portrays Emma, the Russian matriarch of a posh Milan family, who has an affair with a sexy young chef at the same time she learns of her daughter's homosexuality. It's a sophisticated, almost otherworldly film rich with references to a diverse roster of cinematic masters as well as a mouthwatering visual feast for foodies ( the onscreen dishes were created by acclaimed Italian chef Carlo Cracco ) . While en route to a shooting location, Swinton discussed Love, gay children and the effect a little man called Oscar had on her life.
Windy City Times: So what are you filming today, Tilda?
Tilda Swinton: It's an adaptation of a book by Lionel Shriver called We Need to Talk About Kevin. It's directed by Lynne Ramsey, an extraordinary filmmaker from Scotland. She and I have been talking about making this film for four years so we're happy to finally be doing it."
WCT: I Am Love is not easy to describe. Such a strange amalgamation of influences and tones, it's otherworldlylike it's from the other side.
TS: I hope you're going to write that verbatim! A film from the other sideI love that. The thing we started talking about all those years agobecause we started talking about it 11 years agowas a kind of cinema that we love that feels like it has become impossible to make anymore. And we were trying to distill the work of all those great masters to some sort of lowest common denominator. Boil down the soup to its basic ingredients. The thing those filmmakers all have in common is they're kind of sensational, meaning "sense-sational." They're all about whether you're on the edge of your seat with Hitchcock, or having your heart broken by Douglas Sirk or having your eyes burned by the beauty of Visconti. Whatever it is, you're really awake in a sensual and sensory way. So it's great you say it's difficult to describe because they simply need to go and see it themselves. You have to experience it.
WCT: Speaking of soup, there is some pretty spectacular food in the film. What can you tell me about the soup called "Oucha" that plays a sort of prominent role? Is it real?
TS: It's a fantasy soup. It is a real soup but I like to think of it as a sort of magic potion out of a fairy tale. It's as delicious as you can imagine it being. It's whatever you want it to be. It changes its form. It starts out in one form and morphs into another. And that's one of the things Luca and I wanted to do with this filmto take the ingredients of cinema we know and love from Hitchcock, Sirk, Pasolini, Rossellini, Antonioni, John Huston, Visconti, and jellify it and put it into some different, modern form and affix some gold leaf to the top.
WCT: Did you put on a paunch shooting all the eating scenes?
TS: No, because that food was too fantastic to put on a paunch.
WCT: What does the role of Emma represent to you as far as your body of work to date?
TS: Well, she has a relationship to Margaret in The Deep End and a relationship in a way to Orlando because she transforms. It's par for the course for me. I love looking at stories of people who have these sort of transformations, when they actually morph into some other state. In that way she's no different from these other portraits, but one of the things I love about Emma is she's genuinely quiet in a way I feel I haven't had an opportunity to show before, which is maybe something my family and friends would recognize more in me. That was a little unfolding for me.
WCT: You've played a mother to young gays a couple of times now.
TS: Somebody's got to do it. I would rather it was me. I love the coming-out scene in this film. It's the dream coming-out scene.
WCT: How should a mother react to their child coming out in your vision of the world?
TS: I have a personal difficulty understanding why it would be a problem for a mother. I find it hard to imagine that being a problem. And so that for me is a bit of an adventure to imagine what those challenges might be because naturally I don't get it. Apart from anything else, the whole question of one's child being honest enough with one that they would share that development, one should be grateful.
WCT: You're a mother of twins. And if one or both came out?
TS: I have either a little bit of my brain missing or extraI don't get why it would be a problem.
WCT: In some ways, is it a bonus?
TS: I don't see it as a bonus, either. Just a fact. Whatever. But I'm not a big believer in prescriptive sexuality. I think people are sexual, and that's it.
WCT: Did winning the Oscar change your life and career?
TS: The only real change the Oscar brought to me is that people ask me what change it has brought me about three times a week. I struggle to find any other thing except that, because every [ project ] I've done since then I was going to do anyway. I Am Love, Julia and … Kevin, they're films I'm developing with people from scratch. But if more people see I Am Love than would've before I got the Oscar, or if we found out we got the money for our new film because it was bumped along by the Oscar, then I will take that and be so grateful and have no complaints.