Last week in New York, actress Tilda Swinton headed to the Apple Store in SoHo to bring her unparalleled stage presence to indieWIRE and Apple’s Filmmaker Talks. In a lively conversation with director John Cameron Mitchell (“Hedwig and the Angry Inch”), Swinton discussed her latest film, Erick Zonca’s “Julia,” in which she plays a strung out, manipulative alcoholic who decides to kidnap a young boy. And as truly entertaining as the “Julia”-specific parts of the conversation were, it would be unfair to deny you the many other Tilda tidbits that came out during the hour-long talk. So here, in no particular order, are the many facts that we learned about Ms. Swinton that night:
1. She doesn’t really drink.
“I do try,” she said. “It doesn’t really work. I either go to sleep or throw up. But when I came to do all the drunk stuff [in “Julia] I was a little hesitant, until I realized I’ve actually been pretending to be drunk for most of my adult life. I’m the one with all my drunk friends who’s not really drunk, but having just as good – or possibly better a time. And then driving them home. And letting the police in. And turning the music down.”
2. She and “Julia” director Erick Zonca met when they both tried to break into a Cannes dinner with a fire extinguisher.
“I met him years ago, five years ago, or maybe longer, in Cannes,” she recalled. “We were both involved in vaguely official ways in the closing night celebrations. He was on the short film jury, and I was giving a prize. And we both had, therefore, absolute reason to be at the closing night dinner. And we were both shut out for some reason. We weren’t ejected, we just never got in… So we became really quite involved in this whole drama of trying to get in. It involved a fire extinguisher at one point, trying to get through a window. It was ridiculous. I – of course – was not drunk. He definitely was. I remember hearing much later through a mutual friend, ‘Erick Zonca is developing a film for you.’ And I thought, ‘well that is insane, because the guy doesn’t know me, and was drunk.'”
3. John Cameron Mitchell’s aunt lives in Tilda’s hometown, Nairn, in the far north of Scotland
“I saw her last Friday,” she said to Mitchell after blowing him a kiss to give to his aunt the next time he saw her.
4. She has her own film festival in said town (alright, you probably knew this, but her explanations of it are endlessly amusing).
“There is no cinema other than a multiplex,” she explained. “It’s half an hour away and it shows ‘Harry Potter’ pretty endlessly. There is a high street with all sorts of little shops closing down all the time, or being turned into charity shops. I was walking down the street one day and I saw the old Bingo Hall was up for rent. And for some insane reason I decided what I had to do that afternoon was to rent it.”
Swinton rented it, and had her first festival – “The Ballerina Ballroom Cinema of Dreams” – last August. “It was entirely intended as a family affair,” she said. “My friend Mark Cousins and I, and my children who are eleven and extremely cineastic, put together a list of our favorite DVDs. We were fortunate enough to have a friend in Berlin who lent us an amazing digital projector, and we put on this little ramshackle film festival. And it became a kind of international event… It was sold out. People came from all over Europe. People came from Australia. Somebody came from Papua New Guinea. And even more amazing – one evening, Kenneth Anger turned up! It was bizarre!”
5. The festival has since travelled to Beijing.
“As a result [of last year], the Scottish government asked us to make a Scottish version in Beijing,” Swinton said, laughing. “Which we did last month! We went to Beijing and we took over this perfectly regular cinema and dressed it up as a Highland Forest and we played our favorite Scottish films. Everybody sat on bean bags.”
6. And the next one in Scotland is going to be mobile.
“Unfortunately, our bingo hall is [no more],” she said. “Somebody bought a house behind it. And said they didn’t want us to do it again because our fire exits – in the event of a fire – would go out onto their drive. But we decided to make homelessness our friend, and we rented the screen machine, which is a mobile cinema.”
Swinton and company will start on a street in Nairn, then show a film on a moving ferry boat, and then patrons will camp outside (showing “Sullivan’s Travels”) with Swinton and the screen machine.
7. She has a foundation that gives movies to kids on their 8 1/2th birthday.
Called the 8 1/2 foundation, it was founded by Swinton and Mark Cousins.
“We have realized that children of 8 1/2 nowadays who are only prey to multiplexes and television,” she said. “And it’s very easy for them to know that cinema is wider that just Pixar or Disney. So we just decided to inaugurate a cinema birthday. Your 8 1/2th birthday is going to be your ‘cinema day.’ We want to inaugurate this global initative.”
Films Swinton thinks are perfect for you on your 8 1/2th birthday? Astrid Henning-Jensen’s “Palle Alone in the World,” Albert Lamorisse’s “The Red Balloon” and “White Man,” and Mohammad-Ali Talebi’s “The Boot.” (The film festival, just fyi, runs 8 1/2 days).
8. Derek Jarman is the reason she’s working today (you probably figured that too, but it’s always worth mentioning).
“I really don’t believe I would be performing in films if I hadn’t met [Derek],” Swinton said. “When I first met him… I was a writer, who should have gone to art school, who went to university, stopped writing, wanted to find film, couldn’t find film, worked in the theater, was alienated by the theater… I was completely what they would call ‘bleeped’ [she motions to the screen behind her, which had recently played a clip of ‘Julia’ that was essentially 50% bleeped ‘fuck’s]. When I met Derek Jarman, he gave me this place to go to, because I knew I didn’t want to be a proper actor. I knew I didn’t want to work in theater or on television or industrial cinema.”
9. She and Hollywood “are over.”
“Recently I’ve been working as a kind of industrial spy in Hollywood,” she said. “The truth is… It’s over.”
10. Her children did not want to see “The Chronicles of Narnia.”
“I was very proud at the time that [‘Narnia’] came out,” Swinton described. “Because I kept saying to the Disney executives that there were two tickets that were not sold because my children did not want to see it. Mainly because they saw a trailer and said that it was ‘too loud.’ Which it is. All those films are too loud. Especially if you’re eight. They eventually saw it on DVD, and were kind of amused because as far as they were considered the wrong side won… They’re pagans… They’re coming along nicely.”
11. According to her, she doesn’t know one thing about acting.
“There’s this endless disclaimer that I always feel I honestly have to give about not being an actor,” she said in all seriousness. “Because it really does feel most honest. I always feel that real actors are going to stand up and say ‘you’re a fraud! Confess it!’ And I want to be the first to say that I never pretended to be anything else. I always pretended to be a film fan first, and an artist’s model second. I’m in front of a camera, because I’m curious, and that’s about it. I don’t know one thing about acting.”
12. She admires Jim Jarmusch (yes, a given, but her quote here is just too good to leave out).
“I’m really privileged to work in cinema because I’m so, so in love with it,” Swinton said. “It’s got texture to it… It’s always about a conversation. Film is just a gesture. And there’s a film I’m privileged to be a part of that I do recommend you go see. Which is the Jim Jarmusch’s new film, and I just saw it last night for the first time. And that film is a perfect example. Jim Jarmusch has just gone, ‘you know what, I want to make a film and I want to go out of my way to not know what I’m doing.’ And Focus [Features, the distributor of ‘The Limits of Control’], bless them, have gone ‘okay, we’ll give you some money to do that. Just go and try and keep yourself keen.’ And he’s done that! And I personally think it’s a beautiful thing. To even see someone trying to be that inarticulate. It’s amazing.”
13. Her favorite movie performance of all time is the donkey in Bresson’s “Au Hasard Balthazar”
“I’m trying all the time to be that donkey,” she said. “I’m getting there. ‘Julia’ is a step in the right direction.”
“Julia” will be released theaters this Friday, May 8th through Magnolia Pictures. “The Limits of Control” is currently in theaters.