Tilda Swinton won an Oscar for “Michael Clayton,” but that doesn’t mean she keeps up on the season. “Did the Oscars even happen last year?,” she asked IndieWire while sitting in the lobby of a hotel this week in Toronto. Then the fabled Slap came back to her. “Oh, right!,” she said. “Even I caught that. Well, all I can say is, whatever.”
Swinton has her reasons for focusing on other issues. The British actress went to Cannes in May for the premiere of George Miller’s fantasy romance “Three Thousand of Years of Longing,” and this month traveled from Venice to Toronto for the launch of Joanna Hogg’s “The Eternal Daughter.” In between, Swinton spent the summer off the grid in Scotland, and thinking about what she can do to support the movies on her own terms.
“I’ve often wanted the owner of a multiplex chain to give me and my friends the authority to program their chain, randomly, in a flash-mob sort of way in one weekend all over the country,” she said. “That’s what I’d love to do, completely unexpectedly. Everybody would know that the next week they could go see the latest blockbuster, but for these next two days they might be able to see something they’d never otherwise see.” She was eager to get the word out about the idea. “Let’s see if someone writes who says, ‘I’m a billionaire, and I own a multiplex.’”
Swinton has long shown an investment in experimenting with exhibition. In 2009, she traveled the Scottish Highlands for six days in a truck to bring classic films to small villages, and hoped to bring that project back as well. “We’ll do it again, sooner or later,” she said. “We always intended it to be unexpected.” Swinton’s ragtag approach to eventizing the film screenings is an extension of her convictions about the fragile state of the theatrical business. “Streaming platforms are going to be more and more responsible for making cinema really possible,” she said. “I’m still waiting for Netflix and Amazon and the other big streaming giants to put their money where their mouths are and build and restore cinemas all over the world, to make sure that they’re not only showing cinema but screening it on the big screen. That’s starting to happen, but it needs to happen more.”
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Swinton also does her part to support the medium by doubling down on director-driven projects. She described Miller’s work on “Three Thousand Years of Longing” as feeling very personal. “It felt a little bit like we were making a live-action Miyazaki film, and other moments it was like a Michael Powell film, or Arabian Nights,” she said. “It was just very out of time.”
Meanwhile, “The Eternal Daughter” finds her playing one of her most personal roles. The film reunites the 61-year-old actress with British auteur Joanna Hogg in an ambitious pair of roles: Swinton plays both a middle-aged filmmaker named Julie and her elderly mother as the pair engage in an enigmatic series of encounters while staying at remote gothic hotel. Swinton, who acted opposite her daughter in Hogg’s two-part autobiographical “The Souvenir,” has known the director since childhood.
The personal nature of the new project, inspired by Hogg’s own chilly relationship with her late mother, required a lot of ingenuity on the set. “I don’t really know how we did it,” Swinton said. “It was like a child’s game, which is appropriate since we’ve known each other since we were 10.” Hogg often wrote outlines for scenes and asked Swinton to improvise, which created a new challenge, since she was often in conversation with herself in two roles. “Whoever starts the conversation when you have two different beings, the second one will follow and you dream it up together,” Swinton said. “We had to decide every day, for each scene, who was going to start.”
Ultimately, “The Eternal Daughter” builds to an emotional catharsis as a result of the way it conveys the connection within its unusual onscreen pair. “I’m really not interested in acting,” Swinton said. “I’m really trying to find a way to be the least performative. It’s about finding the most relaxed, un-performative that a person can be.”
She cited her work on Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s slow-burn “Memoria” last year as another key example of that preference, and added that she was already developing a new feature with the Thai director. “The further work I’m discussing with him really looks at the least constructed one could possibly be,” she said, but laughed when asked about a timeline for the project, given that Weerasethakul’s methods mirror the languid paces of his films. “It will be slow,” she said. “But it will come.”
Stay tuned for more from IndieWire’s Swinton interview in the coming weeks. A24 will release “The Eternal Daughter” this fall.