Tilda Swin­ton An­drog­yny – and tal­ent – per­son­i­fied


Marie Claire (South Africa) - - CONTENTS -

‘iHer au­to­mated re­sponse reads: ‘Hello, I am away un­til 01/01/2070 and am un­able to read your mes­sage’

would find it strange for any­body to say that they didn’t feel like an alien,’ Tilda Swin­ton once said. As far as in­ter­views go, hers can be un­ortho­dox.In one, Swin­ton, 53, stares into the video cam­era with a Mona Lisa smile play­ing on her lips. With cropped white-blonde hair, an­gu­lar cheek­bones and out-of-this-world porce­lain skin, she’s a sight to be­hold, a plain-faced yet ethe­real beauty. And so the ‘in­ter­view’ con­tin­ues. No words are spo­ken and still she stares – for a whole minute and 12 sec­onds.The scene fades and then her clipped Bri­tish voice rises with the sim­ple words, ‘Best in­ter­view ever.’

This is typ­i­cal Swin­ton fare. It seems that the unor­di­nary is where she feels most com­fort­able. Af­ter all, this is the woman who spent days (six and a half hours at a time) sleep­ing in a glass box in Lon­don’s Ser­pen­tine Gallery for an art piece called ‘The Maybe’. That was 1995, and this voyeuris­tic project was re­peated in New York’s MoMA last year. There’s no timetable for her ap­pear­ances and no ex­pla­na­tion for the piece. ‘Those who find it chance upon it for them­selves, live and in real – shared – time,’ says a sim­ple state­ment.

Nat­u­rally, ‘The Maybe’ be­came a trend­ing topic on Twit­ter. Not that Swin­ton would know; she’s not on Twit­ter. She’s not big on e-mails. Her au­to­mated re­sponse reads: ‘Hello, I am away un­til 01/01/2070 and am un­able to read your mes­sage.’ A par­ody ac­count, @NotTil­daSwin­ton, in her name has 62 000 fol­low­ers. Tweets play on her ten­dency for out-there, mind-twist­ing state­ments. ‘Stand nude in­front of a win­dow,’ reads one. ‘When a neigh­bour glances up at you, sim­ply press the palm of your hand against the glass and silently roar. ’Swin­ton has ad­mit­ted she thinks it’s‘ hi­lar­i­ous’.

This is not your usual movie star. She’s never au­di­tioned for a part, doesn’t have a publi­cist – she’s puz­zled about why she’d need one – and though di­rec­tors like the Cohen broth­ers ( Burn Af­ter Read­ing),

Spike Jonze ( Adap­ta­tion) and Wes An­der­son ( The Grand Bu­dapest Ho­tel) all seek her out, is re­luc­tant to call her­self an ac­tress.‘I don’t know what it would take to make me feel like one,’ she told Va­ri­ety ear­lier this year.‘I feel like I’m up another tree.’

Swin­ton has nev­er­the­less played some in­trigu­ing roles, from the Ar­changel Gabriel (she plays an ‘an­drog­y­nous half-breed an­gel’) in Con­stan­tine to the mother of a son who com­mits a vi­o­lent high-school atroc­ity in the dis­turb­ing We Need To Talk About Kevin. But the strangest role she’s ever ac­cepted? ‘Play­ing a cor­po­rate lawyer,’ she told the SXSW film fes­ti­val. ‘It truly takes the cake.’

A dar­ling of the art­house-cin­ema scene (learn­ing her craft un­der anti-es­tab­lish­ment direc­tor Derek Jar­man), she’s achieved some­thing not many of her purist kind have – she’s made it in Hol­ly­wood. It was the role of strung-out, morally des­ti­tute lawyer in le­gal thriller Michael Clay­ton (2007) that threw her into the world’s spot­light and onto the Os­car stage in 2008. That night, her dress – a black one-sleeved de­sign by Lan­vin – and her neg­li­gi­ble make-up got the press abuzz. And that was be­fore she opened her mouth. In her star­tled ac­cep­tance speech she com­pared the Os­car’s but­tocks to those of her agent and promised him that he could keep the stat­uette. ‘I don’t have a TV. I’m not sure the Os­cars are even shown in the UK, are they?’ she asked a reporter from The Daily Beast, six years later.

‘She’s obliv­i­ous to a film’s com­mer­cial po­ten­tial,’says Jim Jar­musch, who di­rected her in her lat­est movie, Only Lovers Left Alive, an in­die vam­pire love story.‘Act­ing is not her main in­ter­est. She’s in­ter­ested in hav­ing … ex­pe­ri­ences.’ In 2003 she worked with Vik­tor & Rolf on their ‘One Woman Show’ in Paris. She ap­peared, fol­lowed by an army of Swin­ton-cloned mod­els, to the sound­track of her voice read­ing her poem, with the line, ‘There is only one you. Only one.’ But her most am­bi­tious fashion per­for­mance was ‘ The Im­pos­si­ble Wardrobe’, a col­lab­o­ra­tion with Musée Gal­liera mu­seum direc­tor Olivier Sail­lard in 2012. Swin­ton car­ried, danced or twirled down the run­way with ex­tremely valu­able fashion pieces, usu­ally kept un­der lock and key or dis­played in glass cab­i­nets – from Napoleon’s jacket and Sal­vador Dali’s pink trousers to Vic­to­rian gowns and vin­tage YSL pantsuits. The hard-to-please Paris Fashion Week crowd gave her a stand­ing ova­tion.

Be­ing a fa­mous name in­evitably in­volves pry­ing eyes. Af­ter her Bri­tish Academy of Film and Tele­vi­sion Arts (BAFTA) win for Michael Clay­ton, the me­dia pounced on the story of this norm-defying crea­ture. Who was the dark, hand­some man, 18 years younger, who ac­com­pa­nied her to the cer­e­mony? Amid the swirling ru­mours a scan­dalous story took shape: she was liv­ing as part of a ‘thru­ple’ in the re­mote Scot­tish town of Nairn, with John Byrne (the fa­ther of her twin chil­dren, Xavier and Honor) and her new lover San­dro Kopp, an

‘I opted out of any sex­u­al­ity and found that a re­ally safe, re­ally strong place to be’

ac­tor she met on set of The Chron­i­cles of Nar­nia – he was play­ing the part of a cen­taur to her White Witch. ‘It’s a fab­u­lous fan­tasy,’ she told The Scots­man. ‘We’re not all sleep­ing to­gether I’m sorry to tell you. It’s much more bor­ing than that.’

Bor­ing, no. Un­con­ven­tional, def­i­nitely. The re­al­ity was that Swin­ton and Kopp had been ‘sweet­hearts’ for sev­eral years, at­tend­ing func­tions to­gether; the me­dia sim­ply hadn’t no­ticed. John Byrne, a play­wright, had also found a new ‘sweet­heart’. ‘We are the best of pals and adore be­ing par­ents,’ Swin­ton told the Los An­ge­les Times in 2008. ‘We os­ten­si­bly live in the same house but I travel the world with a de­light­ful painter.The ar­range­ment is just so sane. ’As for the hinted-at three­somes: ‘The truth is I tend to share my bed with two chil­dren and a dog here – it’s rather crowded and very, very cud­dly.’

These are Swin­ton’s two worlds: the fast-paced celebrity lane, a whirl­wind of film­ing and mix­ing with de­sign­ers and di­rec­tors, and then her Scot­tish home, with a field and a kitchen gar­den, and chick­ens. ‘Peo­ple think she’s a chic fashion vic­tim,’ Lager­feld said of Swin­ton, who was the face for Chanel’s Paris/Edinburgh col­lec­tion 2013, but ‘she’s the most down-to-earth person you will ever meet.’

She has re­ferred to her twins as her ‘in­sanely pa­gan hip­pie chil­dren,’ jok­ing that per­haps they’ll rebel one day and be­come ‘Nazi ac­coun­tants’. They at­tended a school where ed­u­ca­tion in­volves learn­ing how to grow vegeta­bles and raise an­i­mals. In 2011, a jour­nal­ist for The Tele­graph en­quired why Swin­ton didn’t want to cut her 13-year-old son’s hair – it reached down to his waist. ‘Hair holds en­ergy and his­tory… Peo­ple be­ing mis­taken for a dif­fer­ent gen­der is very com­mon in my house,’ she said.

The pull of an­drog­yny has al­ways played a role in her iden­tity. She was born in Lon­don into an An­glo-Scot­tish mil­i­tary fam­ily that can trace its her­itage back to the ninth cen­tury. Her fa­ther is Ma­jor-Gen­eral Sir John Swin­ton, for­mer head of the Queen’s House­hold Divi­sion. Her mother Ju­dith was Aus­tralian. ‘From child­hood, I re­mem­ber more about his black patent, gold liv­ery, scar­let-striped legs and medal rib­bons than I do of my mother’s evening dresses,’ she told W. ‘I would rather be hand­some, as he is, for an hour than pretty for a week.’

The only girl, with three broth­ers, she never ‘re­ally felt girly’. At the age of 10 she was sent to Westhe­ath, a board­ing school where Diana Spencer (later Princess Diana) was a con­tem­po­rary. She knew she ‘wasn’t pretty’ and was okay with that, telling The Scots­man, ‘I opted out of any sex­u­al­ity and found that a re­ally safe, re­ally strong place to be.’ She earned a place at Cam­bridge Univer­sity, where she wanted to read po­etry but changed to so­cial and po­lit­i­cal science. Af­ter grad­u­a­tion, she won a place with the es­teemed Royal Shake­speare Com­pany, which she later de­scribed as ‘bor­ing’.

It was then that she met Jar­man, and spent the next 10 years ap­pear­ing in his art­house movies. The first film that got her no­ticed was Or­lando, based on Vir­ginia Woolf’s novel, where an an­drog­y­nous man lives through dif­fer­ent cen­turies (wak­ing up in one era to dis­cover he’s a woman). The part was a nat­u­ral fit.‘She’s al­ways been in­ter­ested in am­bi­gu­ity, trans­for­ma­tion, trans­gen­der,’ says her friend Jerry Stafford. ‘Clothes are an ex­ten­sion of this. It’s Nancy Mit­ford meets David Bowie.’ At school she re­mem­bers buy­ing Bowie’s al­bum Aladdin Sane be­cause she recog­nised a kin­dred spirit.‘The fact that he not only looked phys­i­cally like me but was also of in­de­ter­mi­nate gen­der was re­ally strik­ing,’ she told The Scots­man. ‘And it felt like good com­pany.’ She’s re­ferred to him as her ‘alien cousin’ and oth­ers agree on the sim­i­lar­i­ties: there’s a pop­u­lar Tum­blr ac­count called Tilda Star­dust that sug­gests that they are in fact the same person.

She might be 53, but you won­der if Swin­ton will re­ally ever age.‘I don’t know about you, but I al­ready feel like I’ve lived for sev­eral cen­turies,’ she said re­cently. ‘Life’s long. And it’s a pretty fas­ci­nat­ing ride.’ When asked what her next project en­tails, she replied:‘I’ll have to think of a new chal­lenge,’ paus­ing to think of some­thing re­ally out of this world. Her face lights up.‘Maybe a bank man­ager?’

Clock­wise from above

Re­ceiv­ing the Dou­glas Sirk prize at the Ham­burg Fes­ti­val, 2013; win­ning the Os­car for best sup­port­ing ac­tress, Los An­ge­les, 2008; with di­rec­tor Jim Jar­musch, New York, 2014; with Os­car win­ners Daniel Day-Lewis, Mar­ion Cotil­lard and Javier Bar­dem, Los...

Clock­wise from top Tilda Swin­ton with beau San­dro Kopp in the Mal­dives, 2010; former love John Byrne in Scot­land, 2011; at­tend­ing the BAFTAs in Lon­don, 2012; her son Xavier Byrne (left, right and below); at The Beach pre­miere, Los An­ge­les, 2000;...

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