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I learn more about my mum every day. She’s my best friend in the whole world



IT’S easy to tell when Honor Swinton Byrne is excited. It may be about a question you ask her, an idea she has, or the memory of her mum’s home cooking. Whatever it is, the enthusiasm just spills out, usually garnished with the exclamatio­n, “Oh Lordy.”

Right now, she’s telling me about her favourite taste, one part of a Swinton Byrne sensory map of Scotland. The words come in a pell-mell, circling rush.

“The taste is my mum’s … hear me out … cream, whisky and Marmite sauce for haggis, neeps and tatties.

“My agent tried it once. Only once and I’ve never seen anyone look so … I can’t describe it … it was like fear. He absolutely hated it. He could not be near it ever again. I, on the other hand, absolutely adore it. It’s my favourite taste in the whole world.”

If you could bottle Swinton Byrne’s bouncy, Tiggerish enthusiasm you could make a mint. I’m not sure about her mum’s cream, whisky and Marmite sauce, but if Tilda Swinton – yes, that Tilda Swinton – ever wanted to start a culinary side-line …

As well as being the daughter of Tilda, Swinton Byrne is also the daughter of artist and writer John Byrne. She is also the twin sister of Xavier, a student and now a film star.

Like mother, like daughter, then? Well, I don’t know about Swinton Byrne’s way with sauce, but on screen she is just as luminous a presence as her mum. You can decide for yourself with the release of The Souvenir: Part II, Joanna Hogg’s follow-up to The Souvenir (obvs), the director’s semiautobi­ographical account of her own younger years, in which Swinton Byrne reprises her performanc­e as wannabe director Julie. Indeed, there’s a moment near the end of the film where Swinton Byrne walks down a hall and at first glance you think you are looking at her mum.

It should be said that Swinton Byrne’s mum is also in The Souvenir: Part II. Playing her daughter’s character’s mum. Oh, and just to keep things intimate, Hogg is one of Swinton senior’s oldest friends.

It’s October 2021. The day before we talk Swinton Byrne turned 24. She spent her birthday travelling from Edinburgh, where she is a third-year psychology student, to London to walk the red carpet at the London Film Festival.

There are worse ways to spend your birthday. Travelling first class certainly helped, she says. She is currently in a hotel in London doing press for her new film. Which is fine, but, as she points out, “it’s not Edinburgh.”

Swinton Byrne has the same guileless quality in conversati­on as she does on the screen. She’s open, engaged and engaging. She’s less bothered today about her upcoming red-carpet moment than the classes she is skipping.

“I’m missing a lot of lectures to be here. They don’t know where I am, but they won’t miss me.”

WHEN The Souvenir came out in 2019 Swinton Byrne was a revelation. She had no acting experience. Indeed, she was cast just two weeks before shooting. She met Hogg in Berwick-upon-Tweed to seal the deal. But her performanc­e was hugely lauded.

It must have felt like a risk though. Why did she say yes?

“I said yes because it felt right and that’s kind of it. I said yes because it felt like my next chapter. I had just left school. I was 19. She asked me two weeks before they started shooting; 10 days, less than two weeks. It was a quick turnaround.

“They cut my hair in the bathroom literally a week before. I remember thinking, ‘It’s quite short.’

“It felt right,” she continues, “and that’s the only way to describe it, really. I was so flattered to be asked and I was so excited to get to know Joanna on a deeper, much more personal level. It was just the next thing. It was meant to be.”

The Souvenir: Part II is a beautifull­y shot slice of arthouse cinema, that is by turns funny (Richard Ayoade returns for another waspish cameo) and anxiety-inducing as we watch Julie try to make a movie.

The Souvenir told the story of Julie’s troubled and troubling relationsh­ip with an older man played by Tom Burke. The sequel finds her moving forward. “Oh Lordy, I was so happy to come back to Julie when she was growing in a positive direction,” Swinton Byrne suggests.

“It might not seem that way. She’s going through the seven stages of grief; so she is self-absorbed which is a very natural and I think a very healthy part of grieving. To really focus on yourself taking care of yourself, and she’s doing that.”

Thankfully the distance between the two films wasn’t quite so traumatic for Swinton Byrne, but there was still a measure of life experience involved in the two-year gap between films.

“In that time, I went to Africa. I was a volunteer teacher for a year in Namibia, so I grew some balls while I was away and grew up a wee bit. Then I came back, and I just had some more backbone.”

And the experience of film-making was more rewarding second time around, Swinton Byrne says. She knew what was going on this time around and was more willing to speak up more.

“It was a different process for me because Joanna … I can’t speak for her … but she included me a lot more in the second one, which was really enjoyable. But I’m really happy I wasn’t privy to that on the first one. I think it was good that I was so terrified.”

Swinton Byrne was 19 when she made the first film, and 21 when she made the second. How does she look back on the whole experience?

“Oh, my Lordy. It was the making ... I’m not going to say it … No, it was the making of me. It was part of the whole tapestry, along with Africa, along with that two-year gap, along with finishing school, along with beginning university in making me the person I am right now speaking to you.

“I really appreciate that the experience taught me to be more spontaneou­s, to be less afraid of unknown things and unknown situations, trusting and enjoying the experience, enjoying the bungee jumping.”

All that and you got to work with your mum. “Hilarious. It was so much fun. I loved it. More of that please.”

Did you learn anything about her through working with her that you didn’t know before?

“I learn more about my mum every day. She’s my best friend in the whole world. She’s my absolute soul mate, my mum.

“I learned that she’s even more wonderful and skilled and encouragin­g of me doing whatever I want.”

Honor Swinton Byrne’s sensory map of Scotland, part two. Sound and vision:

“The sound is eight o clock in the morning and doves coo-coo-cooing outside my window in autumn time around my birthday in October. That’s the sound.

“The look? The look is Colonsay in the Inner Hebrides. It’s divine. You’re on the three-and-a-half-hour ferry journey from Oban to Colonsay and you don’t see anything for hours and then you see this tiny little speck in the distance. That’s the look for me. And it’s always foggy and grey and then you see this little island. My parents and my brother go there. We try to go twice a year for Easter and the end of summer. We haven’t been for a while

because of Covid, but it really is one of my favourite places.”

Honor Swinton Byrne is talking about her childhood. “I’m from Nairn. Do you know where Nairn is? The arse-end of nowhere, proper little fishing village.”

Her parents have since separated, but I imagine she and her brother had a very storied upbringing, one straight out of Dodie Smith’s classic children’s story I Capture the Castle. She can’t quite decide if there’s anything in that.

“Wow, yes … kind of … not really … I suppose so. I saw the film years ago. I wish I could accurately say yes or no, but I’m not sure.”

Presumably Vogue were always turning up to do photoshoot­s. “That’s been part of my life for forever basically. I must have been four or five and I do remember people taking pictures at the end of the driveway. We don’t have any high security James Bond stuff. It’s a regular house in Nairn.”

“People would come up to the door and ask to see my mum and I learnt very early on there were boundaries. It wasn’t appropriat­e to come to the house, so I like to think I’ve got a built-in bullshit detector.

Which of her parents was the disciplina­rian? “Oh, neither of them. They were just the most gentle, loving parents. My brother was the army officer cracking the whip.”

And when, Honor, did you first realise your parents were people too?

“That’s such a great question. Umm, I’m going to say it about my mum because she’s my hero. I always knew. I think when I saw her sleeping by herself. I must have been really small. She was doting on us hand and foot, we were breast-fed for a long time really. She had her hands full with the two of us. She didn’t get a chance to chill.

“But I once saw her sleeping and she looked very small and very peaceful, just by herself just tucked up in bed.”

Honor Swinton Byrne’s sensory map of Scotland, part 3. Touch and smell:

“The touch? Oh, the touch is when it’s that dreich weather, that proper light, light rain. When it’s quite chilly, but it’s not freezing cold. It’s that wet air that I love. It’s my favourite. It makes your hair soaking wet when you go back but it’s not actually wet. It’s gorgeous.

“And then the smell. The smell is the smell of wet dog. I have five spaniels, who are in Souvenir actually. My five little white spaniels and I love them very much. I’m very allergic to them. I love the smell of wet dog, that’s a compliment, Scotland. They’re in the back of the car and we’ve just taken them to the beach because we’re by the sea and the smell of sand and seaweed and dead seal, like they’ve rolled in a dead seal, that earthy, earthy wet smell. I love it.

“I kind of want a wee sausage dog in Edinburgh, but I’ll wait ’til I get my own place or find someone who will buy me a sausage dog. Like a wee loaf-of-bread dog I can carry.”

We talk about her time in Namibia for a moment. She is delighted when I bring it up. “Oh, thank you for asking. My brother’s like, ‘Honor talks about Namibia all the time.’

“I went with Project Trust, which is this amazing organisati­on. I taught English, Maths, PE, art and drama and I worked in a boarding school in the middle of nowhere.

“I was there for 10 months. It was really intense and possibly the best thing I’ve ever done, the best use of my time. It was funny coming back; 10 months felt like nothing, though it didn’t feel like nothing when I was there. I bloody loved it so much. It made me grow up a lot. There were a lot of near muggings and near car crashes and stabbings and stuff, but it put hair on my chest, it really did.”

SORRY, near-stabbings? You not telling me you were nearly stabbed, are you? “I was, yeah. My mum doesn’t know that. She’ll find out in this interview. I think she can say now she was quite frightened, but I would never have known. She packed me up with lots of rock cake and stuff that wouldn’t go off. She was so supportive. I didn’t speak to my parents much when I was there. Just to check in. ‘Yeah, still alive, got all my limbs, I haven’t got malaria yet.’

“It was hardcore, but it was sooooo awesome …I hate being one of those workers [who go], ‘Yeah, went on a gap year.’”

This is one of the things to like about Honor Swinton Byrne. She thinks she should be a bit cooler, but she just can’t hide her enthusiasm for life. When we speak, she’s just started her third-year psychology course at Edinburgh University.

“I’m doing forensics at the moment I love it so much. I’m a proper gore fiend. I want to do my dissertati­on on necrophili­a.”

Very Goth, Honor. “I like all the really dark side of psychology. Nothing really phases me in terms of people. I say that. Lots of things phase me, but I’m very, very intrigued.”

So, I say at the end of our time, where are you now? What are you now? A student? An actor? “I want to do lots of different things. I want to stay on at uni and possibly do a masters and a PHD and do some volunteeri­ng in prisons.

“But I really want to continue acting. I really enjoy it. It makes me so happy. I connect the two, the psychology and the acting. I enjoy acting because it’s putting myself in someone else’s shoes. It’s all about empathy to me and that’s so cheesy and so cliched but it really is.

“I’d quite like to do a different role. I’d like to be a Bond villain or something, play a psychopath. That’s what I’m into. We’ll see if anyone sees me as a cyborg mastermind.”

Maybe there’s a role in the next reboot of Terminator? “See you then.”

All being well, Honor Swinton Byrne will be back. And she can probably bring her own catchphras­e with her. Do cyborg mastermind­s ever say, “Oh Lordy”? Maybe they should.

The Souvenir: Part II is in cinemas from

February 4

They were just the most gentle, loving parents

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 ?? ?? Clockwise from above: Artist John Byrne; mother and daughter at a photo-call for the first outing of The Souvenir in 2019; Honor in the follow up film; and Colonsay in the Inner Hebrides
Clockwise from above: Artist John Byrne; mother and daughter at a photo-call for the first outing of The Souvenir in 2019; Honor in the follow up film; and Colonsay in the Inner Hebrides
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