Tilda Swinton has one of the great faces in modern cinema.
Her cheekbones and nose are sharply angled, her mischievous eyes take in everything and that always-ready grin seems to make light of all the fuss around her. And then there’s her pixie-ish hair, which can change colour dramatically, always contrasting effectively with her pale, ghostly skin.
No wonder she stops traffic – the striking blue dress she’s wearing doesn’t hurt either – outside a busy hotel elevator before our interview for her intense performance in Luca Guadagnino’s absorbing drama, I Am Love, which has a final screening Friday morning at the Scotiabank 3.
Swinton plays Emma, a Russian-born woman who’s well-ensconced in a wealthy industralist Italian family. The narrative, as complex as that of a thick novel, needs to unravel with care, but let’s just say Emma transgresses and finally finds love – at a cost. Think Emma Bovary (consider the name) or Anna Karenina.
“It’s interesting that we think of these women as ‘fallen,'” says the Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe and Michael Clayton star, her eyes flashing with intelligence. “I think of them as liberated.”
She’d worked with the writer/director a few years ago on the documentary short Tilda Swinton: The Love Factory, which Guadagnino calls the foundation of I Am Love.
“I like to call it a digital painting,” says the tall and wiry director. “I shot Tilda talking and it captured the pleasure of our conversations. She gives this inspiring, philosophical talk full of theories about love. And we developed those ideas into this movie.”
Swinton says she and Guadagnino wanted to create something novelistic.
“Even before we had thought of the story, we wanted to look at a milieu,” she says. “We could have happily looked at the milieu without any narrative at all.” She looks around. “Take a look at any milieu. You make a documentary about the work involved to maintain a hotel and find it fascinating.”
A month after winning the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Clayton, Swinton was deep into pre-production on the film.
“Everything I have done since [winning the award] I was going to do anyway,” she smiles. “Nothing’s changed, except that people occasionally ask me how it’s affected my career.”
She and Guadagnino are also realizing how a small, off-hand statement can mushroom into news. At the Venice Film Festival, the director mentioned that the pair was interesting in updating the Auntie Mame story, with Swinton playing the eccentric Manhattan aunt to her orphaned nephew. It’s a great idea and she’s be terrific in the role.
“It’s a fantastic idea, yes, but it was something we’d talked about late at night in private,” she laughs. “One doesn’t expect all one’s conversations to end up on the front of Screen International or Variety.”