SXSW Dispatch: ONTD's Ageless Immortal Fave, Tilda Swinton, Dishes Some Very Interesting Soundbites

Tilda Swinton recently graced Austin, Texas with her ethereal presence to attend the annual SXSW Festival and promote her latest film, "Only Lovers Left Alive" (co-starring Tom Hiddleston, Mia Wasikowska, Anton Yelchin, Jeffrey Wright, and John Hurt), as well as participating in a keynote address to the festival attendees. A bunch of media people caught up with the sensational Swinton and shared plenty of soundbites from a wide variety of topics: from Vladimir Putin to David Bowie to Lorde and that Twitter parody homage account, @NotTildaSwinton.


Tilda Swinton at Paris Fashion Week

The Daily Beast: There is a certain timelessness to the way you look that really pops onscreen and is fascinating to watch as a filmgoer.

Tilda Swinton: It’s called “no-mascara.” That’s it! But I’m actually only semi-joking about no-mascara. I look like people in old paintings. I look more like people in old paintings than I do people in films. I suppose that’s always been my way onto screens—through people looking for images from old paintings.

TDB: I work in the Chelsea area of New York City and see a lot of gay couples dining out and walking around, and they seem so much more engaged in one another than the straight couples, who are just fiddling their phones.

TS: Well, I think there’s something that gay people have. It is true that to pass through the transitions that gay people have to in order to come out to themselves, to their families when they’re quite young, it’s a grow-bag, isn’t it? And I think that very often, heterosexual people miss out on that. There’s a feeling of development and sometimes, heterosexual people have never had to go through that self-examination and just knowing themselves, and that sense of coming out, coming to your own defense, and being your own best advocate, and going, “No! I’m going to stand by myself and say this is who I am and you can all fuck off.” That is a wonderful transition to go through, and I suppose a lot of straight people miss out on that, and then maybe their relationship choices are potentially less examined. They could be lazier or less thoroughly thought-through.

Tilda Swinton holding a rainbow flag in Moscow, Russia

TDB: I loved seeing that picture of you holding the rainbow flag in front of the Kremlin. The most interesting part of the Sochi games is that the Winter Olympics is, hands down, the gayest sporting event ever, so to hold it in one of the more anti-gay countries of the world was a nice middle finger to the host country.

TS: Well, Russia has the gayest president ever. No, that’s an offensive thing to say—not to him, but to the gay community.

TDB: As an American, one of the first times I saw you was in "The Beach" with a very young Leonardo DiCaprio. There was this huge uproar after the Oscars that DiCaprio lost again and still hasn’t won an Oscar. Do you think Leo’s been given a hard time by the Academy?

TS: I wouldn’t know! I don’t know who’s won what. I have no idea. I didn’t watch the Oscars. I don’t even have a television. I’m not even sure the Oscars is shown in the U.K. Is it?

Tilda Swinton, Lorde, and David Bowie at Swinton's 53rd birthday party at the Museum of Modern Art

TDB: How cool was it to be in David Bowie’s music video for “The Stars (Are Out Tonight)?” I’m such a huge Bowie fan.

TS: The moment happens when the phone rings and it’s someone who calls themself David Bowie, and you never stop pinching yourself. It was the easiest thing in the world. I was talking recently with a friend of mine who’s determined to never meet her heroes, and I have another friend who’s been horribly disillusioned a couple of times. But I’ve had a wonderful ride with meeting people who have been my North Stars, and Bowie’s definitely one of them. He feels like my cousin; like the cousin I never had.

TDB: You two actually do look a bit similar.

TS: My whole relationship with Bowie started when I was 13, and I bought a copy of "Aladdin Sane" when I didn’t have a record player. I had this record for a year before I could play it, and it was the image—not the sound—that I was attracted to. I just saw this image and thought he was my cousin. He just looked like me, and looked like someone from the same planet as I did, and that was a great comfort to me at the time when I was 13 and 14 looking like that that someone not only looked like that, but felt proud enough to stick themselves on the front of an album with a zig-zag across their face and a dewy collarbone. He’s always felt like a cousin.

TDB: I saw pictures of you two hanging out at your birthday party in New York, and Lorde performed, too. Are you a Lorde fan? And what’s on Tilda Swinton’s iPod?

TS: I was really honored that she came and played at my birthday party. This almost doesn’t count but we were listening to this wonderful German satirist called Helge Schneider and he has this very, very funny song called “Texas” which we put on this morning just to get us into the mood at 7 a.m. But what am I listening to at the moment? Alt-J, most recently.


Jim Jarmusch, Tilda Swinton, and Tom Hiddleston at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival red carpet premiere for "Only Lovers Left Alive"

BuzzFeed: Is it usually the filmmaker that draws you in to a project?

Tilda Swinton: Pretty much without any exception, yeah.

BF: What is it about specific filmmakers that you are so attracted to? What is it about Jim Jarmusch ("Only Lovers Left Alive") or Wes Anderson ("The Grand Budapest Hotel") or Bong Joon-Ho ("Snowpiercer")?

TS: I think off the top of my head, the lowest common denominator would be that they are master filmmakers who create their own worlds. That’s the thing that I feel, as a film fan, what draws me forward. It’s a really delicious thing to know someone’s work as well as I knew Jim’s, for example, before I met him. And then to be invited into that world? It’s like in "Mary Poppins", when they step into the chalk drawings. If you are a film nut and you’re invited into those worlds, if you love those worlds, it’s kind of a trip. I think that’s really the thing. Jim, particularly, because I feel I’d grown up with Jim. I first saw "Stranger Than Paradise" when I was a student, and for all of us European film nerds, he was really significant because he was the first American independent filmmaker who framed an America from a kind of alien’s point of view. You know, he felt like a Bulgarian filmmaker. And yet he was American! It was something we could really chew on. It felt like he built a bridge for us. And then, you know, I was hooked.

The ageless becomes the aged: Swinton transforms onscreen as (from L-R) a ruthless middle-aged prime minister in "Snowpiercer", a filthy rich geriatric socialite in "The Grand Budapest Hotel", and a 3,000-year-old hipster vampire in "Only Lovers Left Alive".

BF: It’s safe to say that without exception — even with "Michael Clayton" — your characters are quite visually striking, even within the context of the world in which they’re living. Do you bring your insight into your appearances? How does that collaboration work?

TS: That’s the bulk of my work, I would say. That’s what I do. What I can contribute, really, more than much else, is to disguise myself, and try to blend in to the landscape of the frame. And I love that. That’s just fun, building up the disguise, whatever it is, whatever the caliber is. With "Michael Clayton", for example, you know, [it was] really a quite fine toothcomb, realistic stroke, naturalistic disguise. Just looking like a real American corporate lawyer, that’s, you know, a big leap (gestures to her face) with no prosthetics. (laughs)

BF: In "Only Lovers Left Alive" you have that magnificent mane of hair. How did that come together?

TS: We talked a lot about what life would be like to be so refracted from society, to be such cats who walk by themselves — what that would make you. And quite quickly we realized that would make you animal, really. You’re not really a person anymore. You’re a beast. And so we thought a lot about wolves. Jim is very big into dogs, you know. He’s like a white dog. And it so happened that we were developing the wigs, we needed this incredible volume, and we couldn’t get it with human hair. This point came when I said, “Let’s try wolves’ hair.” And that’s what works. There’s a heartbeat in the film, which is a wolf’s heartbeat. When we greet each other to begin with, we smell each other before we kiss. All that feeling of finding a different way of moving that was just exotic. It didn’t have to be specific. It didn’t have to be copying anything that really exists. It just had to be weird.

BF: Speaking of a kind of fame, when, if at all, did you recognize that, through the work you’d done in the ’80s and ’90s and on stage and in museum pieces, you had cultivated a fan base, people who were keen to see you?

TS: It’s funny, I was just talking to some people here who were a little bit horrified that I am as willfully ignorant of a kind of world that they operate in. So I feel apologetic that life is too short, man. I just can’t be involved. I just don’t have the hours in the day. I have children, and a garden, and a sweetheart, and dogs, and a school, and I just can’t be that aware. There’s a sort of peripheral hum here somewhere (slowly waves fingers far away from her face) which makes me aware that some people, of interests that they might have. But it doesn’t actively involve me. It’s about their interest and it’s about their stuff. So if I’m inspiring that interest, that’s totally fine. But I can’t really be involved in it.

BF: Do you have people approaching you, wanting a photograph, wanting a kind of standard celebrity experience?

TS: I wouldn’t know what’s standard, and I wouldn’t know what’s unique to my life. But yeah!

BF: How is that interaction for you, given how you feel about fame?

TS: It’s really lovely. No, the authentic presence, I’m all for. I think it’s a really lovely thing, when people are delighted to see you and they want a photograph. It’s a huge part of making the work, because the work is made by the audience, and so to actually meet the audience is as much a thrill to me as it may be to them. It’s a meeting. It’s an actual meeting. It’s great!

A selection of eccentric tweets from the Twitter parody account, @NotTildaSwinton

BF: Part of what fame today is about is being present on the internet through social media. It doesn’t seem to be active lately, but how aware are you of the @notTildaSwinton Twitter account?

TS: (A huge grin) Yes, I do know about that.

BF: What was your reaction when you first learned of it?

TS: (Almost whispering) I think it’s hilarious. I’ve been in touch with those guys. It doesn’t happen anymore?

BF: When I checked this morning, it hadn’t been updated in a while.

TS: OK. Anyway. I mean, that’s what’s I’m saying. That’s here in the periphery. It’s all, you know, more flowers in the garden. It’s other people’s work, which is really great. And, yeah, on it goes.

BF: You’d been alluding to a conversation you had where people were horrified you weren’t aware of a certain kind of thing — what was it specifically?

TS: Oh, there’s this assumption that you alluded to that everybody’s on Twitter, and that it’s relatively un-mainstream — whatever we’re going to call un-mainstream — to not do Twitter. It’s sort of shock-horror, apparently. Or to not have Facebook, or whatever. Not to interface at all with social media. That’s what I was meaning.

BF: It almost feels like people who have a certain celebrity are afforded more privacy not being on social media than they would’ve had in the ’90s without that existing.

TS: Interesting, yeah. Well, I mean, one does wonder how it’s all going to come out, really. As I say, I’m so out of the loop, I don’t even follow the debate about it, but I imagine sooner or later, what cool kid of 14 is going to want to go on Facebook now when their parents are on it? I mean, very quickly, it’s going to be the most arcane development. And, personally, I think very soon people are going to realize that writing letters with ink is popular! (Laughs) Or, I don’t know, sitting down in person with somebody could actually be the happening thing.


Tilda Swinton at Paris Fashion Week

Variety: You said you see film as art. What’s the difference between films and movies?

Tilda Swinton: It’s style and beauty. We all split the hairs of film and movies, and sometimes, for pejorative reasons, we go and see a movie or when we are sick of movies and we want to go and see a film. Maybe we think of movies as being story-led or drama-led?

V: What do you mean?

TS: I’m thinking of this moment when I was privileged to know Michael Powell at the end of his life. I had just come in on a plane to New York and he said, “What was the movie you saw on the plane and was it good?” and I said, “No it wasn’t, it was ‘Batman.’” And he said, and this was one of the only times anyone said this: “You’re wrong, it’s a good film. It’s a good film; any film that sets out to create its own world is a good film.” And I remember swallowing that and letting it digest for years. I think it doesn’t mean to say I want to be in that world or that it’s well realized, but that gesture of making a world unique to that film or filmmaker gets you to the next level. Maybe movies don’t do that.

V: In your conversation you also spoke about making your own culture. Walk me through that.

TS: This might have something to do with where I come from because I think I am following my own nose much more closely than that. I’m not strategizing. Films take such a long time to make, so if I’m saying now that I must play a brain surgeon and I start the project now, if it happens in five years and then shoot it, I’m going to have to talk about it another two years. I’m way too lazy for that. I just look at my curiosities at the moment.

V: What roles do you seek out? Do you have anyone you haven’t played that you’d like to?

TS: It’s funny because my presiding principle is twofold. I want to be making work with my friends so when Wes Anderson sends me an email and says come and do this, I never say no to him. I just so happened to play this 83-year-old, who’s probably actually 95. She’s a countess, and it was strange because I was with my mother, who was dying at the time. But it just felt really serendipitous to have this opportunity to do that. So my life is a weird combination of my friends throwing me opportunities, and me dreaming opportunities up. Then when something dovetails like this movie, when I was already thinking about mortality, a particular predilection of mine, it was very intimately sewn up with my own life. So the short answer is I don’t have a career, I have a life. I follow my life and the way I’m living it so no, I don’t have an exterior judgment on what would be good or bad for me.


Tilda Swinton talks about creativity, fame, and immortality at the screening for "Only Lovers Left Alive" in SXSW 2014


Tilda Swinton chats about her life, career, slamming "Twilight" and preferring her version of cinematic vampires, and what turns her on when making the kinds of movies she does at SXSW 2014.

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Fierce, fabulous, and flawless... Like when will your faves ever, ONTD?

Even the Oscar-winning Queen of Derp herself bows at Tilda's altar of fabulousness...