SXSW: The 10 Best Quotes from “A Conversation with Tilda Swinton”


AUSTIN, TX: Tilda Swinton has, perhaps not entirely purposely, cultivated a persona of genuine strangeness. Maybe it’s the offbeat roles she chooses, her fascinating romantic life, her tendency to turn up in, say, a glass case at MoMA. (Maybe it’s the fake Twitter account.) But anyone attending her interview sidebar at SXSW Saturday only experienced occasional flashes of that peculiarity; in the flesh and in conversation, Swinton is warm, eloquent, and wonderful. Rather than louse it up with a bunch of poorly-matched prose, your film editor decided to just get out of the way, and share some of her best moments from the panel.

Her early influences: “I loved film the second I saw film. I think my first film I ever saw was Herbie Rides Again, so… I just wanted to be in films, which didn’t necessarily mean I wanted to be a movie star. I just wanted to be in the back of Herbie. I wanted to be in the fantasy frame.”

Her drive as an actor: “Being a performer, I feel so embarrassed about it, because we’re constantly seeing actors saying that they always wanted to be actors, and it has this reputation as being this thing that people long to do and they have great ambition and fire to become actors. And I feel embarrassed, because I never did. I still don’t. Every film I make is the last time I’m going to perform. Truly, truly, truly! And I also admit that I keep doing it, so it can be both. So I’m aware that I’m an odd one.”

Her specialty: “One of the things that I do like… If there’s a point at which I’m prepared to take myself seriously as a performer, it’s the point at which I noticed I really have interest in acting out stories of people who are at a kind of precipice in their life. They make some kind of transformation… whatever it is, whenever I’ve talked to a filmmaker about a story–because it’s usually that, rather than reading a script, I’m normally talking around a kitchen table about a story–the point at which the performer in me gets interested is the point at which they say, ‘And then there’s this precipice, then there’s this moment when this person–and I don’t use the character, I’m sort of suspicious of the word character–the person focuses, their trajectory switches, and they have to choose another way of being int he world.’ I really love that.”

SXSW Film President Janet Pierson greets Tilda Swinton. Photo Credit: Jason Bailey / Flavorwire

The strangest role she’s ever taken: “Playing a corporate lawyer, truly. That takes the cake.”

On that MoMA piece: “It was… like a bloody living history lesson, because when I originally made it [19 years earlier], not only was there no Twitter, there were no mobile telephones, and it is interesting fact of our life, apparently, for millions of people to see something without being actually there. But I find that a very interesting aspect to that work, because the piece is about authentic presence, and the fact that there actually only is one body in one case in one place at any one time. And yet it feels as if things, there are sort of, there’s an addition now. There’s another whole cavalcade of the piece now. I mean, apparently I’m there now. And that’s real, that’s the reality. Apparently I’m there all the time. And if someone writes that, that’s real, isn’t it? Because don’t we believe everything that we read?”

What cinema means to her: “I went up to say goodnight to my children, and they were 8 1/2 at this moment. And my son, who’s a very fanciful being, said to me–I was giving him a dream. And he suddenly said to me, ‘Mama, what were people’s dreams like before cinema was invented?’ It was unbelievable!… His remark totally blew my mind, and it made me think what it would’ve been like to’ve been born before cinema, and how lucky we are, and how we must use it and nurture it.”

Tilda Swinton with Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Eugene Hernandez. Photo Credit: Jason Bailey / Flavorwire

Why cinema is good for the soul: “What it is for me is this amazingly humane opportunity to put yourself in the shoes of somebody else. It’s no more complicated and no less powerful than that. You go in, it all goes dark, and you put yourself into somebody else’s shoes and see through their eyes… And that’s just mega! That’s so powerful! Even a painter can do less, because a painter, at one time, is only showing you one frame. But a filmmaker can take you into an experience, and an existential atmosphere, that may be a trip for you, it’s a transport, it’s like a magic carpet. So anyway, this is how I feel about cinema, sorry, it’s like really high-falutin’, but it also, by the way, involves Herbie Rides Again. It means the same thing!”

On the technological changes to how we consume cinema: “I’m just open to all of it. I think the drug itself is strong enough and powerful enough to withstand all of this. We’re still gonna want to go and sit in dark rooms and look at flickery old prints, and we’re gonna watch things here (referencing a cell phone) and sooner or later we’re gonna have a chip in our wrists and we’ll watch things there. It’s all fine. I’m up for all of it. I think that essential, existential transport, we’re never gonna not want that. I don’t see why we’d ever stop wanting it. We just have to separate the signal from the noise, as they say.”

Quote without context: “We always dance before our screenings. It’s really important.”

What comes next? “I’ll have to think of another challenge. There’s always bank manager…”