Interview: Tilda Swinton, Actress

Tilda Swinton

Tilda Swinton

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WITH her striking androgynous looks and boyish figure, Tilda Swinton was always going to be a maverick in Hollywood.

While other actresses of her generation - Michelle Pfeiffer, Demi Moore, Sharon Stone - became Tinseltown’s golden girls, the statuesque British actress has played the waiting game for the past three decades, preferring to let her work shine in its own time.

After years of working in theatre and arthouse films, Swinton - who was inspired to act by the late director Derek Jarman - burst into the mainstream after starring in Danny Boyle’s The Beach in 2000, opposite Leonardo DiCaprio, followed by her chilling role as the White Witch in The Chronicles Of Narnia.

After winning the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her performance in Michael Clayton, opposite George Clooney, the 50-year-old is set to go stellar with her role in the gripping drama We Need To Talk About Kevin.

Starring alongside John C Reilly as husband Franklin and newcomer Ezra Miller in the title role, the actress is already gaining acclaim for her performance as stoic and troubled mother Eva Katchadourian in Napier-trained Lynne Ramsay’s big-screen adaptation of Lionel Shriver’s controversial novel, looking at the lead-up to a teenage boy committing a high-school massacre.

A successful travel journalist, Eva is forced to give up her burgeoning career and globetrotting dreams after giving birth to her first child, laying the foundations of an uneasy relationship which continues up to his unspeakable atrocity.

“Eva’s identity before she has a child was very much linked to her being the great explorer. Then here comes motherhood, which, let’s face it, is possibly the biggest uncharted adventure,” she says.

“Something has strangled her - she’s not quite committed to this journey - so there’s something in her that’s not paying attention. She’s looking over the child’s shoulder, out of the window - and Kevin knows it. What could be more annoying?”

It has taken more than four years for the film, with its burning questions of morality and motherhood, to get off the ground for film-maker Ramsay and the actress, who also took the executive producer’s seat.

“It was a concern all the way, right into the cusp,” she admits. “It was a gamble we had to take.

“The financiers were concerned the film was too cold and too much of a challenge. But somehow we decided to take the chance and take the audience into the emotional experience of a woman having difficulties with her child.

“It’s a taboo not many people talk about - the possibility of a woman not establishing a bond with her child. Maternal instinct doesn’t come every time and it’s a shock for many women - more women than we know.”

The London-born actress, a patron of the Edinburgh International Film Festival, readily admits the harrowing and provocative film isn’t easy watching, “You’re going into new areas. The concept of a mother who is detached and can’t love her son is very uncomfortable.”

As a mother of two teenagers, son Xavier and daughter Honor, Swinton admits she had her own misgivings about motherhood. “It is a murderous business, giving birth,” she reveals. “I remember realising that my imagination had taken on a kind of brutal capacity it never had before. There’s something about the experience of childbirth that stretches your imaginary capacity for brutality.

“Every pregnant woman thinks for one moment that they’re actually carrying the spawn of the devil. And let’s face it - for all of us, family is a bloody subject. It’s not all Hallmark greeting cards.”