One of Tilda Swinton's ancestors on her very posh, very military Scottish family tree was painted by John Singer Sargent, and it is easy to imagine Swinton, with her alabaster skin, otherworldly green eyes and regal 5-foot-11 bearing, captured in oils. ''I do look like all those old paintings,'' Swinton joked over a midsummer lunch of raw oysters at the Mercer hotel. ''But I'm afraid my temperament does not conform. At all.''
She said this, as she said nearly everything, with a mix of direct authority and engaged enthusiasm that was both immediately ingratiating and commanding. Swinton, who is 44, was wearing no trace of makeup, a print sundress and flip-flops, and her hair, which is naturally red, was dyed white-blond. ''I love the roots,'' she said, as she tilted her scalp forward for inspection. ''That's the best part of being this blond.''
Her unique looks, her ease with herself and her voracious interest in the more esoteric worlds of cinema and style have made Swinton a kind of goddess of the avant-garde. In her movies, she has continually transformed herself -- changing class, nationalities, gender. For ''Orlando,'' perhaps her most famous film, she played multiple incarnations of the title character, including a man. In ''Thumbsucker,'' opening in theaters on Sept. 16, she is utterly convincing as a suburban American mom. The director Jim Jarmusch cast her as an ex-girlfriend of Bill Murray's in the recent ''Broken Flowers,'' in which she is terrifying, her face half-obscured by a foreboding curtain of long brown hair. For ''The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,'' a big-budget movie that is due out from Disney at the end of the year, Swinton embodies the White Witch. ''The studio couldn't understand that someone evil would not have black hair,'' she said. ''They told me, 'She has to be beautiful.' I said: 'The witch will be beautiful; the key is no makeup. After all, she's the White Witch; her face should be bare.' And I think, eventually, they saw my point. She's very scary. I'm fully at peace with the idea that children who see this film will be backing away from me for the rest of my life.''
Swinton's own children, 7-year-old twins named Xavier and Honor, will probably not see the movie. They live on a farm in northern Scotland with their father, the writer John Byrne. ''As much as I enjoyed playing the White Witch,'' she said, ''it made me realize, as I have before, that I am just not an industrial actor. What is important to me is to find myself around other curious people and to feel involved. That's much easier when you get outside the industry of movies. I'm less interested in just playing a character. I'm more interested in the larger film. Derek Jarman taught me that it's all about the frame; acting is simply smoke and mirrors. He changed my life by showing me what was possible; he was the first person I ever met that lived as an artist.'' Until his death in 1994, Jarman was an experimental filmmaker fascinated by two topics that often intersected in his movies: the history of England and homosexuality.
He worked with fellow travelers who shot, edited, dressed (Sandy Powell, the Oscar-winning costume designer, started out with Jarman) and acted in his imaginative and transgressive films. Swinton met Jarman after graduating from Cambridge. She went to school to study writing, but began acting, and he immediately recognized her talent. From 1986 to 1994, she starred in eight of his films. ''He was a person who found a way to make movies without any studio,'' she says. ''Through him, I saw that I could live in a pre-industrial way.''
Swinton's upbringing was the direct opposite: she grew up in privilege. Her family lived in a castle in Scotland that it had owned since the ninth century. Her father, Maj. Gen. Sir John Swinton, was a commander of the Queen's Household Guards in London, and she and her three brothers were sent to proper boarding schools. ''I have a different life than my parents,'' Swinton said. ''But I do feel like a soldier. It's hard work getting these movies made. It took us about five years to convince people to finance 'Orlando,' and it took two years for Mike Mills to be able to direct 'Thumbsucker.' Lots of people told him he was insane. I appreciate that sense of dislocation. As a child, I felt like a changeling, at odds with the planet I arrived on. I didn't understand the world I was born into, and that feeling of dissonance colored my youth. I saw that rigidness existed, and as a result, for me, rigidness got a bad name. Looseness was far better. And I gravitated towards a different life.''
While she has consistently resisted being called Jarman's muse (''He needed no muse other than himself''), she is pleased to be thought of as a fashion muse. ''I met Viktor and Rolf backstage at one of their shows, and we started cooking things up together,'' she said. ''One collection was designed for me, and they ask me all the time what I want to wear. Once, I was gardening, and I told them that it occurred to me that I wanted some padded trousers. They made them for their next collection. Although they've yet to give me a racing-driver suit, and I've asked and asked.''
Swinton is a generous, nonexclusive muse: she starred in a film by the designer Hussein Chalayan at the recent Venice Biennale and is devoted to Stefano Pilati, now at Yves Saint Laurent. ''Some of the most interesting artists I know are working in fashion,'' she said, after ordering cheesecake for dessert. ''Generally, in fashion, one's looking for what's new. Where, in film, something new takes five years to be acceptable, and then it's often not new anymore. Fashion, then, becomes like a sorbet between courses for me. It's cleansing. And then I get back to the hard work of fighting for some film that no one wants to make. That's what I mean when I say an artist's life: this is a calling, not a job.''
Slide 5: Hussein Chalayan dress, $1,200. At Ikram, Chicago.
Swinton entered the dark side with M.A.C. Carbon Eye Shadow and Smolder Eye Pencil.
Fashion associate: Lindha Jacobsson. Fashion assistant: Anouk Beguery. Hair by Yannick d'Is for Management Artists. Makeup by Christian McCulloch for Tim Howard Management. Manicure by Roseann Singleton for ArtDepartment.
Here are all of Tilda's costume changes in the upcoming The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe film. Absolutely stunning! I especially love how her ice crowna nd dreads start to melt and come apart as spring returns to Narnia!The costumes make me even more giddy over the idea of the book coming to the big screen! I apologize that many of the pics aren't full length. To see more that are of less quality go to http://costumes.narniaweb.com/witchbattle.asp. There is plenty of info about the costumes themselves!
"Why don't you slip out of those wet clothes and into a dry martini"-Mae West
Last edited by MulletProof; 12-11-2006 at 02:04 PM.
Thanks for posting those pics, WhiteLotus, they're fantastic!
And I found the info for the cover page: Cover Photo Tilda Swinton: Yves Saint Laurent tuxedo jacket, $2,320, blouse, $860, and waistcoat, $995. At Yves Saint Laurent boutiques. Fred Leighton diamond brooches.
Babelogue by Emma Reeves Photographic Editor Running Time: 55 secs
Source: Sony DV camera Production Credits: Film: Emma Reeves, Edit: Stephen Bell, Photography: Craig McDean, Stylist: Katy England, Model: Tilda Swinton, Fashion: Dress by Yohji Yamamoto, cardigan by John Galliano Homme, dress by Haider Ackermann, kimono by Roberto Cavalli, dress by Future Classics, gloves by Yohji Yamamoto, dress by Hussein Chalayan, Hair: Sam McKnight, Make-up: Val Garland, Location: Nairn, Scotland