‘Yes I Wear Rags at Home.’ Tilda Swinton Talks ‘Real Actors,’ Fashion

VERDICT: British actress and Oscar winner Tilda Swinton reveals a new side of herself in the new musical 'The End'.

By Liza Foreman

In her latest role for the film, “The End,” Oscar-winning actress and performance artist Tilda Swinton lives in a subterranean bunker fashioned in the style of Versailles. And she sings.

The musical, by Joshua Oppenheimer who is known more as a documentary filmmaker, is just one of a multitude of projects that Swinton has been working on this past year.

“Joshua Oppenheimer is a very interesting person,” Swinton said. “The film is his first non-documentary film, currently in post-production. I don’t know when you will see it,” she added, indicating its release sometime next year. Swinton said the film is about the end of the world. “It’s about the last family of one of the richest men on the planet, who has been an ecological rapist and brought about an ecological disaster.” The actress said the film portrays “a climate wrecked at the hands of an oil man; one of those frackers.” Concluding her synopsis of the film, Swinton said “It’s a musical. We sing. I sing. It’s intriguing,” adding “I can’t say any more about it.”

Beyond the Oppenheimer project, Swinton recently directed a film essay on the topic of learning. She’s also been involved in an ongoing fashion collaboration “that extends far beyond dress.” The multi-talented artist is modest about her participation in the scope of her art, be it directing, acting or other.

Speaking about the film essay, Swinton said “It’s true that my name is on it as director, but I made it in this collective, the Derek Jarman Lab. We came out of the University of Birkbeck. It’s an essay film.” Swinton said the film essay presents a series of questions and ponderings about learning. “Actually, more than education. It’s about our capacity to learn.” The Oscar-winner said she’s participated in other collaborative projects. “We made a couple of films before, including ‘The Seasons in Quincy’ about John Berger, which was a different kind of essay film, but we like to play with that form.” Swinton said she hopes that film will come out next year.

Even with an Oscar win as best-supporting actress for “Michael Clayton,” and an extraordinarily successful run as a performer, the Scottish actress is just as self-effacing in terms of labeling herself simply “a thesp.”

“One of the reasons I always feel a little alienated when I hear what I call ‘real actors’ talking about their own work, is that they very properly have a sense of their own work within the group, and I don’t really,” Swinton said, adding “My work is to stay connected. It doesn’t live in me. It’s entirely about the connection with others.”

Swinton, a regular at Marrakech International Film Festival and former jury head, this week did an ‘In Conversation’ session there in which she reflected upon her 30-plus year career.

“It’s an extraordinary and very powerful feeling, having made work for over thirty years, to make a film now that feels very, very close to the first films I made,” she said about her upcoming release “The Eternal Daughter,” which was shot with her first-ever director, friend and current Marrakech jury member Joanna Hogg. That film is due for release in the US early December.

Speaking about that film, Swinton said, “It feels very close to the first films I made. For me, that’s a good thing. I started in a very powerful place, and I feel good about reconnecting with that powerful place.”

Swinton spoke about “all sorts of powerful connections and relationships” she’s made, from Marrakech to Paris. Regarding the festival in Morocco, she affirmed her “particular fondness” for the North African festival. “I’ve had the great honor to serve on the jury a few years ago, and the films were a revelation. There’s something about the range of films that Marrakech manages to catch that other festivals cannot quite do. So being in Africa and feeling that scope is really inspiring.” Swinton applauded the audiences, saying “they are very passionate and educated about cinema and looking for discoveries. For us filmmakers to come and be in dialogue with a festival like this is inspiring.” Swinton said her inspiration is always piqued at festivals like Marrakech. “It always pushes you on at a festival like this. You come. You watch films. And move on with ideas of your own.”

Swinton’s projects include an ongoing fashion collaboration with Chanel as a brand ambassador. She is often seen wearing fine Coco clothes which, she says, helps her feel protected. The actress revealed that she’s “actually a very shy person.” And while she confesses to “walking around in rags at home,” when she goes out in public she needs her friends alongside, “so to wear clothes that are made by my friends is a way of being with them.” Swinton said “it’s like setting up a little environment for myself,” adding how fortunate she feels to have close relationships with designers whom she feels represent her well. “Haider in particular is someone I’m very, very close to and we work things out together in a very conceptual way. The choice of color. The choice of shape … is incredibly important for the occasion.” Swinton said she couldn’t necessarily wear any of the looks that she wears anywhere else. “They are for this moment, that moment, this particular film, this particular festival. Each piece is a piece of work and I really enjoy being engaged in that.”

Swinton’s work with Chanel extends beyond fashion. She said she does not do it for the impact. “I do it for how it makes me feel. It’s part of the work. It’s another set of collaborations.
“My work for Chanel has a particular part to play in my life,” Swinton said, adding she has the added honor to be Chanel’s ambassador for arts and culture. “Chanel’s commitment to arts and culture, especially in the last few years, is off all the scales. There are two prizes I’ve been fortunate enough to be involved in launching in the last year.” Swinton pointed first to The BFI & Chanel Filmmaker Award saying it is “not just for one film but for their actual voice.” Swinton said the other extraordinary prize, called the Chanel Next Prize, applies to artists of all disciplines from around the world. “We choose ten, and they each get 100,000 Euros, as a genius grant.” Swinton said Chanel gives about one million Euors every year to that prize. “They are so serious about it. I’m so impressed by that. I’m very happy to be a part of that,” she said, adding, “So that’s much more than wearing a dress. But wearing a dress is part of it, but it’s really so much more and I love that relationship.”

Swinton spoke of other less-glamorous jobs she feels she might be suited to do. Referring to an interview she made public during the 2020 pandemic, considering a world where one could not make films, she said: “I’ve had the privilege to be a part of looking after people at the end of their life, and I’ve thought it’s something I could be involved in with my full heart. Knowing the value of good fellowship at the end of life is important.”[This interview was conducted at the Marrakech International Film Festival.]

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