Few actors have the ability to be a total chameleon while simultaneously being completely unique. Tilda Swinton has that rare talent. Known in part for her striking features and tall stature, Swinton has disappeared into many roles over the years with the help of costumes and cosmetics, resisting any effort to put her into a box. Her films vary across genres, from award-winning indies (We Need to Talk About Kevin) to huge Hollywood blockbusters (Doctor Strange).
An alumna of the Royal Shakespeare Company, the British thespian has been working onscreen for nearly four decades — her first debut came in the 1986 historical drama Caravaggio — and though her main focus is performing, Swinton has worked as a producer (mostly on her own films), writer, and a documentary filmmaker. Her latest movie is George Miller's Three Thousand Years of Longing, with upcoming roles in Joanna Hogg's The Eternal Daughter, Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio and Wes Anderson's Asteroid City.
With so much to look forward to, A.frame is first looking back at the best of Swinton's career thus far.
Swinton earned a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her work in this legal thriller, about a fixer who finds himself in the middle of a legal cover-up. Michael Clayton was billed as a showcase for lead George Clooney, but Swinton, playing a cutthroat counsel participating in the cover-up, stole every scene she was in.
I Am Love is one of many collaborations Swinton has done with Oscar-nominated director Luca Guadagnino (Call Me by Your Name). Here, she stars as Emma, a woman who married into a wealthy Italian family, where she has earned social status and respect. But her world as a mother of three and socialite is thrown for a loop when she begins an affair with Antonio (Edoardo Gabbriellini), a chef and friend of one of her sons.
Director Lynne Ramsay's adaptation of the Lionel Shriver novel of the same name casts Swinton as the reluctant mother of the titular Kevin (Ezra Miller) and documents her attempts to love him, even after he commits unspeakable violence. We Need to Talk About Kevin was praised across the board for its performances, but Swinton especially, was lauded for delivering one of her very best.
Sally Potter wrote and directed this 1992 British period film, loosely based on Virginia Woolf's Orlando: A Biography. The film takes full advantage of Swinton's androgynous look, as she stars as Orlando, a man who wakes up one day having transformed into a woman. Orlando premiered at the 49th Venice International Film Festival and was nominated for two Oscars, for Best Costume Design and Best Art Decoration.
Despite her fake teeth and huge, round glasses, Swinton is absolutely terrifying in the Bong Joon Ho thriller, Snowpiercer. The film is about a dystopian future in which humans have survived a new ice age by boarding a speed train called the Snowpiercer. They may be alive, but the lower-class passengers — which include Curtis (Chris Evans) and Edgar (Jamie Bell) — are starving, mistreated, and exploited. Swinton plays Mason, a woman whose job it is to keep the lower-class passengers in their place by any means necessary.
Director Jim Jarmusch left his mark on the vampire genre with Only Lovers Left Alive, which stars Swinton and Tom Hiddleston as a pair of immortal but slightly depressed lovers, Eve and Adam, who have grown disenchanted with the world of humans. After centuries, their lives are turned upside down by the arrival of Eve's sister, Ava (Mia Wasikowska).
A Bigger Splash is the second installment in Luca Guadagnino’s Desire trilogy, which began with I Am Love. The film follows Marianne (Swinton) and her lover, Paul De Smedt (Matthias Schoenaerts), as they go on holiday in Italy, where they become entangled in the lives of Marianne's ex, Harry (Ralph Fiennes), and his mysterious young daughter, Pen (Dakota Johnson).
Swinton is barely recognizable as Dianna, Amy Schumer's narcissistic editor boss in Trainwreck. The actress truly took her chameleon reputation to new heights for the film thanks to an overload of fake tans and an aggressively highlighted wig, all complemented by an over-the-top British accent. The movie also reunited Swinton with her We Need to Talk About Kevin co-star, Ezra Miller, who played her intern, Donald.
Swinton reunited with Snowpiercer director Bong Joon Ho for Okja, a fantasy drama that examines the ills of consumerism, capitalism, and the joys of friendship. Here, the actress adds to her roster of on-screen villains, playing Lucy Mirando, the CEO who launches a program to create genetically altered super-pigs.
There are transformative performances, and then there's what Swinton does in Suspiria, which saw her reunite with director Luca Guadagnino and her A Bigger Splash co-star, Dakota Johnson. A remake of Dario Argento's 1977 horror classic, the film is set in the sinister world of a renowned dance academy and stars Swinton in three roles:
Most obviously, Swinton appears as the company's choreographer, Madame Blanc. She also plays male psychiatrist Dr. Josef Klemperer (though the role is credited as Lutz Ebersdorf). And via extensive prosthetics, she assumes a third part as the ancient witch Mother Helena Markos.
The Souvenir, by writer-director Joanna Hogg, tells the complex story of a young film student's toxic relationship with a drug addict set in London in the '80s. Swinton's real-life daughter, Honor Swinton Byrne, stars as the young woman, Julie, and she plays Julie's mother, Rosalind. Swinton reprised her role in The Souvenir Part II, which deals with the fallout of Julie's volatile relationship and explores her grief as she attempts to move forward.