A little over six years after the fact, it's striking to revisit Tilda Swinton's reaction to winning the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for “Michael Clayton.” At the time, fans were jubilant and the audience was amused by her blunt “Oh, no” reaction and on-stage decision to give the statue to her agent. Watching the clip today there is a look of almost sheer horror on her face as her name is read and as she walks to the stage. This wasn't something Swinton strived for. She's an artist. Winning Oscars wasn't part of the plan if there ever was one. In the years since, however, Swinton has clearly found a way to balance her artistic interests with films that can find some legs in the global Hollywood movie-making machine.
It hasn't been easy, though. She segued from David Fincher's “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” to Jim Jarmusch's avant-garde exercise “The Limits of Control” to what should have been an Oscar-worthy performance in the Italian film “I Am Love.” She continued on a dark streak with “We Need To Talk About Kevin,” but then Wes Anderson gave her a scene-stealing cameo in “Moonrise Kingdom.” That must have set something in motion, because Jarmusch went as commercial as Jarmusch can by pairing her with Tom Hiddleston in “Only Lovers Left Alive.” Then came “Snowpiercer” (more on that later) and another great turn in Anderson's smash “The Grand Budapest Hotel.” The latter three have all hit theaters in 2014 and given Swinton fans more of their icon than they could ever dream of. What's most remarkable about them, however, is that not only is Swinton at the top of her game, but she also seems to be enjoying the process more than ever.
“I have always had fun, to be honest,” Swinton says in the video interview above. “I am having a lot right now, having fun in kind of really quick shots. I have always had fun.”
That may be the case, but her performance as Mason in “Snowpiercer” is a textbook example of Swinton at her best. A political stooge for the owner of a non-stop train carrying the last living people on Earth, Mason is, in Swinton's words, “a complete smash cut of all the monstrous, maniacal, political clowns” you've ever heard of.
“Everyone from Hitler to Mussolini to Berlusconi to Gaddafi and on and on and on into the present day,” Swinton says of the political figures that inspired her. “That kind of crazy, totally-lost-the-plot, 'I'm a clown but no one is going to tell me I am' [type of leader]. Ghadafi making his own medals and pinning photographs on himself and dying his hair. People putting on their wigs and not really bothering if they are on properly. That whole feeling of being a construct, which I think does happen.”
Swinton says she and director Bong Joon-ho (“Mother”) came up with that frazzled look and disposition in just 20 minutes (while she was heating up a pie, no less). She jokes that the Korean filmmaker would nod his approval of her work on set by referring to it as: “Cute. Mason cute.”
“Snowpiercer” was shot almost two years ago and became a blockbuster in the director's native South Korea last summer. It's taken nine months for the flick to hit American shores, but after “Only Lovers” and “Grand Budapest,” the timing now seems almost perfect, and the run of buzzworthy roles has put Swinton in the center of the action once again. She's currently filming Judd Apatow's “Trainwreck” starring and written by rising star Amy Schumer. Details on the movie are being kept under wraps and Swinton won't spoil the fun.
“Not a thing except that it's Amy Schumer and that's all I want to say,” Swinton says. “Amy Schumer, Amy Schumer, Amy Schumer!”
(And yes, Ms. Schumer, when Swinton is one of your biggest fans, you know you've made it.)
It was also just revealed that Swinton will reunite with old friends Clooney (“Clayton”), Fiennes (“Grand Budapest”) and the Coens (“Burn After Reading”) in the new comedy “Hail, Caesar!” And get this: she'll be playing an old school Hollywood gossip columnist. Seriously, does anyone doubt that she'll knock that out of the park? Moreover, that means two major releases in two highly anticipated projects from Swinton in 2015.
Sometimes the movie gods are good to us, aren't they?
You can watch our complete video interview with Swinton embedded at the top of this post.
Tilda Swinton can still be seen in “The Grand Budapest Hotel” and “Only Lovers Left Alive” in limited release. “Snowpiercer” opens in limited release on Friday.
Update: An earlier version of this article noted that Swinton had a negative experience on 'Benjamin Button.' She reached out to HitFix to state that was incorrect and that she had in fact greatly enjoyed every part of the shoot that she was involved in.