Tilda Swinton ponders a ‘Snowpiercer’ prequel and irresistible party invitations

Tilda Swinton is going to win a second Academy Award. Some way. Some how. It will happen. At some point, depending on who's in office, she will likely win a Kennedy Center Honor, too. She might even be knighted by the Queen. But that second Oscar is going to happen and probably because, like her first, she really won't be trying.

The 2008 Best Supporting Actress winner for “Michael Clayton” had one of the most honest reactions ever to hearing her name called because she really didn't think she was going to win. She wasn't trying to humbly pretend she didn't think she'd win, she really didn't think she'd win. Frankly, apart from her incredible acting skills that's one reason she's become adored by movie fans and the industry alike. She's one of the few artists (and seriously, an artist) who realizes the whole awards season game can just be a means to an end to help your indie movie get seen and potentially make enough money so the next one comes around. She doesn't complain about the awards game, but certainly isn't kissing ass like some of the other players who come on the circuit year after year.

And here's the one thing about Tilda. Chances are, if she's in the Oscar nomination discussion, she 100% deserves to be and 2014 is a textbook example of why her second win is practically inevitable.

Madame D. in Wes Anderson's “The Grand Budapest Hotel.” Eve in Jim Jarmusch's “Only Lovers Left Alive.” Mason in Bong Joon-ho's “Snowpiercer.” Dr. Shrink-Rom in Terry Gilliam's “The Zero Therom.” Another great year of great roles from an actress who continues to surprise us.

Last Monday, I spoke to Swinton before she attended the 2014 Gotham Awards, where she was awarded a tribute for her remarkable career so far. It was before this hilarious introduction by Amy Schumer (I, too, have gawked at Tilda looking like a goddess at a baggage carousel) and before Swinton followed it up with her own fantastic speech (one she'll admit below she hadn't prepared).

Our conversation touches on the past and future of Mason (did somebody drop “prequel?”), having Ralph Fiennes be part of the acting family (sort of), jumping into the Coens' “Hail Caesar!” and more.


HitFix: Hi Tilda. How are you doing today?

Tilda Swinton: Hi Greg. I”m fine, thank you. I”m in New York.

You are?

Where are you?

I”m in Los Angeles.


I hear you”re being celebrated tonight at the Gotham Awards.

Apparently so, yes.

Do you have your speech ready or is it still in the works?

I don”t think I need to give a speech, do I?

I don”t know. Maybe?

Maybe you know something I don”t know. I”m not intending to give a speech.

Oh good.  You looked fantastic at the Academy Governor”s Awards last month.

Oh, thank you very much.

Do you have another amazing outfit for tonight? 

Well, let”s hope it”s less amazing. I mean one doesn”t want to be amazing twice. [Laughs.] The job was such fun, that Governors Award thing.

Had you attended the Governors Awards before?

Yes, fondly enough we went about two or three years ago and we had such fun that when they asked if we wanted to go again we kind of jumped at it, because we met such nice people and we did again. It was kind of awesome, you know, Miyazaki and Maureen O'Hara. It was quite definitely a big sort of fanboy conference for us.

Well this is an awkward tangent but I wanted to talk about “Snowpiercer” for just a bit.

Me too. That”s a great awkward tangent.

It is very awkward to go from Miyazaki to that.  

No, it”s not because Miyzazki is one of Bong and my favorite filmmakers, so it”s perfect. I would call it a very elegant dovetail.

I”m glad I pulled that off. One of the interesting things that happened over the past couple of days is, of all people, Mubarak was acquitted of his crimes in Egypt. And I know that he was one of your inspirations – or you have said publicly that he was one of your inspirations for Mason…


How do you think Mason would have fared in a trial for her crimes?

Mason's idea of her responsibilities would be to say that she”s only following orders. She”s that kind of authoritarian. She is an absolute 100% yellow-livered coward and she would say, “It”s not me, it”s not me, it”s not me.” And she would just roll over and then try to charm people with her teeth. She has absolutely no moral backbone of any kind. She”s a sort of, yeah, a worm I would say. An ethical worm.

Would it not surprise you if she was acquitted or do you think that she”s so transparent she wouldn”t be able to get away with it?

Oh I think people are always getting acquitted, you know? And, by the way, reinstated. And I think that one of the things that really fascinated me about the whole Mason journey was this thing I wanted to look at, which is the way in which the monstrous death bots turn into clowns. And it”s not just that they do it to themselves, you know, people like Idi Amin and Mussolini and Hitler, you know, just kind of outrageous, over-the-top behavior. Margaret Thatcher. Even George Bush, you know, that feeling of becoming a joke is not just something that is sort of part of their shtick, but it”s also something that we tend to relish. We just want someone who”s really shafting us badly, fiscally or in terms of their foreign policy. We end up saying, “Oh, but they”re kind of funny, aren”t they? They”re kind of funny or they”re kind of ridiculous or they”re ludicrous.” And it”s almost like we”ve got this inbuilt defense mechanism that we feel so hard of mind we have to laugh at them. And it”s dangerous. I mean I think people constantly – if they have the opportunity to reelect them – constantly elect and reelect people who are sort of larger than life soap opera characters for the drama. I think very often people will vote somebody in because they think it will make good copy, you know? And I mean we have a politician now in the UK who's, you know, I would lay money – in fact I”m considering going and laying money for his anointment at a certain point as a leader – he”s a big leader in the country because he”s kind of a major buffoon. And I think it's a dangerous addiction. It”s like an addiction to drama somehow or an addiction to, you know, somehow ignoring how powerful they are by pretending they”re just ludicrous buffoons. It”s just empathy.

No, you”re so right. I mean the whole thing with Rob Ford running for reelection in Toronto. Before he dropped out he was still in the race. He had a shot to win. It”s an excellent point. I was trying to do some research on it, but I couldn't find anything noting whether you or Bong had come up with a backstory of how Mason had gotten on the train and what she might have been doing beforehand.

It”s funny. We still talk about it. It's a fantasy in our minds about a prequel and so there”s this very big ice day coming, who knows? You know lots of fancies in our mind. Who knows if it”ll ever happen but imagine such a thing. Imagine a prequel. Imagine – and you know what? I can imagine everything about Mason. Mason could be anybody and anything. Anybody or anything could actually turn into Mason and Mason”s like a sort of weird, morphed, mutant, free radical sickness. And who knows how he or she started out? A really mild-mannered man in a suit, which is the way it”s written in the script – it”s still written as a mild-mannered man in a suit.

Well, that might be the beginning actually of the prequel. That could be really interesting. So, from a layman's point of view, you'd have to say this year has been pretty amazing for you. “Only Lovers Left Alive” finally came out in the U.S. Congratulations on your Spirit Award nomination for that, by the way.

Thank you very much.

“Snowpiercer” – that whole Harvey battle goes away and it earns major critical acclaim. It”s going to be on a ton of top 10 lists. It did very well at the box office, at least in the U.S. And you just shot the Amy Schumer/Judd Apatow movie “Trainwrecked.” You are reuniting with the Coens on “Hail Caesar!”…

I haven”t started shooting that. I shoot that in a couple of weeks.

And you reunited with [“I Am Love” director] Luca Guadagnino on “A Bigger Splash.”


Am I wrong to say that this has been sort of an amazing creative year for you?

It has been. You”re actually – I can”t believe I”m having to remind you but there”s also Wes Anderson”s “The Grand Budapest Hotel.”* But those films that were released in the States were made actually a couple of years ago. I mean “Snowpiercer” was made two and a half years ago and it just seems there”s been a bit of a critical mass. Yeah, this was going to be a really quiet year for me and it just got a bit noisy. But for very good reasons, you know? I was invited to a lot of really irresistible parties, so I”m very happy.

*I can't believe she had to remind me of this, either. It's my #1 film of the year.

Was that your plan? To have a quiet year and it just didn”t happen?

That”s right. It”s been my plan for the last couple of years. Then two years ago, “Only Lovers” was the last film in a bit of a string of films that I had been involved with for a while. And we – it was the last one in a group of, you know, “We Need to Talk About Kevin” and “I am Love” and “Julia,” which were all projects that took a while to make. And the last one to actually be made was “Only Lovers,” so I was planning a bit of a break. And then these really irresistible, lovely little moments came along, like going and playing with Wes Anderson in “The Grand Budapest Hotel” and Bong, who just sort of came out of nowhere and made me an offer I couldn”t refuse.  

Not only are you reuniting with Luca on “Splash,” but also Ralph Fiennes from “Grand Budapest.” Did you help recruit him for it or is it just a coincidence that he got involved?

It”s a really good question because I don”t know. I”m trying to think if I introduced him to Luca. I”m not sure that I did. I don”t know. You”d have to ask him how it happened but put it this way: It was not a surprise. It was just sort of in the ether that we were all – I think we were all together at the same screening in Berlin and I don”t know how it happened. But one thing kind of bleeds over into another. And in fact Ralph is also in “Hail Caesar!” so that will be three films in a row that Ralph and I will appear in the credits for, but not on screen at the same time. But no, there”s a sort of rolling family which bleeds into each other, which I”m very happy about because I love working with these people.

Is “Hail Caesar!” going to be just a few weeks of shooting?

It really has started already, but I go in a couple of weeks for a while. And then it goes on I think through to February or March. I”m not there for very long, but I”m very, very happy to go. It”s going to be awesome, I think.

Indeed. Have an awesome time tonight. I hope you have fun.

Thank you. I think it”ll be fun. There”ll be some very nice people there, no question. And next year”s going to be quiet.

Swinton can next be seen in “Trainwrecked” on July 24, 2015 and “Hail Caesar!” on Feb. 5, 2016.