When it comes down to onscreen presence, I don’t think anyone is more fascinating than Tilda Swinton.
The Academy Award-winning actress has quite the resume when it comes to working with acclaimed directors. Swinton has collaborated with Danny Boyle, Cameron Crowe, Spike Jonze, Luca Guadagnino, Jim Jarmusch, Bong Joon-ho, Lynne Ramsay, The Coen Brothers, Wes Anderson, and David Fincher.
But Swinton is surely best known for being transformative. Let’s just take a few seconds to go through some of Swinton’s films and marvel at the fact that these characters are somehow played by the same actress.
They are very nice! And very just and merciful.
You’re a man looking at the world through a keyhole and you’ve spent your whole life trying to widen that keyhole.
Something’s come up at work and I’m gonna have to leave you alone a little more than I would like.
You know, the clothes, the telephones, the trains…
I fear this may be the last time we ever see each other.
Why on earth would that be the case?
Well, I can’t put it into words, but I feel it.
Swinton seems to be drawn to roles that allow her to fully disappear. To the point that we may not even recognize her if we blindly enter a film. In fact, I remember watching Snowpiercer and The Grand Budapest Hotel without any prior knowledge. It wasn’t until the end credits that I realized Swinton was portraying these characters.
And Swinton is fully aware of things like this.. Take the 2018 remake of Suspiria where she plays three different characters, but is only billed for playing two. Under hours of make up and prosthetics, Swinton wanted to play the elderly Dr. Klemperer in secret, going as far to create a fake actor that she claimed portrayed him.
You’re Madame Blanc.
I play Madame Blanc, yes.
And I assumed that you played Dr. Klemperer.
As you will see from the credits and all the posters, Dr. Klemperer is played by Lutz Embersdorf, who sent a message that I read just now.
Swinton thrives off her air of unusual mystery. This is reflected in the roles that she takes on. Everything from a rocker vampire, to a psychic pug.
It may snow tonight.
Really? Thank you very much. Wow.
To whom it may concern.
She sees the future.
In fact, her mere presence in a film is enough to lend a rather unique tone. Even if her role is rather straightforward, her pre-established persona lends a certain abnormal quality to her scenes.
Of course your subconscious can always play tricks on you. The subconscious is a very powerful thing.
When Swinton isn’t pulling off outlandish transformations, filmmakers still tend to throw her a bit of a curveball, forcing her to use her mystifying skillset.
The wrinkle can be as simple as playing multiple roles like in Hail, Caesar!, but often, it’s much more complex.
In A Bigger Splash, she plays a rockstar who is recovering from vocal surgery, leaving her almost voiceless.
You can’t talk or won’t?
Therefore, Swinton is forced to act with merely through whispers and expressiveness.
I will always be grateful to you.
In We Need to Talk About Kevin, Swinton plays one character, but she is essentially playing two different roles. There is the mother in the flashbacks and the mother in present day. The mother in the flashbacks is struggling, but there are glints of hope and happiness. We can see this in the way she carries herself or even just by observing her eyes. There is life in them.
But in present day, after a devastating tragedy, she is a shell of her former self. She walks with caution and uneasiness. Her eyes are vacant and hollow. She is dead inside.
Even when Swinton isn’t being transformative, she still applies her unmatched transformative abilities. And that’s why she is one of the most unique and fascinating talents in Hollywood.