This weekend, get ready to fall in love.
"Only Lovers Left Alive," the latest oddball concoction from American auteur Jim Jarmusch ("Mystery Train," "Ghost Dog"), is a flawless jewel of a movie -- a sweeping love story about two disaffected vampires, named, of course, Adam and Eve. As played by Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton they are the kind of creatures of the night that you are just dying to hang out with.
We were granted an audience with the queen, aka Tilda Swinton, at this year's SXSW Film Festival, where the movie played to a rapturous audience response. Talking to Swinton, even for a few minutes, gives you a euphoric high -- she is so thoughtful and precise and emotionally articulate (things that, it goes without saying, most actors are not). It's hard to not want to spend a lifetime just chatting with her (the bloodsucking aspect of a vampiric partnership with Swinton is somewhat less appealing).
We talked about what brought her to this project, what it was like working with the endlessly charming Hiddleston, and discuss what it was like to be a part of Wes Anderson's recent "Grand Budapest Hotel," and the upcoming films by Terry Gilliam and Bong Joon-ho, whose "Snowpiercer" was fraught with problems after North American distributors the Weinsteins refused to release the film in its original form. Settle in, grab a nice warm cup of blood, and enjoy.
Moviefone: You did "Broken Flowers" with Jim a while ago. When did he first bring this up?
Tilda Swinton: We have a slight disagreement. I think it's eight years ago. He thinks it's about ten years ago. I would say it was about a year after "Broken Flowers." He rang me up on New Year's day and said, "Hey maaaan, let's make a film about vampire lovers." And, ten years later, we do it. It just took a while.
Did he give you more biographical information about your character?
An initial germ of the idea was a great book by Mark Twain called "The Diary of Adam and Eve," which he put me in touch with. And that's a beautiful thing. Funnily enough, we've come back closer to it in the film that we finally made. But that was the initial spark of the idea. We really didn't talk about it for several years. But looking back at the final film, it really holds that energy -- it's a beautiful book, a very light piece by Mark Twain, about a really grumpy Adam, very much down, and this total space cadet creature who came out of his side who is saying, "Oh, I want to look at the stars." That was the beginning of the energy of the two characters and we just built it up from there, really. It was always going to be Detroit. And at a certain point it was going to be Rome. Then it switched and became Tangiers.
Did he ever lay it out like, "This was the last 100 years of your character's life?"
You know, it's awful to say, but we've had so many conversations over such a long time, so I don't know. We've talked it through, we've chewed that cud for eight years. But what we know is that Adam is quite young, maybe 500 years old, and she's really old, like 3,000 years old. She's a druid.
Hiddleston is obviously the other half of this equation.
He is indeed.
What was it like working with him? Because he came in fairly late, right? Initially, Michael Fassbender was cast in the role.
It all sort of fell into place when Tom arrived, really. You often feel this with such a long project. It's like a band. And you have to get the band together and then you record it. All of the pieces were not right for a long time. Then he came on board and it flew. We actually shot it fairly fast. But he was a delight. He's my friend and I loved it.
Did you guys do any exercises? It must be hard to simulate a love affair that has been going on for hundreds of years.
Exercises! Well, we worked a lot together, the three of us, we had a long pre-production phase where we just hung out together and talked and talked and talked and talked. One of the aspects that we wanted to show was a long, long relationship that remains together because they're so into each other and they're so communicative with each other and they talk all the time. I think it's relatively unusual to see a long relationship on film that's not about people getting together. There's a tendency to show how people get together but then it's the end. You don't see people who are really into a relationship, going through that stuff. And going through it not by giving each other loving glances and being very loving, but talking through it and sharing a kind of intellectual inquiry and being into each others' brains as well as into each others bodies.
We talked a lot about that -- their friendship and why they're still together. And we came up with the fact that why they're still together is because they dig each other, even though they're so different. That's the other thing, in reference to the Mark Twain, that's such an important grain to the film, to say that you don't have to be like somebody to really love them and to be their couple. You can be a couple with someone who's really dissimilar and that in fact might be why it works. Just that feeling of being interested in someone's difference to you and being able to bring your difference to bear in order to help them live their life.
Do you have any favorite on-screen vampires?
Christopher Lee was probably my first heartthrob. We referenced, in our conversations, pretty much all the vampire films we've ever seen from "Nosferatu" onwards. But we were really interested in showing the meat and potatoes of them living. Not the drama of them going and biting people but just them hanging out and living and surviving and negotiating their relationship with one another and their relationships with Marlow and Eva. We wanted it to be a little like a documentary.
People who are close to Jim have noted that it's pretty autobiographical in terms of his relationship.
Oh sure. It is fairly close. We're all pretty nocturnal. Certainly Jim and me. It wasn't a stretch. There's a lot of us in the film. We look like... Yeah... It's not too far. But it's also a fairy story.
The movie is obviously quite subversive, but was there any vampire lore that you wanted to explore but didn't get to?
We put in a couple of things like his super human ninja moves. But we also wanted to add to the lexicon. So there's that moment where we're talking about the myths of the garlic and all of that. But we added the thing with the gloves. We hope that vampire films in the future will include this glove thing. But we put it in there. It was like us planting something extra in the garden.
How close was the final version to those initial talks you had with Jim?
I mean, we've talked about it pretty consistently over those nine years developing it and the band changed a little bit but it's been my constant companion. I am so thrilled it is as fresh as it is. Because one of the problems of developing something over a long time, which I know very well, is that it doesn't retain its freshness. And it's really great that this one has been able to. It's fresher than I hope it'd be. I'm thrilled to bits.
You're also in "The Grand Budapest Hotel."
Yes! Wes is coming on Monday. Have you seen it?
Yes. I really liked it.
What made you sign on to do that? Were you hesitant about the amount of make-up?
No, not remotely. Wes is a friend of mine and he wrote me an email and said, "What are you doing in January? Do you want to come and play an 84-year-old dowager?" I mean, why wouldn't I say yes to that?
You're in the movie for a fairly small portion. When you finally saw it, what did you think?
I was prepared for it. I knew the script I was working on and I knew roughly what to expect. It surpassed my expectations, and I think surpassed all of our expectations. It is something that is bigger than the sum of its parts. I've worked with Wes before and I think it's generally a tendency of him to astonish by how he is able to hold it all in his own head even though all of these departments are taking these different elements. This time I think it's particularly astonishing because it's got that darkness in it. And all of it was built on that darkness. You can see that now. And the fact that he held that together is amazing.
Jeff Goldblum said that he had made an animated version of the entire movie beforehand. Did you get to see that?
I mean, it's a piece of work in itself.
If we can talk about "Snowpiercer" for a minute, I'm so excited that the uncut version is coming out, and I know that you really championed that version. Did he call you and say that he did it or...?
No, I was there! No, we were very, very hopeful that the distributors would see the light and they have and we are thrilled and we congratulate them in doing so. It was our battle. It was our thing.
Would you do another movie with Joon-ho Bong?
Yes. We are developing something else.
Can you talk about that at all?
No. I'm not allowed to. But don't worry.
What made you sign on for "Snowpiercer"?
He was always a filmmaker I was fascinated by. And then I met him and we just loved each other and wanted to find something to work on. It didn't feel like there was anything in "Snowpiercer," and then we kind of made it so.
Was your character not in the French comic book?
No. It's a bit of an invention. Or rather an adaptation. I can't really say more. It's an invention.
Can you talk about the Gilliam movie, "Zero Theorem"?
I haven't seen it on the big screen. It's really, really extraordinary. Again, it's Terry putting it out there. It's his updated "Brazil." And it's tough and it's worth it. Every bit of it. It's got moments of just plumes of genius. It's Terry Gilliam, what can I say? A new Terry Gilliam film is something and a cut he is happy with, which is significant. So what's not to go and see?
You've done so many characters and so many projects. What are you still dying to do as an actor?
I'm not dying to do anything as an actor. Every time I make a film, I intend to not perform again, seriously. And the only thing that brings me forward into something else is when, either I bring something up or somebody else says, "Come on let's work on this," and I just get my curiosities tickled again. So I don't have any. I'm not planning anything else. I'm developing projects with people, but things that I'm not necessarily in. I don't have any desires as an actor. I don't know what actors dream about. I suppose they dream about parts.
So, you don't want to be a pirate?
Well, in the right hands... It's my task to have no dreams. I'm just a very lazy individual who is living my life and having a great time and then occasionally will get whipped up into some ridiculous game with a playmate. But it's not an adult pursuit for me. I'm not an actor who has plans or ambitions, and I never did.
Photo by Andy Kropa/Invision/AP