Tilda Swinton on 'I Am Love'

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'I Am Love', is a seven-year labour of love which she produced and in which she stars as the wife of a super-rich Italian businessman. Dave Calhoun meets her

‘We want to make a 3D film next time, we really do.’ Tilda Swinton is wondering aloud about the next film she and Italian director Luca Guadagnino plan to make after their collaboration on sumptuous new melodrama ‘I Am Love’. In her superb new film Swinton plays the buttoned-down Russian wife of a super-wealthy Milanese industrialist and speaks in Italian throughout, but, as you can tell, her mind is already on the next project she is planning with her friend and business partner Guadagnino, which, she says, will be shot in England and Wales and will be a homage to Michael Powell, the director of ‘Peeping Tom’ and ‘The Red Shoes’. Then she has a brainwave: ‘It should be in the IMAX!’

I think she’s joking about the IMAX. And the 3D. Or at least half-joking. It’s hard to tell with Swinton. This is the same actress who is knee-deep in the world of high fashion, modelling for magazine photoshoots and putting her name to expensive perfumes, but who also spent part of last summer pulling an 80-seat, 37-tonne mobile cinema through a remote part of Scotland with a like-minded bunch of cinephiles as part of a film festival she started in a remote village hall the year before. She started her career with the radical British director Derek Jarman (‘Caravaggio’), continuing in that spirit by working with the likes of Jim Jarmusch (‘The Limits of Control’) and Béla Tarr (‘The Man from London’), but she also professes her admiration for ‘Avatar’ and reveals an obsession with Sacha Baron Cohen. ‘We saw “Bruno” the day it came out and went straight back the next day,’ she remembers, before highly recommending the DVD commentary.

Swinton is hardly predictable. In person, she flips between appearing defensive and demanding, and her more usual mode of being clubbable and passionate. She worries that she is being ‘very inarticulate’ while talking lucidly. Her no-nonsense, cut-glass voice makes the most wild ideas sound normal. She’s a whirlwind. You wouldn’t want to cross her. You can’t help but admire her.

The story of ‘I Am Love’ matches the delicate grandeur of Guadagnino’s directing style and the highly strung emotion of John Adams’s music on the soundtrack (it’s the first time the American composer has allowed his music to be used for a film). The swirling, intensifying focus moves from the claustrophobia of a Milan mansion during a family dinner to the breezier, looser environs of rural Liguria as Swinton’s character frees herself from the strictures of her marriage, inspired partly by her daughter’s coming out as a lesbian. It’s heady, romantic and tragic stuff that comes close to a potently literate – cine and otherwise – spin on the high-family dramas of the likes of ‘Dallas’. The combination of melodrama with delicate social and emotional observation is especially alluring.

As well as starring in ‘I Am Love’, Swinton is a producer on the film and was so closely involved from start to finish that she even oversaw the edit of the trailer. She has enjoyed producer credits on films before but admits she took her usual mode of collaboration to a new level on this film. Not only did she engage in a hands-on form of midwifery to bring the film to life; she conceived it.

‘It’s the first film I’ve produced with a capital P,’ she says. ‘I’ve been involved as a sleeping producer on a number of films for the last, say, ten years, and even in an informal way on films like “Orlando”. But now I look back and so much of the work I did on other films is work I draw on when producing a film – like supporting a filmmaker while they write a script, going out to raise money, strategising on a campaign, all of that.’

For Swinton, ‘I Am Love’ is more than a film: it’s a manifesto for a new style of filmmaking being cooked up by her and the director. She says that she and Guadagnino, who is 39, met about 20 years ago when he was just out of film school. They have been plotting ‘I Am Love’ ever since they made ‘an absolutely insane experimental film’ together 11 years ago. Their aim is to celebrate a cinema based on style and form rather than story and dialogue, one unafraid of being tagged melodramatic or operatic – too often dirty words in the critical lexicon.

‘Back then Luca and I started talking about the kind of cinema we want to engage ourselves with, which is a new kind of sensational cinema,’ she explains. ‘Hitchcock used to talk about the language of cinema, about the difference between content and style and why style is so much more important than content. He said that asking a filmmaker about the content of his film is like asking a painter about whether an apple he’d painted was sweet or sour. Luca and I started to talk about engaging with that. Then, seven years ago, we started talking about this particular story.’

Swinton and Guadagnino call their company The Love Factory and are already developing five more films. A few weeks after our conversation I meet Swinton again and she says she’s secured funding for the next one, the Powell tribute that may or may not be in 3D. ‘And there’s a film that Luca is trying to persuade me to direct.’ Will he succeed in persuading her? She pauses. ‘It depends how long we go on. I might get worn down. I don’t really want to direct. We’ll see. I don’t know. Not yet. Maybe – but only way down the line.’

Read our review of 'I Am Love'.

Author: Dave Calhoun



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