Toronto 2011: Tilda Swinton charms promoting school shooting drama
Lynne Ramsay has made a horror film. “We Need to Talk About Kevin,” the third feature from the Scottish director, centers on the unthinkable: the life of a mother who must try to live with the guilt she feels after her child commits a mass murder in his high school.
Tilda Swinton plays the part of the mother, an adventurous free spirit who came to marriage and motherhood ambivalently and clearly questions whether her son was born evil or whether his actions were a result of her unease as a mother. The film is a difficult one, though filmed so artfully that it keeps audiences engaged as it toggles back and forth between Kevin’s childhood and Eva’s present life as a woman trying to survive.
Given its dark subject matter, “Kevin” needs all the help it can get in terms of commercial prospects -- screenings at the Telluride Film Festival and at Toronto are designed to bolster good word of mouth. The movie made its debut in May at the Cannes Film Festival, where it was bought by Oscilloscope, which will release it in theaters in December.
Also helping to promote the film is Swinton, who served as an executive producer, reading Ramsay’s drafts during the five-year period while they tried to get "Kevin" made -- Ramsay cowrote the script with Rory Kinnear, adapting the screenplay from the Lionel Shriver novel.
Sitting with moderator Noah Cowan, codirector of the Toronto International Film Festival, on Sunday, Swinton talked about her 20-year career, including her long-term collaboration with English director Derek Jarman, the English experimental filmmaker who partnered with Swinton and is credited for persuading the reluctant performer to undertake a career in acting. (She says, seriously, that she was in London at the time, “on the verge of being a gambler, full time. Horses. Flat racing. I’m not kidding.”)
Swinton still doesn’t like to be called an actress; she prefers “film fan” and “artist model,” saying: “I never wanted to be an actor, it’s embarrassing and feels fraudulent.” And she compared the experience of sitting up onstage reliving her career to flashing back to one's teenage years. “I’m really happy to be here with you all, but it’s real torture. It’s like looking through an old family album at all the pictures of you as a teenager that you hoped no one kept,” she said.
However, looking through Swinton’s quite eclectic mix of films, from the early days of starring in Jarman’s super 8 movies to her breakout role in Sally Potter’s “Orlando,” from her part as the white witch in “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” to her Oscar-winning performance in “Michael Clayton,” there seems to be a throughline that connects all her roles, playing with identity and change.
“That moment of shift and doubt is what I love,” Swinton said. “The only thing we can count on is change.”
As for her winning an Oscar, Swinton is ambivalent about that too -- the statuette sits in her agent’s office. She’s grateful for what the award has given her -- an ease to pursue her passion projects -- but the win itself doesn’t hold a lot of meaning for the 50-year old.
“I don’t know what it means,” she said, referring to the accolade. “I wasn’t brought up on this planet. I never wanted to win anything but the Cheltenham Gold Cup. But I’m not a race horse.”
-- Nicole Sperling
Photo: Tilda Swinton in "We Need to Talk About Kevin" Credit: Oscilloscope