Earlier this week I got to participate in a roundtable interview with Academy Award winner Tilda Swinton (Best Supporting Actress, Michael Clayton) for her new film I Am Love, which opens in select theaters Friday, June 18. For those who don’t know, I Am Love is an Italian drama revolving around a woman (Swinton) and her relationship with her family, food and sex. The film is presented through grand, evocative imagery, not unlike last year’s A Single Man. Fair warning, the film is entirely in Italian, but if you can get past the subtitles, I Am Love is a beautiful film.
Hit the jump to see what Tilda had to say about learning Italian, her 11 year involvement on I Am Love, speaking “American” for roles, her post-Oscar life, love scenes, her upcoming film with John C. Reilly (We Need To Talk About Kevin) and much more, along with a link to the trailer and an official synopsis. I Am Love hits theaters Friday, June 18.
Given that Swinton (a native English speaker) learned to speak Russian and Italian for the film, the first thing she was asked was how many languages she spoke. Swinton replied:
“I don’t really feel like I speak any at the moment! I don’t know. It depends on who’s driving the taxi. A few. Not very many. But as a European you kind of get used to speaking languages.” Swinton later mentioned “I apparently speak German like a child…French I still have an inhibition about because I learned it at school.”
When asked if she thought in English or Italian on set, Swinton interestingly related the experience of playing an Italian to that of playing an American.
“I don’t speak Italian well enough to speak fluently, so no. But you know the strange thing about the language question is that I’m very often speaking in a language that’s not my own. When I’m impersonating an American person I’m not actually speaking in a language that’s my own. I’m very often, particularly if I have to improvise in American, that’s a stretch because I may want to come up with something that I realize is actually an English or Queen’s English construction and I very often have to kind of work very hard to translate it into American. So it’s not that, I probably speak…my Italian and my American are probably on a par.”
Swinton later spoke about why she chose a project in Italian:
“I’m not choosing to do a role, I’m choosing to make a film with my friend which we developed over 11 years. And he happens to be Italian and he wanted to make a film in Italy. So it’s not like I chose a role that came to me in script form.”
Talking about her earliest involvement in the film:
“It’s something that I developed from scratch and I suppose very early on there was a moment that we fantasized about the film not being in Italy but I think quite quickly we realized that we wanted to make the film in Italy. There was probably a moment when we thought about making it in English and I think that passed very fast. Well why would we make it in English? It’s a film about an Italian family. The spoken language is really not the language we wanted to concentrate on in the film, we wanted to look at the language of cinema really and we wanted to remember what Hitchcock says about the camera telling the story and the dialogue just being atmosphere. Nobody really says anything of much importance in the film!”
Later Swinton said she wanted the film to display:
“the rich language of cinema. A camera that’s very expressive, a soundtrack that’s very expressive, a lot of silence in a film, a lot of atmosphere in a film. Our project was to find a way to download all that we love about classical cinema and trying to make it modern.”
When asked how her life has change since winning the Oscar:
“I was invited to America to other peoples’ parties like Tony Gilroy’s film Michael Clayton or the Coen brothers’ film or David Fincher’s film and I have been so happy to come and so astonished and happy to be given an Oscar for one of them but frankly it’s business as usual because the seeds are still in the ground and need watering and needed bringing to fruition and honestly the only thing that’s changed since winning an Oscar is that now people ask me how my life has changed since winning an Oscar!”
Swinton said she gave her Oscar to her agent. She joked:
“I remember about a week before the Oscars ceremony I remember asking my agent in London, who happens to be an American who was brought up in Rhode Island, and I said to him “can you take some time at some point to explain to me what the Academy Awards are because I feel a little guilty that I’m in this sort of strange circus and I don’t really understand what the Academy Awards are. I’ve never seen them on the television and I’ve certainly never been to one and I don’t really understand why they’re such a big deal for people who have access to them on the television. He never got the time to tell me but I will say that having gone to the Academy Awards and having been given one, I mean we went to the Academy Awards as if we had been given free tickets to the center court at Wimbledon, but what I didn’t expect was that someone would hand me a racquet in the middle of the match!”
Swinton later spoke about her preparation for the role:
“I got to know several Russian women who were the right age and had lived in Soviet Russia as it was when she left, when Emma’s character left Moscow, and had a similar sort of experience. [She] had left in the late ‘70s and had come to Milan, and in fact two of them had married into a very similar sort of milieu in Milan. So they were very, very important references for me, and I talked to them a lot about what that experience did to them – how it meant they behaved, and how it meant they held themselves. I remember them talking about the experience of knowing that they’d come into this almost more circumscribed environment where they knew they had to wear exactly the right thing, and that if they wore the wrong shoes then they might not be invited to a dinner the following week. And that whole feeling of entering a code and having to learn a code and not get it wrong for the sake of their husbands or whatever. That was very interesting. I remember one woman telling me that she took years to learn to smile; she just could not show her teeth. She felt so closed down. And also just conversations about what it was like to encounter that kind of wealth, that kind of abundance, to go into food shops especially as the wife of a rich man, and to be able to buy anything you needed.”
When asked about her comfort level in doing love scenes on camera:
“I don’t know if it would be possible to do scenes like that with people who weren’t very close friends. We were all very close friends, and that particular team that was in that garden that day, I mean, it was a tiny little team of people who have been friends for a very long time. Yorick Le Saux was the cinematographer and I made Julia with him – he’s a very good friend of mine. Edoardo Gabbriellini, who plays Antonio, is a great fried. And we all knew what we wanted to do, and we all knew that we wanted to show was something really, very precise and real and natural and it felt really easy. It felt very easy because nobody had to have anything explained to them. Everybody was on exactly the same note and we just sort of laid down and got bitten a lot by bugs and then got up again and had lunch.”
Lastly, I was able to ask Swinton what projects she has coming up. She spoke at lengths about her upcoming film We Need To Talk About Kevin with director Lynn Ramsey.
“We have a little bit more to shoot at the end of the summer but we are gonna be cutting it over the winter…It’s based on a book by Lionel Shriver about a family, about a couple who has a child who grows up when he’s 17 to be a high school killer and the whole story, as in the book, is seen in flashback mode from the point of view of the mother reflecting on his childhood, on his birth, his babyhood, his childhood and his upbringing. It’s a pretty hardcore look at the whole concept of parenting and the responsibilities that parenting can hold for the idea of engendering violence in children. It’s fiction. And John C. Reilly plays the father and I play the mother.”
I Am Love hits theaters Friday June 18.