No matter the film or her role in it, you can be certain that Academy Award-winning actress Tilda Swinton will give a performance that is compelling, interesting and entirely unique. In the comedy Trainwreck, written by and starring Amy Schumer and directed by Judd Apatow, she plays Dianna, the outspoken editor of S’Nuff magazine and Amy’s boss, and she is absolutely hilarious.
During this exclusive phone interview with Collider, Tilda Swinton talked about why this was a role she couldn’t refuse, how impressed she was with Amy Schumer’s script, finding her character’s look, why Schumer is “on the side of the angels,” and her unconventional way for deciding which characters to play. She also talked about how exciting it is to be a part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, loving the Doctor Strange world, and why playing a character called the Ancient One was so attractive to her, as well as reuniting with the director of Snowpiercer next year, her experience working with the Coen brothers on Hail, Caesar!, and why audiences should hold onto their hats for that film.
Collider: Judd Apatow has said that you were looking to do a comedy. What made Trainwreck the right one? Had you specifically wanted to work with him, or did you see something in this character, on the page?
TILDA SWINTON: I really wanted to work with him, but I really wanted to work with Amy [Schumer], as well. So, the combination was literally un-turn down-able. It was such a magical mystery tour. This magazine is not necessarily a world that I know anything about, at all. So, trying to imagine who this person might be was a trip. It was just a real laugh, from the beginning to the end.
How was this character described to you, and how much of what we see now was actually on the page and how much was you going off with the script and coming back with this woman?
SWINTON: I can barely remember the answer to that. The starting part was the magazine itself. That magazine, as we know, is not that dissimilar to magazines that are being sold, down the street, right now. I’m looking out the window in this high hotel room in Manhattan, and there’s an office across the way and the people in it look like they’re working on the next issue of exactly this magazine. So, it’s not that far off of things you can by on the newsstands right now, but it’s tweaked up a grade. Just thinking about who that woman would be that founded this magazine, she’s not just an incumbent. It’s an expression of her attitude toward life. That was the starting point.
She doesn’t remind me of anybody that I know. She sprang out of that, really. She’s an imaginary monster. I don’t know. There will probably be people who do work in that industry, or other industries, who do recognize her as real. But for me, fortunately, I’ve never quite met anybody like Dianna. Amy wrote an amazing and very tight script, but both she and Judd – and apparently, this is the way that Judd works, always – encouraged all of us to just free-wheel and amuse each other, as much as we could, with stuff that just came out of our heads on the day. That was really exciting. It was intense because I was up against these extraordinary comedians around this table, and they seem to be able to do that stuff very easily. But, it was a real blast. I would need to look back at the script to know what was written and what came out of our mouth, ad hoc, but there’s a fair bit in the film that was made up on the day.
There were so many totally hilarious and completely ridiculous ideas for possible stories for the magazine. Were all of those scripted, or did you guys just throw out a bunch of different ideas that then got edited down?
SWINTON: I do remember throwing out to Vanessa Bayer, “Stop your ginger nonsense,” and I think that’s in the film. That was something that wasn’t written down. But having said all of that, Amy’s script was always such a lean, mean machine with such rich and brilliant one-liners that it was an embarrassment of riches, really.
What was it like to see yourself in this full look, with the hair, make-up, wardrobe and fake tan?
SWINTON: Yes, the Tandoori tan. That’s probably the most heavily disguised I’ve ever been, in my life. Forget The Grand Budapest Hotel or Snowpiercer. And yet, there are women walking around the streets right now, looking like that. It’s a desired look, apparently. It was great fun.
This film is a pretty remarkable introduction for people who have not seen or heard of Amy Schumer. What was your impression of her, and what do you think of her style of comedy?
SWINTON: There aren’t that many people now, especially in the last year, that don’t know who Amy is, and I’m really thrilled about that. She’s always been just waiting to explode. She is one of the most humane comedians that I know. But beyond that, I think she’s a really extraordinary writer. Who knows what she is going to go on to do. She sees things, and then she outs things, as well. But she outs things because she sees things. She’s got her eye on the ball, and she’s definitely on the side of the angels, if you know what I mean. All of that debunking of cynicism is real. I believe she’s a really optimistic and spirited person, but she’s there to turn over old stones and shine a light on it. She’s fearless, in that way.
How exciting is it to be joining the Marvel Cinematic Universe as the Ancient One in Doctor Strange?
SWINTON: I’ve always been a Marvel fan, but I couldn’t quite imagine how I would ever be invited to join it, in any capacity. So, it was a surprise, but at the same time, it was a real no-brainer. The idea playing a character called the Ancient One was very attractive. And I love the Doctor Strange universe. I think it’s a really interesting departure for Marvel. I’m really excited to be a part of it.
Are you doing anything special to get ready for that role?
SWINTON: Not yet. It’s a ways away, and we have yet to figure out exactly how we’re going to pitch the Ancient One. But, I’m really looking forward to it.
How was the experience of working with the Coen brothers on Hail, Caesar!, and who are you playing in that film?
SWINTON: I had worked with them before and they’re friends of mine, so it was just a lovely thing to go back to them. As you may know, it’s a film about Hollywood in the ‘50s, and I play a gossip columnist. It’s going to be a complete blast, that movie. I don’t know when they’re going to be releasing it on the world, but just hold onto your hats for that one. That’s going to be fun.
You’ve also said that you’re going to reunite with your Snowpiercer director, Bong Joon Ho. Do you know what that project will be, or are you waiting to find out?
SWINTON: I do know what it is, but I don’t know that I can tell you yet. I do know what it is, and I do know that we’re making it next year. It is imminent, and it is very exciting. I’m very, very thrilled about that one. Bong is something else. He really is.
Because it seems like you really like to bring something new, different and unique to each character that you play, what do you look for in a script that allows you to feel like you’ll be able to do that?
SWINTON: Funny, I don’t quite know how to answer that. Very often, I’m caught by an idea before the script exists, so it’s not necessarily to do with the script. It’s true that I always tend to work with filmmakers very closely. I started making films with one filmmaking who I worked with for nine years, on seven different films. I’m not really used to that kind of professional model where you get sent a script in the post by somebody you don’t know, and then you make your relationship with the part, and then you sign up, and then you go and do it. I’ve never really worked like that. I tend to be sitting with a friend of mine, in a kitchen somewhere, and we start to talk about a subject, and then we slowly start to imagine that as a project, and then, as that goes on, there will be the question of what I would do in it and if there’s something for me to do in it, and then my role will come out of that conversation. It’s an ass about tip sort of way about going about things. It’s not very professional, but that’s the way in which I tend to work.
Obviously, that’s not true with something like Marvel. I didn’t know the Marvel guys. They just rang me up, out of the blue. It’s very occasionally the case that a script comes to me completely blind, as it were, and if it’s something I feel right about, I’ll do it. It tends to be just something that tickles me, and something that I feel will keep me amused for the duration of the shoot, let alone for a couple of years after it, when I’ll have to talk about it with people like you. It’s just trying to tickle my own amusement, my own imagination and my own curiosity, really. But, the main thing tends to be the people. The people I’m working with tend to be people I know, who are my friends, and I like hanging out with them. There’s nothing better than making a long-term project with your friends. It’s just dreamy. You get to be with them for years on end sometimes. That’s the way I tend to work. I tend to work in a troupe.
Trainwreck opens in theaters on July 17th.