Tilda Swinton Talks SNOWPIERCER, Creating Her Outrageous Character, Playing a Character Originally Written as a Man & the Film’s International Production

     June 23, 2014


From director Bong Joon Ho and adapted from the French graphic novel “Le Transperceneige,” Snowpiercer tells the story of what happens after Earth has been frozen for 17 years, making the planet uninhabitable, and the few who are still alive are separated by class and now live aboard a train that perpetually circles the world.  When a young leader (Chris Evans) from the slum-like tail section decides to start a riot, his fellow passengers charge toward the engine located at the front of the train, where they seek to gain absolute authority.

At the film’s press day, actress Tilda Swinton (who plays the very memorable Minister Mason) talked about playing a character that was originally envisioned as a man, the process of creating such an outrageous character, how much freedom she had in putting together the look, why she wanted the teeth and nose, the experience of working on such an international production, and why she enjoys playing such visually dynamic characters.  She also talked about how she’s been shooting the comedy Trainwreck, directed by Judd Apatow and written by Amy Schumer, which is set to open in theaters in summer 2015.  Check out what she had to say after the jump.

SNOWPIERCER-Tilda-SwintonQuestion:  Where did you begin, in creating a character as outrageous as this one?

TILDA SWINTON:  Well, this was really good fun.  I knew director Bong, and he told me about Snowpiercer.  And then, when I read it,  I said, “There is no one.  There is Octavia Spencer and the woman with the yellow dress, and there is nobody else.”  He said, “Yeah, it’s true.  Let’s think about something in the future.”  And then, a few weeks later, he wrote to me and said, “You see Minister Mason, who is described as a mild-mannered man in a suit?”  And it is still described that way.  We never updated it.  He said, “What do you reckon?”  And so, I thought, “Okay, how much fun can I have with it?”  And he basically said, “Try me.”  So, we just built up a clown.  I wanted to make a clown out of this politician who is this really sinister, corrupt individual.  Apart from the fact that I think there are so many wonderfully corrupt clowns in cinema, from Dr Strangelove to The Great Dictator, in life, you switch on the news and there will be someone posturing and making an idiot of themselves.  People vote them in because they want a soap opera.  So, that was really the key.  We tried to push it as far as we could.

Did the science fiction element of the story loosen up the parameters of how satirical you could be?  Would it have it been harder to play a clown politician in a more straightforward narrative?

SWINTON:  Oh, no, I think you could play a clown politician and be super documentary with it.

How much freedom was there for you to play your character, from your costume to the dentures to the way you talked? 

SNOWPIERCER-Chris-Evans-Tilda-Swinton-Octavia-SpencerSWINTON:  It is very interesting to try to analyze how director Bong and I were able to work together, because it feels as if we made every decision together, from the very beginning, when we first met.  We became friends instantly, and we knew we wanted to work together.  And then, when we decided to try to make something out of Minister Mason, which was director Bong’s idea, it was a challenge.  He put down a glove and we dared each other.  I had these fantasies of this clown, which was originally based on one photograph that we found of a museum lady who was a real person from my childhood.  And then, we kind mixed in all of the crazy clown megalomaniac cowards that the news channels show us, every day.  We just kept throwing in elements. 

The wonderful thing is that director Bong and our wonderful costume designer (Catherine George) came to visit me in Scotland, and we had a pie for lunch.  I picked them up at the airport, put the pie in the oven and said, “Okay we have 20 minutes before the pie is warm.”  We went into the drawing room and played dress-up with bits of children’s costumes and ribbons, and we made fake medals and had some glasses.  We got it in 20 minutes, and then we ate the pie.  It was so wonderful.  We played with these ideas, like the fantastic pendulist breasts, and when I arrived in Prague, there they were.  And Jamie Bell loved wearing them, of course.  Our crew picture involves Jamie Bell wearing Mason’s breasts.

Beyond being a fun thing for you to use, as an actor, was there also meaning that you wanted to invest with the teeth?

SWINTON:  I don’t know.  There is always meaning with teeth, isn’t there?  I am sure a Freudian will tell us what it all meant.  They were, as with the breast and the wig that we never glued down, just part of the package.  It is really tricky to work out how it all happened.  It just all came about, and the teeth were always going to be there.  The nose was one of the first things.  I always wanted to play a character with a nose.  When we were waiting for the pie to warm, I went and got some tape, and we taped my nose up like that.

Working on such an international production, what was the most interesting discovery for you, on set?

snowpiercer-poster-tilda-swintonSWINTON:  As on most really inspired sets, we were in the nation of cinema.  I think most filmmakers really love the fact that when you are on a set that is really hopping and really humming, everybody is in that nation, and it is really nation free.  But, we had pretty international catering.  We were in Prague, in the Czech Republic, and there were a lot of Czech people around, as well as a fair few Korean people and some Scottish people.  We did have Kimchi at catering.

How is it to able to play these very visually dynamic and chameleonic characters?

SWINTON:  For me, it is all about dressing up.  That is the fun of it, which does not mean that it is not interesting to work with a finer tooth comb on something more delicate, like I Am Love or even Orlando, where I am using a face that looks more like my own.  But, I do love making shapes.  That’s what I do.  It is such fun.  Also, I do my work before we start shooting.  If I do my work, when we start shooting, I can play.

What is next for you? 

SWINTON:  I have just been shooting with Judd Apatow and Amy Schumer for a film that’s, funnily enough, called Trainwreck.  That will probably come out next, I imagine, but not till next summer.

Snowpiercer opens in theaters on June 27th.

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