Swinton coolly dazzles. Her pale, translucent skin and strawberry
blonde hair contrast against a chic black dress. Not an imperfection or
flaw mar her skin. There is a Chinese symbol tattoo on her forearm
- is it real or has she been
playing with her kid's stick-ons? She looks exactly the same, except for short-shorn locks, as she did the first time I
interviewed her in 1993. That talk
was about Sally Potter's Orlando and there have been a
dozen projects (Female Perversions, Conceiving Ada, Love
is the Devil, The Beach
and The War Zone among them) in between then and her being here
now for The Deep End, the second film - after a
critically-heralded debut with the surreal thriller Suture - from David Siegel
and Scott McGehee. Swinton also has
another spate of pictures - including Cameron Crowe's
Vanilla Sky and Spike Jonze's Adaptation - in the can or in
the planning stage.
surrounds Swinton in water, hot water, true, but symbolic
of her lonely character's isolated state. The mother of three, Swinton's
Margaret Hall opens the film, her extreme closeup bathed in blue
artificial light and cold steel as
she prepares for a confrontation with her seventeen-year-old
son's thirty-year-old lover. That the lover is another man seems
irrelevent until Margaret is
eventually confronted by a blackmailer's videotape. It reveals a
sexual act involving her child that skins this mother raw. The backdrop
of Margaret's own eruptive sexual
and personal awakening is shadowed by a death,
a cover-up and a journey ending in a lover's meeting that rattles
Margaret's staid family foundation
as well as her dormant, repressed lust.
film is based upon the 1940's noir novel The Blank Wall by Elisabeth
Sanxay Holding and contemporarily mirrors the 1949 Max Ophuls
directed thriller, The Reckless Moment, which starred Joan Bennett
in the pivotal resourceful mother
role and James Mason as her seductive blackmailer.
is a marvel as Margaret, deftly generous in her ability to
present the character's clock-like, internal thought process and ultimate
transformation to the audience. That Goran Visnjic plays Alek, her
blackmailer-turned-salvation doesn't hurt either. The pair share a final scene
that could go down in cinematic annals as both erotic and erratic.
hard-working ethic roots from her collaborative "laboratory"
years with the late gay filmmaker, Derek Jarman, for whom she became
"dearest friend, surrogate
wife, muse," according to Jarman biographer Tony Peake. It
was an education she savors and values, an ingrained way of life that
gave the Scottish, Cambridge
scholar a strong base. Their "marriage" gave the film world The Last of England, War Requiem, The
Garden, Wittgenstein, Blue
and Swinton's award-winning role in Edward II.
says she "can't imagine life without that time because "It's so
days particularly, talking to people in your position I realize
more and more what an extraordinary piece of luck it was," she says.
"It suited me so well and I
wonder if I would even be working in the cinema if I
hadn't met him. I think he made a filmmaker of me and I don't mean he
made a director of me but he made a
filmmaker of everybody he worked with. He wanted your sensibility. He wasn't interested in your skill, and
certainly I am not apprised of
having any skill, he just wanted all of you so that's what I'm in
the habit of providing."
"I do the same with David Siegel and Scott McGehee even though I
haven't known them for eight years
and we haven't drummed up this project around the
kitchen table together. This film was brought to me in a very orthodox
way - it was already funded,
already written and it didn't need messing around
with. But I approached them in the same way as I have anybody else."
also become knowledgeable about the process of filmmaking as well.
I'm aware, more than ever, of what an actor's life is like, though I've
never been very aware of an actor's
life because I don't know any actors and I very
rarely work with them and I'm only learning more about it from people
asking me questions and realizing
the kinds of answers they're used to getting."
says she astonished by actors who don't want "involvement with the
process" and aren't "knowledgeable or interested in the science
of it." "I'm
too much of a scientist to want to be kept away from the smoke and
mirrors aspect of it. I'm used to holding my own light," she
note that she continues to work with people who enforce her credo -
John Maybury, Sally Potter, Lynn Hershman-Leeson - and she interrupts
excitedly, "Absolutely, absolutely. That's my constituency, that's
where I live. In fact, John Maybury
and I are working together again now. We're
developing a "Medea" project together."
ask if motherhood - Swinton has
three-and-a-half year-old twins with her partner, writer John Byrne - has changed the way she gauges
her roles. It's a question that she
ponders momentarily and says, "It's changed me on a molecular basis as it couldn't fail to do."
can't join up the dots really. I work my way through my curiosities
very slowly. I don't choose roles, I choose people, that's always what
I'm going for; dialogue, the
filmmakers and then we can decide on what the
projects are. Typically my interests determine the projects. For example,
I'd only just had my babies when I started to think about Medea,
so I talked to John Maybury and,
you know that's pretty sick to think about Medea after
giving birth, but it's true."
Roth came to me with The War Zone and the reason it was of
interest to me at the time was because I knew I could take something
authentic to the film because I was on the verge of giving birth to twins
and had just given birth when we
shot the film. It was like serendipity. So what I'm interested in at the time affects absolutely what I do.
I'm very lazy and I have a low
boredom threshold and I know myself well enough to know if I
involve myself in something that's not going to engage me for the
duration of the film, not to say
three years later, then it's not for me."
enjoyed working with Siegel and McGehee because they had similar
values. "We worked very closely on how to build up the [visual]
shorthand for the audience, the signs and the signals. We worked closely on
the calibration of the aesthetic
and the frame and therefore the calibration of the
performances. It was important to know what sort of weight was needed so,
yes, we struck deals on the language we were going to be talking."
Much of The Deep End represents a different kind of action picture. Sure, the cerebral Swinton dives and runs but this is quintessentially exhaustive, interiorized action that's antipodean to, say, the externally physical thrashing about in Danny Boyle's more traditional adventure The Beach, in which Swinton played a catalyst role as cult leader, Sal. Was The Deep End, with its tense, internal coil, harder than traversing forests and jungles and seducing the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio?
It's a question that seems to delight Swinton.
"Oh no, no, not at all, no. You know, it's no effort for me at all to think."
fact," she laughs, "this was really great."
Click here to read Cynthia Fuchs' review.