Academy Award winning actress Tilda Swinton has one of the most eclectic careers in show business. She is currently starring in the Italian drama I Am Love (Io Sono L’Amore), in which she gives another magnificent performance … all in Italian.
In the movie she portrays Emma, a Russian emigrant trapped in a loveless marriage to a wealthy Italian industrialist named Tancredi Recchi (Pippo Delbono). When Emma’s son Edoardo (Flavio Parenti) introduces her to his friend, Antonio (Edoardo Gabbriellini), with whom he hopes to open a restaurant, both Emma and Antonio are immediately attracted to each other. But their passionate love affair, which gives Emma the first chance at finding her own identity, escalates into a tragic outcome.
Can you tell us a little about your role of Emma?
She’s aged between 40 and 50, who doesn’t generate wealth or culture. Her husband Tancredi, a rich manufacturer from North Italy, picked her for her beauty, just has he would have chosen a piece of artwork.
Emma is a piece of property; she had children and she fulfilled her role and now she finds herself at the point in her life when the cage, the prison she has been living in, vividly appears before her eye with all its explicit drama.
Emma comes from a cage, Russia, that she left in the pre-Gorbachev era to have access to the free world. And in the free world she locked herself up in another cage, the family and lies.
What was it about Emma that resonated with you?
The role that resonates with me the most, which is in a way my contribution to the narrative of the story, is the daughter’s story (Elisabetta, played by Alba Rohrwacher). Personally, that’s the story that I had the most relationship to, because I grew up in a family that didn’t expect to harbor an artist in its midst, although they’re very tolerate and kind now.
What resonates with me about Emma, personally I would say her quietness, her interior life. In terms of her story, not really that much, she’s someone who has lived a very different life to the life I’ve lived. But the rhythm of her quietness, I was able to access in myself that feeling of being a foreigner. I’ve spent a lot of my life being a foreigner in a country where I’m not particularly fluent in the language, and I just sit quietly at the table and let everybody else talk. That I was able download very easily, that’s something I’m very good at doing.
Doing in a film in a language that’s not your native language, did you think in English or did you think in Italian?
I don’t speak Italian well enough to speak it fluently. The thing about the language question is that I’m very often speaking a language that is not my own. When I’m impersonating an American person I’m not actually speaking in a language that’s my own. 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 English and I very often have to work very hard to translate it into American. My Italian and my American are probably on a par.
How has your life change since winning the Oscar? You seem to be someone who decides what path you want to take.
I almost want you to keep that fantasy in your mind. I don’t want to tell you the truth, which is that I’m absolutely making everything up as I go along. I’m not aware of having a career at all, let alone a career path. I’m aware of having a life, and I’m very invested in my life.
My work is in Europe, and a film like I Am Love, which has taken eleven years to make, it’s a seed that gets planted in the ground and it takes a long time to come up. Meanwhile, I was invited to America to other people’s parties like Tony Gilroy’s Michael Clayton or The Coen Brothers’ film (Burn After Reading), or David Fincher’s film (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button).
I have been so happy to come, and so astonished and happy to be given an Oscar for one of them (Michael Clayton). But frankly, it’s business as usual, and honestly the only thing that’s changed since winning an Oscar is that people now ask me how my life has changed since winning an Oscar!
We went to the Academy Awards like we had been given tickets for the centre court at Wimbledon, but what I didn’t expect was that someone would hand me a racket in the middle of the match. I came home after this experience and checked my e mail in the middle of the night and I had something like 600 e mails, and I went, ‘Right, now I’m beginning to get the point of what an Oscar (means).’
It’s just the most famous prize in the world, and I’m astonished that I should be in the firing line for one (that) I didn’t engage for. I’m really grateful, especially if it helps a film like this.
It seems a certainty that one day you will become a Dame, what would that mean to you?
I would so much rather be a knight. It would be, of course, a great honor to be asked, but as I say, I think ‘Sir Tilda’ sounds so much better.