In a field fairly crowded with talented actors with chameleon-like abilities, few have the skills to so physically inhabit their roles like Tilda Swinton — a gift she uses to great effect in a new movie.
In the genre-bending thriller Snowpiercer, the Oscar winner — wearing an impressive set of false chompers — plays a no-nonsense bureaucrat on a massive globe-spanning train that carries the only survivors of a world plunged into a new ice age.
Yahoo Movies recently sat down with Swinton to talk about her work on Snowpiercer and the fun she has playing a wide range of roles.
How much fun did you have crafting your look for this film?
So much. It was like an epiphany, really. I met with director Bong [Joon-ho] and we became friends and we knew we wanted to work together. He sent me the script and I read it and said, “Well there really isn’t anything in this one for me, is there? Next one, we’ll work together.” And then he wrote to me a few weeks later and said, “Now here’s a crazy idea, what about that Minister Mason?” — who still is written as a mild-mannered man in a suit. So I chewed it for awhile and we played with it and it was such a thrill. It came really naturally, really quickly. It started with the idea, I really wanted this sinister portrait of our politicians to also be a clown, apart from the fact that I think it’s quite realistic, I think we’re constantly bombarded by images of people in power who are ludicrous, that seem to have really lost the plot in terms of chewing the scenery.
How much practice did you need with the false teeth?
Practice? I was saying to Bong that we should have put a set of teeth in the press kit for everybody to try on, just to see how easy it is. You just put in the teeth and you’ll talk like [Mason]. I thought of a moneymaking drive, we should sell them for Halloween. Mason’s for Halloween!
Do you always like to collaborate with the look and costume?
The look is, as far as I’m concerned, my only bit of work. I like to do that and then not work at all — to just play. So that’s a huge part of it: just dressing up and playing.
Swinton walks us through some of her most memorable characters and recalls their distinctive looks:
For this wig, we didn’t even use any glue — it was a hat and some glasses and some teeth and a false nose. I always wanted to play a character with a nose up like this. When we first started playing, I put a piece of cellophane tape on my nose. That was the most sophisticated part.
Eve, Only Lovers Left Alive
I didn’t [get to keep the dress] but it’s gorgeous. It was something [director Jim Jarmusch and I] cooked up over so many years that it became natural.
Karen Crowder, Michael Clayton
Isn’t that horrendous? Oh no, it really is, I love it. And that hair. Amazing. It was like a helmet.
White Witch, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
That’s chain mail — when you swirled around, it was really heavy. [The headdress] was also heavy and I actually lost a little patch of hair where they put it on, but it was worth it.
Madame D, The Grand Budapest Hotel
That was long but it was super-worth it — about seven hours [of makeup]. The fake ear lobes meant that I could have pierced ears.
The wonderful thing about that was that these [wings] were CGI and they kept saying ‘Wings, you will have wings!’ And I did. Very happy about that.
Oh God, I haven’t seen that the photo is out. Oh, it’s such a shame, that the film is not going to be out for year. The tan is not an expected way to go. I was shooting three days ago and there are still bits of it you can see [on me] Amy Schumer said to me that whenever she smells fake tan again, she’s going to think of me. Which is not a sentence I ever thought anyone would say — but yeah, lot of fake tan. It’s still on the backs of my feet.
Photos: AP, Radius TWC, Everett, Fox Searchlight, Splash