Tilda Swinton burst onto the scene with her mesmerising performance in Sally Potter's stunning arthouse hit Orlando, and has been dazzling audiences ever since, with a wide variety of roles in films such as Female Perversions, Love Is The Devil, The War Zone and The Beach. Swinton gave her best performance to date in the dark thriller The Deep End, playing an uptight suburban mother thrown into a sea of violence, blackmail and deceit when she discovers the dead body of her gay teenage son's lover. Acting with a fierce determination to protect her son, she doesn't do what you'd expect, and the film leads into dark, old-school melodramatic territory. Tilda Swinton spoke to FILMINK's Pauline Adamek about melodrama, the film's imagery and the lure of the role.
Do you really think of this film as an American Melodrama?
“Yes! But I think the term has come to denote some sort of fakeness, actually. Overblown, laziness or something. Funnily enough, I absolutely saw it as a Mildred Pierce story. I had recently been focusing my attention on Mildred Pierce for various reasons, and as fate would have it, having some meetings with people who were asking me what I was interested in doing. I was jetlagged and saw that Mildred Pierce was on television at three o'clock in the morning, as it always is, even though we all want to see it in the cinema! I'd been thinking why is it that people have stopped making these films when they used to make them by the spade-load and people used to go and thought they were great? So I thought that was a really interesting question, why and when people stopped making them? Strangely – and this is as far as my research has got me so far – it started to dwindle around the time of women's liberation.”
Because of the notion of self-sacrifice...
“Absolutely. Also, and this may be one of the templates of the American post-war melodrama that you are talking about, the constituent parts are these: A woman holding it all together, usually with an absent husband – either she's a widow or he's away somewhere – and having to hold it all together but with a lot to lose. At a certain point it just must have felt impossible not to say, 'Well, why don't you leave and be independent?' I don't know – I'm actually making it up as I go along! I've just started to work it through. The interesting thing, and the reason why I think that it's a radical move to be making a film like this now, is that – and I'm really expecting, quite confidently that this theory will be borne out – this is just a given. It's not actually just about fashion and that things such as women's issues have come full circle and people are going to realise that these things are always going to be the case; women are always going to be the ones holding families together. It doesn't matter what people are actually talking about in the papers. It's a given; the buck stops with the mother.”
What were your first impressions on reading the script?
“I just thought it was wonderful. What can I say? It's more than just a meaty role. I loved it in terms of the story and the trajectory and the leanness and simplicity as well as the complexity of it. I think it's very brave to look at ordinariness in that way and mix it in with a bit of the extraordinary. Maybe that's what we mean when we talk about the melodrama.”
What's your take on the visual metaphors of water?
“Limbo is something I'm very interested in anyway, and on one level that's one thing that attracted me to the script in the first place because it does deal with limbo. On some level it occurs to me that the film is about sacrifice, but Margaret's sacrifice was a long time ago and what she's actually doing is she's surfacing during this crisis. I am beginning to be conscious of this as an idea. She has been sunken at the bottom of the lake for so long and she is beginning to rise to the surface.”
She's almost invigorated by this crisis...
“Absolutely! I was watching it again yesterday, and one of the really pleasurable things about this film, like any piece of work that you're interested in is that, even though you're a part of it, it continues to feed you in some way and you continue to have new ideas about it. When she and Alek Spera are in the car and he tells her that somebody has been found for the murder, she does this extraordinary thing! You're sitting there thinking why is she doing this? I remember when we shot it, talking to the directors Scott McGehee and David Siegel about it, and wondering and wondering and wondering and, for my money, it works so well that we all think, 'what are you doing, this is not logical!' But it's not logical at all. There is something that is drawing her to this drama. She's more expressed in this drama than maybe she's been for years and years. She is really compelled and impelled and attracted to it and she wants it to keep going on some level. That's just a suggestion.”