In the little-seen 2008 feature “Julia” the Scottish born actress plays a boozy self-absorbed party girl with the manners and morals of an alley cat and yet her character can’t help but feel a grudging responsibility and affection for the young male victim of a kidnapping she helped orchestrate. Julia may be a brash, crude and unsympathetic character but Ms. Swinton embraces her whole-heartedly (and delivers her lines in a faultless American accent.) Because when this actress commits to a role she does it mind, body and soul. Hard to realize this is the same woman who plays a regal Milanese society matron in the 2009 Italian language feature “I Am Love”. The role calls for her not only to speak all her lines in Italian but to speak the language with a Russian accent! In 1992’s cult film hit “Orlando” she plays a character who changes from an effeminate young man into a desirable woman and plays both genders naturally and believably. And yet, in an interview with Ms. Swinton, included as an extra on the “We Need to Talk to Kevin” DVD, she reacts to the obvious adoration of interviewer Hilton Als (and that of the live audience) with bemusement … as if her awe-inspiring abilities are no big deal. She seems oblivious to the lure of big Hollywood paychecks and star treatment that have seduced many a talented British performer before her. (The majority of her film work seems to be in independent features.) Her one criterion is that the role is interesting to her. She seems to sense instinctively what she can bring to it.
Y’know, this post started off as a review of her latest feature (on DVD) “We Need to Talk About Kevin”. Sorry. I got sidetracked. And if you are as much in awe of Ms. Swinton’s abilities as I am you will understand. I’ll tackle “Kevin” again in a future post. Till then, rent/download any of the above films and/or watch her in “Young Adam”, “Broken Flowers”, the first Chronicles of Narnia film (Ms. Swinton plays the White Witch as only she can) ….
and her Oscar-winning role in “Michael Clayton” (to name just a few of the films she has enriched with her chameleonic talents.)