Tilda Swinton talks to Jason Wood (Curzon Director of Programming) about her collaboration with Lynne Ramsay on an adaptation of Lionel Shriver’s We Need to Talk About Kevin
Jason Wood: You had been talking to Lynne Ramsay about collaborating on an adaptation of Lionel Shriver’s novel for some time. Why did the novel interest you?
Tilda Swinton: I never quite know if I’d have been as interested in the book were I not a mother when I read it, but let’s just say I would have been. The thing that struck me as clear is that Lionel Shriver is looking at what is unsayable or unsaid about the realities of the maternal instinct not being inevitable. That was always going to be of interest to me because Eva is entering a molten territory of people not knowing how to be people and mothers not knowing how to be mothers.
I had had children by the time I read the novel and I was aware of two things the moment I had them. The first was how much I was into them the moment I saw them, and the second was how I was suddenly aware of how it might have gone a different way. That was striking to me. Before having children it had never occurred to me that I might have felt differently, but I was filled with a gratitude that the chemical reaction was happening for me. When I read the book I realised that Eva had articulated her instinct about this, not even her experience, which is another reason why it is so impressive.
Jason Wood: The film’s primary concern is less on the tragic events that unfold in the story than the subject of disconnected parenting.
Tilda Swinton: That is exactly what the film is about. The fact of what Kevin becomes is not the horrific point of this story at all. There are worse horrors at the heart of this film. For me, the violence is more in Eva’s incapacity to meet Kevin or to engage with him. Very little physical violence appears in this film. There’s hardly any blood. What you actually see is absence; an absence of engagement, an absence of reassurance, an absence of feeling and that is perhaps the most violent thing of all.
Jason Wood: Eva put her talent and ambition on hold to have a connection with Kevin. I’m not sure that I’d describe her as resentful but do you see this as the source of the blockade between Eva and Kevin?
Tilda Swinton: I would put your point more sharply. She still is talented and ambitious and she is kyboshed by this pregnancy and her denial of the sacrifice that parenthood inevitably brings about is absolute. Eva is in a major sulk about it and her feelings in this regard are violent. She is in denial about it and Kevin picks this up. How could he not? Eva is faking it. Franklin is too. At one point Lynne and I were fantasising about alternative titles for the film when we didn’t want to call it the name of the book and we fantasised about calling it Performance. There is of course already a great film of the title and in many ways both films are about fakery and façade. Franklin constantly adopts a “Hey buddy” school of fatherhood, which must be infuriating. Eva is doing an “I want to be in France but I’m not going to tell anybody” act and so it’s actually very hard not to sympathise with Kevin. He’s super- bright. How could he not notice any of this?
Jason Wood: In an interview from Cannes, Ezra Miller spoke of Franklin’s refusal to acknowledge the darkness as being the core of the problem.
Tilda Swinton: This must be even more disturbing for Kevin than the behaviour of his mother. As the testosterone holder in the household Franklin is really dropping the ball. You can take it even further and this perhaps refers more to the book than it does to the film but you can look at what Lionel Shriver has to say about society and Bush-era American society and particularly the privileged milieu society this family exists within. Another fantasy title for me was Peacetime because we are all supposed to be living in this era of peace and look at what has just happened in Norway.
Jason Wood: From Derek Jarman through to, Sally Potter, Bela Tarr, Jim Jarmusch and Luca Guadagnino you have acquired a reputation as an artist who seeks out collaborators with distinct and unique visions. Is it important to you to remain inspired and challenged by the directors and material with which you work?
Tilda Swinton: I honestly don’t know how else to do it. It’s a habit that I got right from the beginning from working with Derek and that’s what I’m in it for. I’m not in it for anything else. No other game is worth the candle. You have to remember that I wasn’t a trained performer and I have been very fortunate to go on and have these collaborators and forge these collaborations. They have kept me going. I tend to think of the collaborations as conversations and after what was a very fruitful, nine-year conversation with Derek Jarman I set myself a tough act to follow. I feel very fortunate to have had these conversations with so many gifted filmmakers.
Jason Wood: You have also used your increasing stature to act as a producer for films including Thumbsucker and I Am Love. Do you feel it’s important to enable new voices in cinema to be heard?
Tilda Swinton: To be honest with you this is what I have always done. To all intents and purposes I have co-produced. I certainly did it with Derek’s films and Sally Potter and I developed Orlando together over a period of five years. It’s only in the last few years that it made sense to put my name out there publicly. I’m not particularly interested in having my name put out there publicly as a producer but it’s just being honest about what I am doing, especially with something like I Am Love which was developed over a decade long period. It’s also interesting of course for the purposes of my bank manager so that he doesn’t think that I am trying to pull the wool over his eyes when I ask to re-mortgage.
With thanks to Curzon Cinemas
We Need to Talk About Kevin screens at Cornerhouse with an exclusive preview on Thu 20 October at 20:20. On general release from Fri 21 October