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The Intoxicating Tilda Swinton

The Intoxicating Tilda Swinton (photo)

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There are certain roles that scream out for a Tilda Swinton. You imagine the British actress playing characters who are sophisticated and wise, or luminous and otherworldly, which means you’d never have guessed she’d be the right choice to lead French filmmaker Erick Zonca’s latest, “Julia.” Being brilliant at what she does, however, Swinton indeed transforms into the titular bar floozy, a barely in control alcoholic who bullshits her way through every selfish, reckless moment of her day. Acting on an addled survivor’s instinct, Julia stumbles down a convoluted rabbit hole of increasingly horrific events, from an unwise scheme to kidnap a neighbor’s eight-year-old son (Aidan Gould) away from his grandfather to an illegal trip into Mexico, where a second kidnapping takes place. It’s a distressing but often thrilling film, Swinton’s nine-volt performance being the charge that powers the whole thing. Sitting down at the Magnolia offices, Swinton and I talked about self-destructive behavior, the shapes she makes and why the new Jarmusch movie has been so divisive.

Julia is such a damaged, out-of-control compulsive. How do you approach playing a character that’s so boldly unlikable?

I just think of all the people I know that she reminds me of, and how much I love them. I seem to know quite a few, and have all my adult life. She feels very familiar to me somehow, I don’t know. She’s boundary-less. She’s despicable, the things she does are so terrifying, and yet… that moment when the maid comes into the hotel room, you don’t want her to be caught, and I think: “Hang on, you upright audience, you law-abiding individuals — why on earth are you rooting for this freak?” It’s because she’s so unguarded and vulnerable, not that she would ever tell you that. She’s so naked, so unprotected and self-destructive that if you are remotely healthy, you long to look after her, or at least be her witness.

You really have friends who resemble Julia?

Don’t you? You’ve never met or hung out with self-destructive addicts, and still loved them, still found them fun, energizing and eventually forgivable? There’s a cliché about addicts in cinema, particularly drunks, that they’re weak. It feels and looks to me like such hard work, being so dedicated to destroying yourself. I remember somebody telling me the most brilliant anti-smoking program that they were on. The guy said to them, “Listen, you know how hard it is to give up smoking? Well, just remember how hard it was to take it up in the first place. You’re 13, you’re around the back of the bike shed, and you’re trying to force yourself to accept the smoke into your lungs, this revolting taste. You start feeling dizzy, you start throwing up, and you go on, you persist.” I thought that was really profound.

One of the things that Zonca, who has a well-developed relationship with alcohol himself, was talking to me about was the pain — that whole thing about the morning after [a night of] binge drinking, having an ache down your arms and legs. I’m not a doctor, so I don’t know whether it’s some meridian line, or just falling over and bruising yourself, but [there’s] that feeling of physical aching all the time. It’s a tough life.

05062009_Julia2.jpgHow much of the on-screen alcoholism came from observation, compared to outside guidance or research? You don’t drink at all, I hear.

I’ve tried, but it doesn’t work. I fall asleep. I’m just wired so differently. But I get high off of other people being drunk. [laughs] Because of my inability to drink, it was like putting a coat on, more external than pulling something from within that I’ve personally experienced, or some part of myself that I’ve micro-dotted and made larger. It was really more observation for me, which is appropriate because Julia is an actress. I’m an actress in this more than I’ve ever been, but I’m literally playing an actress, someone who’s just talking the talk from start to finish. She tells the truth twice in the film. She’s a blabbermouth, basically. She’s faking it. It’s all about denial and lying.

I like this quote from you: “Before ‘Julia,’ I’ve never gone so far outside the shapes that I personally make.”

Yeah, the shapes that I make, and also my wiring. Someone I was talking to today said, “I don’t think I’ve ever heard you so loud.” I’m not a particularly loud person. Some people are naturally. [Julia] makes a lot of noise. Physically, she sits, walks and carries herself differently. She makes different faces. I don’t make faces like that, but for some reason, I don’t know why, they kind of came out of me.

Being wired differently, as you say, do you have any vices?

Nothing but vices! Sure, I’m a mortal human being. What are we calling a vice, something that one’s ashamed of? I’m not big on shame, so maybe I haven’t got any vices. Maybe cinema is my vice. If left to my own de-vices, that’s the word, I would happily sit in bed and watch films pretty much all day. That’s my idea of a lovely holiday.

Does it ever get uncomfortable doing immoral things as Julia in front of a child actor?

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SO EXCITED!!!

Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”

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IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?


Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!


Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.


Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 

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IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.

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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.