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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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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.


Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…


IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.


IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).


IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.


IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.


IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.



IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on and the IFC app.

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