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Tilda Swinton’s Love to Offer

Tilda Swinton’s Love to Offer (photo)

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If Tilda Swinton didn’t already exist, a novelist with a truly Baroque imagination would have to invent her. She’s a true original, a mercurial medley of unlikely traits. Nearly six feet tall, with the androgynous allure of a changeling and a fondness for David Bowie-style hairdos, she’s sometimes taken for a man. She’s descended from a posh Scottish family that can trace its roots back to the 9th century and went to school with Princess Diana. At the same, Swinton’s sympathies are markedly left-wing.

A fiercely talented fixture of indie cinema, she’s notorious for choosing gender-bending roles. In the soon-to-be-reissued “Orlando,” she channeled an Elizabethan nobleman who morphs into a woman, and in “Constantine,” played the archangel Gabriel. In “Julia,” the chameleonic actress played a boozer who tested the sympathy of many viewers. With an aristocrat’s disdain, Swinton is less interested in standard notions of success than in personal artistic challenges. Yet she’s also found fame in Hollywood as the White Witch in the “Narnia” movies; and snagged an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in “Michael Clayton,” which, in typical Swinton style, she gave to her agent.

The super-articulate, Cambridge-educated actress has also explored installation art and cutting edge fashion. To further confound observers, Swinton has expressed a desire to give acting the heave to pursue her ambitions as a writer. Not surprisingly, in her personal life, she’s flouted convention, too, spurring gossip in her hometown of Nairn in the Highlands about a ménage à trois. Scottish writer John Byrne is the father of Swinton’s 12-year-old twins Xavier and Honor, while she’s romantically linked to painter Sandro Kopp, 18 years her junior, with whom she travels when filming.

06182010_IAmLove11.jpgIn the ravishing “I Am Love,” which Swinton co-produced with director Luca Guadagnino, she adds a richly drawn new figure to her portraits of women engaged in recalibrating their identity. The film foregrounds Swinton as Emma Recchi, a Russian-born Milanese matron married to an über-rich industrialist who lives in apparent contentment in a sumptuous Deco palazzo. A mother of three who’s devoted herself to the happiness of others, Emma’s life is thrown off balance when the family patriarch passes the reins of the business to her husband and eldest son. Then Emma’s daughter comes out to her, opening her eyes to possibilities of love she’s never considered. When Emma falls for Antonio, a charismatic young chef and close friend of her eldest son, their passionate affair unleashes a domestic tragedy. She recently spoke to me about the film, the power of love and her love life in real life. [Spoilers follow]

Is there a unifying theme to the film roles you take on?

The thread between everything I do is an interest in transformation. The characters have the opportunity to metamorphose into something else. In “Orlando,” he changes gender and lives for four centuries. In “I Am Love,” Emma changes from the wife of a super-wealthy industrialist to a woman who lives for love. “We Need to Talk About Kevin” [her forthcoming film with “Ratcatcher” director Lynne Ramsay] is another installment in these Euripidean, Greek-tragic mother stories. I’m interested in the whole predicament around motherhood and the place that a woman finds herself in when she’s encountering and negotiating the maternal instinct.

06182010_iamlove45.jpgWhich aspect of the character of Emma did you respond to on the most visceral level and which aspects of yourself did you draw on?

You see, I so don’t work that way. This is revealing, that I don’t work like a real actor. I don’t draw things out of myself or get viscerally involved, to be honest. We wanted to tell a story about someone who had a really developed inner life but didn’t have much company. And we were drawing on fantasies of silent cinema and classic cinema and also the kind of classic novel — Tolstoy, Flaubert — where you have a female protagonist who is very often a mother, who has given a whole part of her life to loving and supporting other people, but hasn’t necessarily been paying much attention to herself.

We wanted this person to be very interior, very quiet, not very verbal, not particularly communicative. Self-sufficient, but unawoken. She’s not suppressed or repressed or anything, but not really fully alive when we first meet her. Though she’d certainly say she’s content. She lives a life that she’s pretty settled into. We wanted to look at a woman re-approaching the idea of being not just a mother.

Were you thinking of Madame de Rênal in “The Red and the Black?”

I don’t know “The Red and the Black,” I’m glad you thought of it. We were thinking of Emma in “Madame Bovary,” “Buddenbrooks,” “Anna Karenina,” and of so many women in cinema who have the sense of untapped inner life.

06182010_IAmLove12.jpgThe film’s mystifying final shot, which appears while the credits are still rolling, shows Emma and Antonio in a cave, suggesting a further development in their life. Is there any way to explain that?

No. It’s not there to be explained. It’s not there even to invite explanation. It’s entirely a gift to the audience, like a little goody bag for the audience to go home with.

On some level, “I Am Love” seems to be a fantasy. As a viewer, it’s hard not to fantasize about where this romance can possibly go, considering all Emma has given up and the big age difference between her and Antonio.

You’re absolutely right; it’s a fantasy. It’s a fairy story, in fact, as much a fable as “Beauty and the Beast” by Cocteau. But it’s not about happily-ever-after. It’s about awakening and transformation. Yes, we see them in the cave. But it’s entirely up to everybody to decide whether the cave is in the present tense, or whether it’s a memory or a fantasy. What we do know is that this part of Emma’s life comes to a close and she either leaves the house or disappears.

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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