Audio/Q&A: Tilda Swinton is not your average vampire in 'Only Lovers Left Alive'

(Sandro Kopp / )
April 16, 2014|Matt Pais, @mattpais | RedEye movie critic

Many people think Tilda Swinton is strange.

By phone, the "Only Lovers Left Alive" star both saluted that perception ("It's ridiculous and hilarious ... it means I can pass unnoticed, and I'm thrilled") and offered three things she thinks are strange:

1. "The strangest part I ever played was that of a corporate lawyer [in "Michael Clayton," for which she won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar]. That was pretty exotic. That felt like a magical beast, and it's strange to imagine that those people actually do exist."

2. That people eat pork belly. "I've just never gone there. I've tried to go there, but I've always refused at that fence. One day someone will make pork belly in such a way that I will find it delicious. So far it's outside of my zone."

3. Willful cruelty and unkindness.

In other words, even if you think Swinton ("The Chronicles of Narnia," "We Need to Talk About Kevin") is odd, you also should think she's awesome. In director Jim Jarmusch's ("Broken Flowers") "Only Lovers Left Alive," opening Friday, the 53-year-old actress plays Eve, a several-thousand-years-old vampire married to Adam (Tom Hiddleston), a much-younger vampire. As in, he's only some 500 years old.

Do you have any sense of something you’d like to do in Chicago if you actually had time to spend here?

The last thing I did in Chicago was I went to the Chicago Art Institute. There’s a really great Sargent painting there of my great-grandmother. Isn’t that an amazing thing to be able to say? And the last time I was in Chicago I was in between two flights and I left the airport and came in and went to the Art Institute, saw the painting and then went back to the airport. It was kind of insane. That was the last thing I did in Chicago ... Anybody who feels like going to the Art Institute to see a painting of Mrs. George Swinton, who's a really great-looking woman in a fabulous dress, go and do it! You will not be cheated.

When you were there did you look around to the other people in the room and say, “That's my great-grandmother”?

I had a huge sign saying "That’s my great-grandmother" hung around my neck. Nobody noticed. Everybody else was doing the same with other paintings.

In “Only Lovers Left Alive,” Adam and Eve are both very old, but it seems like they're still excusive to each other. If everyone was immortal--or as close to immortal as they can get--what do you think would happen to monogamy?

Well, if you find someone that you really, really like and you really dig, who's really interesting to you, why would you ever go off them? Especially if they're really different from you. I think there's something really great in this film about the fact that Adam and Eve are just so different and so interested by each other. That's why it keeps going. And so of course they do live slightly in different places [Laughs] so they never get sick of each other. Maybe that's got something to do with it. Why would you ever run out of ideas if you like someone that much?

That sounds beautiful, but don't you think that's easier said than done? When couples get it right they get it right, but so many out there have trouble staying together a couple years, much less a thousand years.

Yeah, I suppose. I don't know. I think there's one thing that people are very often tricked into which is this idea that you get together and you have to edit yourself, so that if you like salsa dancing and your sweetheart doesn't like salsa dancing, then you give it up because they don't like it. Sooner or later you’re going to mind that thing; you're going to want to do it. I love the idea that people come together, they really like each other, they like each other for what they are and they don't try to edit each other. They just support each other and keep each other company while they are themselves. I know it sounds ideal, but it's a pretty good formula I would suggest. And if you do live forever there's no particular reason why that formula would ever run out of steam I don't think.
How do you imagine that they met? How did this relationship get started?

Oh, that's so great. I have no idea. I think we can all imagine all sorts of different scenarios. They’ve been married I think four times. In the photograph she finds in his apartment is their fourth wedding. I have no idea. Just fantasize away on how they met.

I was trying to find some corollary with now and how people perceive relationships between people of different ages. When you start to think of someone who is six times your age (500 vs. 3,000), I think that goes beyond cougar into some kind of animal that might not exist.

Oh, yeah. Way beyond unicorn I would say.

Both of them are to varying degrees depressed about human progress or lack thereof. What would impress a vampire? What would people have to do to make Adam and Eve turn that frown upside down?

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