NY Film Festival: Tilda Swinton Talks Only Lovers Left Alive

Giving entirely new meaning to the notion of being in love forever, Tilda Swinton shakes up both romantic comedy conventions and vampire presumptions, as the centuries long steadfast mate to Tim Hiddleston’s fellow blood lusting introspective recluse, in Jim Jarmusch’s yes, ecological tragedy, Only Lovers Left Alive.

Swinton met with me to sink her teeth into assorted artistic issues surrounding the offbeat love story.

We talked about many things, including undead underpants, cross-generational hematophagous fashion statements, on set call sheets and catering, and rebooting environmentally endangered erotic desire.

So how would you say you’re in love differently, when you’re a vampire?

Tilda Swinton with Tom Hiddleston in Only Lovers Left Alive, by Jim Jarmusch
Tilda Swinton with Tom Hiddleston in Only Lovers Left Alive, by Jim Jarmusch

TILDA SWINTON: They wanted to live. By, you know, any means possible. Um, which is why it’s comical! It’s not a very nice thing to hear!

And you really seem like you’ve lived together forever. Where did you pull that from within yourself?

TS: Um, it is as we say, about surviving things in general. You know life, in general.

But being together in love, even in a long relationship. This one spanning hundreds of years.

Sometimes all our relationships feel like they’ve been going on for hundreds of years! Even if they haven’t been.

But just rebooting one’s connection. Rebooting the reasons to not go out and get a gun!

Or get really depressed and sit in your underpants all day. And do nothing else!

And just that feeling of being there, in support. That was something that Jim, Anton and I talked about for a long time.

You know, before we started shooting. And we were all so clear that what we wanted was a couple who really felt familiar.

And familiar in a way that you do, long after you’ve first been fancying each other. And then just end up in bed for a long time.

And people who have really, really talked constantly about everything.

You know, she says at one point, you love telling me stuff. About all the fancy people you used to know.

That’s one of those things she’s learned to put up with. And love, as well. And we talked about all of that.

And we talked about the texture. And a really, really long friendship. And we also noticed that we hadn’t necessarily seen that.

You know, this is a man and a woman who obviously really fancied each other. Still.

But really, really love talking to each other as well. So we kind of cut that off. By the yard! And laid it down.

What was the big challenge for you, morphing into a vampire?

TS: To have to be really patient, that was the biggest challenge! And simply that it was challenging for us to want to make this film.

And for quite a while. But once we started shooting, as ever, when you’ve been developing something for a while it’s like cream.

How so?

TS: You know, oh wow. There’s a camera. There are colleagues, there’s a schedule with a call sheet. There’s catering!

And it’s just like Christmas every day. But having patience, and pacing our energies for the years.

Jim talking to me about making this film, that was a challenge. And personally, it’s a challenge for me to know that Jim Jarmusch isn’t making a film every year.

Because that’s what I want. And that’s literally the only challenge I can think of.

Talk about your unconventional vampire look.

TS: It was a real leap of the imagination. And to free ourselves from anything that felt tied to any one time.

We were making a bouquet. So we wanted to make it look like they had lived through all of these times.

And if you put too much of one flower in a bouquet, it tends to overwhelm. You just need to smorgasbord all these references.

But for them to never look fashionable. I mean, they are too snobbish to be fashionable. Let’s face it, too snobbish to be snobs!

And Jim was really clear with us. And Bina, the great costume designer, trying to kind of strip all the elements.

And every glove, every jacket, from any contemporary or any remotely fashion reference. Although it had to feel like it could have been at any time.

But I think we all just threw ourselves off the precipice. As usual! And Jim kept us, he was our base line.

There he was, all the time, just reassuring us. Reassuring us, that this is how it has to be.

And we just, as reasonable and intelligent people, trusted him. But it felt that, we didn’t necessarily know this until the moment, and it didn’t dissolve at Cannes.

Or whatever. It was just a romantic risk, that we were all willing to take, I would say. Jim included.

“Only Lovers Left Alive” is featured at the NY Film Festival 2013. More information is online at: filmlinc.com.

Prairie Miller is a New York multimedia journalist online, in print and radio, who reviews movies and conducts in-depth interviews. She can also be heard on WBAI/Pacifica National Radio Network’s Arts Express.