Tilda Swinton and Joanna Hogg have been sisters in cinema for 50 years

Tilda Swinton and Joanna Hogg have been sisters in cinema for 50 years

Kindred spirits since childhood, actor Tilda Swinton and writer-director Joanna Hogg have over the years realized their long-standing desire to collaborate on feature films.

Their latest joint creative effort, “The Eternal Daughter,” in theaters and VOD Friday, is a haunting ghost story about a mother and daughter — both played by Swinton — grappling with their past and present inside the walls of an empty hotel. exposes prejudices.

That Swinton and Hogg both have a clear memory of when they first met as pupils at West Heath Girls’ School in 1971 is no surprise given the importance this friendship held for them. Both were placed in the same hostel and magic happened.

“We looked across the room, and there we were. That was it. We haven’t really moved on since then,” Swinton told The Times in a recent video call. “I was 10 and Joanna Was 11 years old.”

For Hogg, who thinks of Swinton as a “soul mate” in life and art, there was comfort in having a colleague at a boarding school that didn’t quite welcome her personality. However, in the early years of this inseparable union, no one could see cinema as a shared path.

Swinton explained, “Even though we never talked about being storytellers when we were kids, we had this bond as observers.” “We were estranged from both the school we were in and the groups we wanted to be a part of.”

After leaving West Heath, Swinton and Hogg went their separate ways into young adulthood. The former attended the University of Cambridge to study social and political science, while Hogg first worked as a photographer’s assistant before gaining acceptance at the National Film and Television School near London.

Although they always kept in touch, it was Hogg’s 1986 thesis film “Caprice” that gave them their first foray into artistic partnership. Swinton had acted in stage plays in college, but the student production marked her first time in front of a camera.

Tilda Swinton, left, and director Joanna Hogg.

(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

“All roads begin with Joanna,” said Oscar-winner Swinton. “The connection and trust with them gave me the drug to work closely with filmmakers.”

“Caprice” follows an everyday girl, Lucky (Swinton), on a labyrinthine adventure inside the pages of a fashion magazine. “It felt like we were making ‘New York, New York,'” recalled Swinton, who was impressed by Hogg’s ambition even as a rising talent. Thematically, the whimsical brief is closely related to the lives of both novice composers.

“Even if it sounds like a total fantasy, it was really based on feelings of insecurity that we both felt at the time, maybe in different ways, about looking a certain way and Hogg said on the same video call about the pressure to be a certain way as a young woman.

Hogg’s intimate epic “The Souvenir Part II” features an explicit homage to “Caprice”.

Swinton worked extensively with the late filmmaker Derek Jarman until she moved to London in the late 1990s to raise her children in the north of Scotland. Meanwhile, Hogg cut his directorial teeth on British television. For several years, as their personal lives and respective careers inevitably took their course, they didn’t see much of each other.

Swinton said, “I assumed we would work together at some point, but I didn’t know how and when, it was less clear.” “But I believed.”

“Unrelated,” Hogg’s first film, starring then-newcomer Tom Hiddleston, premiered in 2007—the same year as “Michael Clayton,” the acclaimed thriller for which Swinton won the Academy Award for Supporting Actress. The Chameleon actress remembers a burning sense of pride knowing that her friend had emerged on the film scene.

“It was so sharp and so painful, and the temperature of it was so unique, clearly the birth of a new voice in cinema as we now know it,” Swinton said. ,[‘Unrelated’] A masterpiece for me.

As Hogg honed her craft with “Archipelago” and “Exhibition”, she admits that for a long time she hesitated to inquire about Swinton’s interest in one of her projects.

“Tilda was doing huge movies, and I was doing really small movies. I sometimes thought, ‘Oh my God, how would Tilda do in my little band of non-actors? Would her presence be too strong and someone kind of balance this thing out?” Hogg expressed.

“That was a misunderstanding on your part,” Swinton said to Hogg, “because [independent cinema] I also had a home patch. I went on an adventure following a trail through the woods in all kinds of places like Hollywood. But I always longed to get it back.

Aside from this period, two of Hogg’s favorite Swinton performances are present in “Julia”, a portrait of an alcoholic, and her hilarious turn in “Burn After Reading”. Of the many ventures the two hope to tackle together in the future, a comedy ranks high on the list.

The long-awaited opportunity for cinematic dialogue finally materialized with Hogg’s semi-autobiographical, two-part masterwork: “The Souvenir” and “The Souvenir Part II.”

In both chapters, Swinton embodies an upper-class, white-haired woman named Rosalind, who is an avatar for Hogg’s mother. The story, however, focuses on Julie, a self-conscious film student in the 1980s. The first installment finds her involved in a self-destructive love affair, from which she recovers in the second piece as she also asserts her artistic sensibilities.

When we discussed “The Souvenir,” a curious Swinton asked Hogg why she overcame her nervousness about the actor coming back to a humble production and offered her the role of Rosalind. “You knew the story in a very personal way,” replied Hogg.

In return, Swinton gave the task a chance to, as she put it, “do her own cuddling.”

“Playing a woman like Rosalind is a very personal business for me, because I am the daughter of a woman like her. It’s an opportunity to marry, imagine, and try to figure out my relationship with her,” Swinton explained. . “It’s much more than just a part in a movie, even a part in a movie of a friend who is very close to her mother.”

Aware of Hogg’s fruitless search for an uneducated young woman without formal acting training to bring Julie to life, Swinton, against her maternal concerns about bringing her children into his profession, raised her own daughter, Honor. Swinton Byrne, then 19 and about to travel, suggested. As an ideal candidate to be a volunteer teacher in Africa.

Although Hogg initially hesitated to cast the teenager, the end result validated Swinton’s offer. As if the meta layers derived from Swinton not only playing mother and daughter onscreen, but characters inspired by Hogg and her own mother weren’t complicated enough, the director and Swinton Byrne also share a deeply personal bond.

“I wasn’t godmother from his birth,” said Hogg. “I was chosen by Honor to be her godmother when she was an adult.”

Interestingly, Hogg did not make a direct stand-in for Swinton in the “Souvenir” films. In the fiction, Julie has a lot of acquaintances but not a close confidant which really shows how supportive Hogg and Swinton were to each other at that age.

“I wasn’t trying to get to the essence of our friendship because that would have been a movie in itself,” said Hogg. “The relationship that was so unique and so special between Tilda and me, I could not begin to try to portray that.”

A spiritual continuation of the “Souvenir” films, “The Eternal Daughter” brings back Julie, now grown up, and Rosalind. Neither Hogg nor Swinton could let them go, especially Rosalind. They were mutually invested in furthering her inner life.

In Hogg’s account, it was Swinton who suggested she could play both characters. And although the artist isn’t sure who brought it up first, he agrees that such a proposal came to pass only because of their creative synchronicity.

“It might sound like a flippant thing to say, but to me the decision to be in both Rosalind and Julie’s is such an absurd idea in the first place, the fact that we both stepped into it, into a sandbox. It was like having two kids,” Swinton said with a smile.

Two women hugging and looking down, in front of a blue background

Tilda Swinton, left, and director Joanna Hogg.

(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

Despite being conceived as a “souvenir” duet, the production of “The Eternal Daughter” had a sense of newness as Hogg was trying his hand at the genre, and the subject matter provided room for catharsis. Through the process of making, and deepening their brotherly love, Hogg and Swinton cope with the death of their mothers.

“When we were shooting it we both expressed that it felt like our first film together. And that statement is very deep,” said Swinton. “Joanna and I are starting ours. We have been moving towards it very slowly for 50 years.

Their mutual understanding is based on wide-ranging discussions, ranging from the philosophical to the mundane, which are constantly revisited. “It’s not like we’ve moved on to new topics,” Swinton said. “We’ve been talking about our moms and our relationships with our moms and our moms’ secrets since we were 10 and 11.”

But talking about ideas quickly proves insufficient. They must be incarnated and explored through storytelling in search of a revelation, primarily for one’s own knowledge.

“The fact that other people might be interested is, I’m ashamed to say, a bit secondary in importance,” Swinton said. “It is the fact that it can enlighten us and increase our understanding and our reflective life.”

Impressed by his friend’s unorthodox narrative strategy to reach his desired emotional destination, Swinton describes Hogg’s nuanced approach, which is difficult for the director himself to articulate, as in drawing a portrait of a person. It is said. Hogg provides a broad outline for the story, yet does not set rigid expectations for the dialogue.

There is no memorization of lines or mannerisms, but an active search for the character’s personality and voice within the actor on set. Swinton thinks this is why Rosalind’s presence feels lived-in.

“It’s about uncovering and recognising, but that can only be done in the moment we’re working. And so I can’t capture it in writing,” Hogg explained. “It has to be done live, at that moment I am all ears and eyes.”

When asked whether a gap exists between the professional and the personal, the pair agreed that many of the aspects they play in each other’s worlds are now completely entwined.

Swinton said, “You can either say that the working relationship is based on kinship or that the kinship is also nurtured by work.” “If for some crazy reason we weren’t able to work together, I know we’d keep having these conversations.”

Hogg said, “The way we’ve worked on these three films together, I can’t separate the two.” “It’s all a conversation. It’s all a relationship.

Both Hogg and Swinton believe that casting sisters in cinema for more than half a century came naturally from the material of their shared experiences. And though they appreciate how miraculous it has been to encounter a lifelong partner, neither of them is ready to give in to nostalgia. Even if a movie about their dreadful days at boarding school is off the table, they have plans to turn their ongoing conversations into engaging scenes.

Hogg said, “Maybe when we’re in our 90s, we’ll look back and say, ‘How incredible it is that all these things co-exist and have so much in common in our lives.'” “But right now we are looking forward, if anything, but not looking back.”

“We’re making up for lost time,” Swinton said.

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