On second thought, don’t. Ever.
She’s too much, and never enough, and she made our week by blazing off the cover of the summer 2012 issue of Candy — “the first fashion magazine completely dedicated to celebrating transvestism, transexuality, crossdressing and androgyny in all their glory” — dressed as what appears to be a gold Rolls Royce hood ornament, subtitled by the words “extra extravagance.” Yes.
Spanish photographer Xevi Muntane and British designer Antony Price cranked up the tint on the 51-year-old actor’s fire-and-ice persona for Luis Venegas’s thick annual publication, which announces itself as “a magazine for everybody” (despite its $95 price tag and limited run of 1,000 copies). Few celebrities truly deserve to be celebrated in this way — to be dressed, framed and then regarded as an icon. Tilda does. Excuse the slobbering, but here are three reasons why:
1) Her roles dance along the razor’s edge. After an early artistic partnership with avant-gardian Derek Jarman, she was able to breach the mainstream without losing her sense of adventure. Her star turns in the past decade comprise a master class in annihilating convention: A prim homebody seduced by crime in the noirish “The Deep End,” a promiscuous alcoholic who flees redemption in the mini-epic “Julia” (on Netflix instant; watch it immediately), a mother who loathes her own child in the lacerating “We Need to Talk about Kevin.” Through her choices (and her partnerships with under-sung female directors), Tilda has redefined “leading lady” as one who leads by instinct, not by box office, popularity or reputation. “Inarticulacy is always more interesting than articulacy,” she said last September during an onstage Q&A at the Telluride Film Festival, referencing the inexplicability of her character in “Kevin” as well as justifying her decades-spanning penchant for androgyny and polymorphy (see her swap genders in “Orlando” and identities in “Teknolust”).
2) Her dedication to her art manifests itself in grunt work. In 2009, while wearing a kilt, she helped lug a 30-ton mobile cinema through the Scottish highlands in order to bring movies to remote areas of her home country. “It’s just mad idea No. 567, and we’re going to have to look for the 568th,” she told The Guardian during a break from pulling. “We’ve got Preston Sturges and Les Blank and all sorts of magical mysteries at the end of this pull, so it’s worth it. You know, it’s easier than just rolling out of bed and putting a DVD in.” Badass.
3) Her coolness fulfills every sense of the word. In 2008 she was disarming and charming while accepting an unexpected Oscar, that most mainstream and discredited of awards, for her performance as an insecure corporate hack in “Michael Clayton.” She routinely insists that she’s not an actress, that she does not want to be a performer, and the stubborn irony of this statement demonstrates a cool purity of intent: She’s not in the movies for her own sake, or for ego. She’s in them for the collaboration, the final product. She is a cinephile who happens to have slipped in front of the camera, a lover of art who becomes a subject or object. She is as much the frame as she is the portrait itself. The sumptuous Italian “I Am Love” (also on Netflix instant) is not so much an epic family drama as a prolonged indulgence of the mysteries and complexities of Tilda’s on-camera presence — a constant attempt to capture and ignite her cool.
If Candy magazine is “a publication that pushes people to take on the persona they’ve always wanted,” then Tilda is its ideal cover girl. She has succeeded and embedded herself in the culture on her own terms, without compromise, and she’s a chameleon who nevertheless retains a firm grasp of a singular vocation: Provocation by evocation, and vice versa, whether it’s through a Hollywood blockbuster like “The Chronicles of Narnia” (in which her White Witch traumatized a generation of children) or a burlesque-esque photo shoot for a transversal magazine.
“If more people were like Tilda Swinton, what a better world this would be,” Roger Ebert wrote from the Toronto Film Festival last September.
An extravagant statement? Yes. But, also, cool truth.
Here’s the trailer for “I Am Love”:
And Tilda accepting the Oscar, and razzing George Clooney:
And a delightful clip from “Teknolust”:
Correction: A previous version of this post misspelled photographer Xevi Muntane’s name.