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NPR Arts & Life

Tilda Swinton May Be A Rock Star, But Her New Film Leaves Her Speechless

Tilda Swinton, as Marianne, and Matthias Schoenaerts, as Paul, in <em>A Bigger Splash</em>.
Tilda Swinton, as Marianne, and Matthias Schoenaerts, as Paul, in <em>A Bigger Splash</em>.

A Bigger Splash positively swims with jealousy, intrigue and lust. Set on the rugged Italian island of Pantelleria, the new film features rock star Marianne Lane — played by Tilda Swinton — who's staying there with her lover, Paul. All's well until Marianne's ex, Harry, appears on the scene, full of manic energy and with his nubile young daughter in tow.

Another kink to the proceedings? Marianne's recuperating from surgery on her vocal cords, rendered virtually mute as she tries to recuperate.

It's the fourth film partnership for Swinton and the film's director, Luca Guadagnino. And, as they tell NPR's Melissa Block, the challenge and joy they feel in working together means it certainly won't be their last.

"The process all together, to sound extremely self-serving, just the enjoyment of the work of the process — that's also important," Swinton says. "It's not just about product; it's about the work with your colleagues and with the ideas, and seeing those ideas develop. It's rather like babies get themselves born, you know — films get themselves made, somehow."

Tilda Swinton and Luca Guadagnino on the set of the film.
Jack English / Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Tilda Swinton and Luca Guadagnino on the set of the film.


Interview Highlights

On the decision to have Swinton's character largely silent

Swinton: It was my suggestion, and it was of course Luca's decision. It was like a challenge that I set down in front of him. One of the things that's quite emblematic of our relationship is that we challenge each other and we tend to say yes to each other. It just occurred to me that ... the tension, which is there already, would be ramped up if Marianne couldn't speak.

When Luca first approached me with the idea of being in the film, [Marianne] was quite different. She was an actress, for a start, and she was quite garrulous. And she and Harry — who's the character that Ralph Fiennes plays, who comes and interrupts this idyll that she's in with Paul in this new life — they kind of batted dialogue back and forth between each other.

And I don't know, I was suddenly tempted by the idea of her not being able to speak and imagined what that would do to him. And it certainly ramped him up a bit.

On how Marianne's silence changed Guadagnino's direction

Guadagnino: Well, the first day of shooting, I think, I remember I was watching the monitor, and I saw Tilda's performance in the first take. And I thought, "Oh, my God! This is so vivid and alive." And it reminded me of silent comic actors. And we started to talk about Harpo Marx. ...

The lack of dialogue is not necessarily a lack of action. Actually, the dialogue can be a great contrivance against the action.

Swinton: I would even say that the lack of words doesn't preclude dialogue. You know, you can be in dialogue with someone who's not actually speaking. So that was a real delight to play with.

On their collaboration together, after so many films

Swinton: We both seldom need to make decisions. It's like I'm folding a carpet. You sort of go, "Oh, right — so then this is the next bit. And yes, yes, yes, this is the next bit."

Guadagnino: When we were shooting, I remember I was not telling anything to you after every cut, because I thought it wasn't necessary. Because it's unspoken.

On that time they hijacked an actual rock star's crowd for a scene involving their own fictional rock star — and then didn't sing for them

Swinton: I did feel like a cheat for standing in front of that incredibly kind crowd — by the way, who we were lent by our friend Jovanotti, who's a great rock god in Italy. He lent us these 70,000 fans, who were there for him and had been queueing all day in the heat for him. And then we kind of crept out onto the stage and said, "Can we have your attention for 15 minutes?"

And they were so kind, and they chanted, "Marianne Lane! Marianne Lane!" It did feel very ungenerous not to be able to give them a song. But interestingly enough, the elephant in the room of course is Marianne's voice. It felt important, rather like the shark in Jaws, not to show it.

On Fiennes' memorably spasmodic, two-minute-long dance in the film

Swinton: The fact is that we knew that dance quite well by the time we came to shoot it, because Ralph would be — whenever there was a lull in the proceedings, he would be kind of doing it round the back in the bike sheds. But it was never less than jaw-dropping.

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