Women's Impact Report: Defying Convention

At an age, 47, when most actresses are idling and struggling to find regular work, Tilda Swinton and her career are hitting turbo-drive. The longtime indie maven, who made eight films with the late Derek Jarman, won the Oscar for her nuanced portrayal of an amoral corporate lawyer in “Michael Clayton,” surprising the stiff competition and herself. The Scottish and Cambridge-educated actress says she was “horrified” to hear her name, adding wryly, “No one should be that unprepared in front of 3 billion people.”

Ask her how much she related to “Clayton’s” Karen Crowder and she answers: “Not remotely, I’m happy to say.” As for getting into character, she simply “put on 25 pounds, stole a look out of Professional Women Weekly and used my imagination.”

The arthouse favorite, who gained international recognition for her fearless turn as the androgynous hero in 1993’s “Orlando,” has steadily been courted by mainstream Hollywood. She made her blockbuster debut as the White Witch in the first film of “The Chronicles of Narnia” franchise (reprising that role in the recent second film) and next stars opposite Brad Pitt in David Fincher’s “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” before reuniting with “Clayton” co-star George Clooney in the Coens’ “Burn After Reading.”

“What attracted me was an invitation by filmmakers I admire to come and play,” Swinton says.

“In ‘Burn,’ I play a very angry woman with a hairdo like Mrs. Krabappel in ‘The Simpsons,’ married to John Malkovich and having an affair with George Clooney. In ‘Button,’ I play his first love, an Englishwoman.”

While “Button” concerns a man who ages in reverse, Swinton is unconcerned about aging in Hollywood. “I simply can’t see any reason why living beyond school age should be seen as a problem,” she notes dryly. “Everything seems to get easier, certainly more fun, in my experience. Intelligent audiences will always be interested in films about people of all ages and genders, and intelligent writers and filmmakers know this.”

Role model: “My grandmother. For never being bored.”

What I’m reading now: “‘Putin’s Russia’ by Anna Politkovskaya, the fearless — assassinated — Russian journalist’s critique of Putin’s terrifying police state; ‘The Bolter’ by Frances Osbourne, the biography of her eternally — and scandalously — frivolous grandmother, Idina Sackville; Chekhov’s collected short stories, because for sheer human detail, they rule.”

Fave leisure activity: “Sleeping, waking up, turning over, realizing I can go back to sleep.”

Career mantra: “Get a life.”

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