Actress Tilda Swinton had never been in a Manhattan high-rise office building before stepping into the role of Karen Crowder, the “aggressively ambitious” in-house chief counsel for U/North, an agrochemical company on the respondent side of a class-action lawsuit repped by a powerhouse New York firm in “Michael Clayton.”
“Tilda had no prior experience with the person she was playing,” admires writer-director Tony Gilroy of the Scottish actress who is vying for her first Oscar nomination. “The whole thing was a huge mountaineering expedition. It was like Halloween. She responded to the adventure of it all, and her perspective is very much from the outside in. It’s all about the wardrobe. It’s about those pearls that she wears in the film. Finding these accessories were enormously powerful for her. This is how she builds her characters.”
The daughter of a prominent U.K. military family, Swinton often compared her morally compromised character to a soldier, says Gilroy.
“She’s always been fascinated by how ordinary people can do terrible things in the service of something else,” he explains.
“Tilda really is a filmmaker, and she views herself this way. She comes out of films as a collaborative process, as communal, as tribal. Everything she does is completely different. Her big ambition is to explore. She can do ‘Orlando’ and then ‘The Chronicles of Narnia’ and then ‘Adaptation’ and then say, ‘I can do a film with George (Clooney).’ She has this tremendous amount of freedom. Her whole world is one of creation and of big adventure.”
Next: Swinton has two 2008 films in post-production: The Coen brothers’ latest pic, “Burn After Reading,” in which she again stars opposite George Clooney, and David Fincher’s “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” based on the F. Scott Fitzgerald short story.