“”It’s the cinema I want to see. These are the films I am growing from seed. If we’re talking about things like I Am Love, and the work I make with Luca or the work I make with Lynn Hershman, or even the work with Zonca, it’s what I want to see. It’s what I’m interested in seeing. Yes, it may take time to grow. But life is too short not to go for what you’re interested in.” – Tilda Swinton in MovieScope, March 2010.
Swinton spent 11 years developing I Am Love with filmmaker Luca Guadagnino. Eleven years developing a film because she believed in it’s aesthetic. Swinton has a vision of the kind of actor she wants to be and the kind of films she wants to make. But, she also possesses the courage to strive to realize that vision, and she does so by committing to those filmmakers who produce work in line with her view, and help them, over time, bring their films to the big screen. She has infact worked as an uncredited producer on many of the films she’s starred in. Swinton’s big breakthrough came in 1992 with Sally Potter’s Orlando, playing the title role. She had spent the previous 5 years with director Sally Potter developing the script and fighting for funds (industry professionals had branded the film ridiculous and unmakeable). Orlando made Swinton a star. She had turned herself into the actor she always wanted to be, and she had done so by taking responsibility for her work.
Life, for many actors, is very different. It is time spent waiting for the phone to ring, checking emails and staying in shape mentally and physically between auditions. The struggle becomes not about pursuing the dream but about paying the rent, and the longer unemployment ensues the less concerned with art the actor becomes, until that commercial for Toilet Duck begins to look like Hamlet. Many actors quit, contemptuous of the business generally and of those actors who remain dedicated. Others teach themselves to be hacks in an effort to become less provocative and so win more work.
Then there are others who privately fume at the work on offer but do nothing about improving it. I was this kind of actor. I always loved the movies, and set out to become a movie actor making great films with serious filmmakers. But it wasn’t long before I found myself begging for work I didn’t want, and not only did I not want it, it was contrary to my own view of what constituted a good movie. My frustration grew, (“why weren’t these people making the kind of films I wanted to do?”), until eventually my hypocrisy confused my thinking to such an extent I was no longer sure I wanted to make pictures at all.
What a sissy.“Boo-hoo: why cant I have what I want, when I want it!”
You cannot look to some benefactor to give you what you want, artistically or financially. The audition process, for all it’s frustrations, is comfortable and routine. If there is a particular kind of work you want to see then you’re going to have to fight for it, and the more precise your vision the harder you’re going to have to fight. And the first step is to take responsibility. Seek out those filmmakers whose aesthetic is similar to your own, and become their ally: help them make films, do what it takes, and help them find an audience. See it through, be loyal, never spit the dummy, conduct yourself impeccably. Create the scene you want to be part of, create that ideal cinema. Be your own benefactor, and, in time, you may find you have become that actor you always wanted to be.
Swinton again, in an interview with Pop Matters’ Matt Mazur: “that possibility is always there to work collaboratively and rely on the community of other artists and the sensibility of other like-minded people…just reach out…and you can make work with them or even not make work with them but rely on them as a supportive family in a constellation”.
Become that person you’ve been looking for.