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Q&A: Tilda Swinton

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More Berlinale coverage

Oscar winner Tilda Swinton is a regular visitor to the Berlin International Film Festival and is looking forward to chairing this year's competition jury. She talked to The Hollywood Reporter's U.K. bureau chief Stuart Kemp about keeping fellow jurors awake, not turning up to awards if she thinks she might have to make a speech and why her plan for the jury is to "suck it and see."

The Hollywood Reporter: You've had a long association with the Berlinale. Do you remember your first time attending the event?
Tilda Swinton: I do, more and more clearly. 1986 with Derek Jarman and "Caravaggio." Bigtime snow. Staying in a fantastic gay B&B called Tom's Hutte. Watching a film's premiere the night before ours being booed to the rafters.

THR: Do you have a favorite memory/event you associate with the festival?

Swinton: It used to be all about snow. Watching films at 9 a.m. for the jury in 1988 -- into the warm, out of the cold so early, pre-breakfast. And having "nudging rights" with Daniel Schmid and Andrei Smirnov if snoring became an issue.

THR: You've been here with 14 films over the years, across all sections including the competition, Panorama and Forum. Is there a difference in the experience depending on where the film is in the event?

Swinton: The particular thing about any film festival is the repetition of the formula year in, year out. And yet every year always feels unique. Each film, in each section, makes for a distinctly different soup each time. It must be said, at Berlin there is more sekt and smoked salmon knocking around the competition environs, and possibly more black coffee, essene bread and intriguing-smelling tobacco wafting around the Forum.

THR: What in your opinion makes the Berlinale unique among the big film festivals?

Swinton: Berlin is a uniquely cineliterate city, I would say, and tickets for films in the festival are not sewn up for the -- imported -- participants in the way that they tend to be in Cannes and Venice.

THR: You were on the Berlinale Jury before in 1988. What was that experience like?

Swinton: My first jury. I made friendships there that last and last: with Andrei Smirnov, Tom Luddy and the heavenly, lamented, Daniel Schmid. Every jury is another opportunity to wonder at democracy and how it can possibly work.

THR: What has it taught you about the duty of a Berlin jury president?

Swinton: I have served on a number of juries, with a number of great presidents, from Gulliermo Biraghi to Martin Scorsese to Quentin Tarantino. All passionate film fans who required their colleagues to bring their own cinema fandom to bear.

THR: Ellen Burstyn was co-president of the 1988 jury. Did she teach you anything about controling a group of film experts?

Swinton: Control is never the issue in a jury.

THR: Berlin has a not-unearned reputation as being the most political of the big festivals. Do you think film as a medium carries a responsibility to kick start discussion?

Swinton: I think that the opportunity for conversation is the heart of every screening, every film. I think this is inevitable. But it takes two to tango and I think that what Berlin has is an audience well-primed for that conversation -- eager and up for it.

THR: You are one of the few actresses who have managed to balance a career both in Hollywood and in Europe. How do you think that will help you when it comes to judging the films?

Swinton: Film fandom first and foremost. Not much else up my sleeve.

THR: How will you run the jury as its president?

Swinton: Suck it and see.

THR: Will you be strict?

Swinton: Is that the fantasy?

THR: Last year you received an honorary lifetime achievement Teddy for your work with Derek Jarman and your efforts to preserve/promote his work. How important do you believe his work to be?

Swinton: I believe that Derek was a film artist working with a degree of self-sufficiency and self-determination pretty much unique, given the relative breakthrough nature of his work in his lifetime. A study of his films, writings and the significance of his presence as a cultural and political activist, both at home and internationally, provides an invaluable example to anyone looking for that possibility, the 'just do it' attitude that marked him as so practically charismatic and which inspired all who met him.

THR: Did your professional life change when you won an Oscar for "Michael Clayton"?

Swinton: I don't really interact much with a professional life as such. You should ask my agents. And then tell me what they say.

THR: Have you got any tips for making a winner's speech?

Swinton: Don't turn up if you think there is any possible chance you might be asked to give one.

THR: You've done everything from big-budget studio movies to smaller, independent ones. Does it all come down to how you feel about the material in terms of choosing what to do?

Swinton: It comes down to the conversation, the people, the curiosity, the craic, the next experiment, the weather.