Tilda Swinton Thinks You Might Regret Getting Stoned Before Seeing Doctor Strange
The actress talks about Marvel's mind-bending new film.
BY Emily Zemler | Nov 4, 2016 | Film & TV
Tilda Swinton has always been one of Hollywood's most enigmatic, unusual actresses. She rarely selects conventional roles, and she's notorious for spending her free time engaging in performance art projects in museums. So when Swinton was announced as the Yoda-esque character The Ancient One in Marvel's Doctor Strange, out Friday, it seemed unexpected. But once you see director's Scott Derrickson's psychedelic take on the comic book hero you'll understand why Swinton was essential to his vision.
Despite controversy that called Derrickson's selection of Swinton whitewashing, her performance as the mentor to Doctor Strange, played by Benedict Cumberbach, is engaging and perfectly integrated into the story (her version of the Ancient One has Celtic origins). We spoke with Swinton about her casting, how the film's emphasis on mindfulness was so interesting to her, and why you should consider smoking a joint before seeing it.
ESQ: Did you need any convincing to be part of a Marvel film?
Tilda Swinton: The short answer is: hell no. It was a very happy day, I have to say, when I went to meet Scott. First of all, he told me about the film he wanted to make. And that was good enough. I'm a big Marvel fan and I never dreamed they'd find some corner for me. But I really wanted to see this movie the way he described it—this huge tent-pole megalopolis about creation rather than destruction. He started talking about The Ancient One. And then he told me what he'd done with The Ancient One, and that he'd essentially written with me in mind, which is a very flattering kind of heavy-handed emotional blackmail. It's a little nerve-wracking because you're like, "I really like this person and I'm going to have to tell them if I don't think they're right." But I did see it when I read it, so it was a very easy yes.
Once you're standing in front of a bunch of greenscreens, how do you get yourself to imagine the world of the film?
Filmmaking is make believe and smoke and mirrors and dressing up and playing. Even if you're in a domestic kitchen pretending somebody is your husband, you're pretending. So it's just a slightly more exotic version of that. And the thing that's really lovely about it is that everybody's having to pretend the same thing. Even the camera department is having to pretend. What's even more gorgeous about something like this—because I'd worked on special effects movies before—is that this is so out there. The special effects that were described to us, we could sort of imagine them. But Scott said, "It's going to be even more amazing than even I can imagine. There's a planet above your head, and just imagine that." And then you see it, and it's just wild.
I wished that I had been stoned when I watched it, to be honest.
I think maybe people will be stoned when they watch it. And some people will regret it. I do have a friend who's had some heavy trips who said a certain section in the film was quite difficult to take. I think it's going to be on a wrap-around tent in the back dance tents at festivals all next summer. I'm imagining Glastonbury with it kind of on a loop. Like, "Have a nice trip, Mr. Strange!" And there it goes.
Are you someone who has considered the possibility of other dimensions?
Yeah. I mean, I've always been interested in sci-fi. I think anybody with half an imagination must consider a rudimentary version of quantum physics from the time they're about ten. I think it's the deal, whether they talk about it or not, or whether they go on doing it or not. I've always been really interested in that. This really does go there. And what I love about it is that it goes there in terms of the multiverse and in terms of the maths and the physics, but it's so anchored in something real and practical. This whole thing about the mind. It's a really practical thing that humans do and can learn to do better. Some of them end up being Doctor Strange and The Ancient One, but there's lot of humans than can benefit from learning these skills. The Ancient One is teaching perfectly normal people how to still their minds and choose options.
Mindfulness is a pretty hot topic these days.
Yeah, absolutely. It's the secret, really.
Did you research any of this for the film?
Not particularly. I have to say for the last few years I've been interested in mindfulness and have known what it is and known that it's a really important thing to engage with. So to find it as a kernel of a Marvel film it was like, "Really? Is that possible?"
This story feels much more intimate than the previous Marvel films. It's almost about saving yourself instead of the world.
Well, it is about saving yourself. It's a grown up film about someone who's grown up and is falling into grown up problems. He's having a terrible mid-life crisis. And yes, he has a massive car crash and loses his livelihood and his sense of his identity and all the rest of it. But you don't have to have a massive car crash and lose your job to have that kind of mid-life moment when you question all the things that you've built up and you believe make you who you are. You have to dig deep and find a different path. And you don't have to be a superhero to do that. So in a sense, it's not really about a superhero. He's a sorcerer and this is magic we're dealing with, but he himself is not a superhero, which I think is really interesting.
Which piece of The Ancient One's wisdom did you like best?
I just love the perspective that somebody of 1,000s of years of life has. I love the possibility of not sweating the small stuff or the medium stuff—or, really, not sweating stuff at all. I've been fortunate enough to sit at the knee of all sorts of fabulous people, like my grandparents and older, wiser people, and that's what I see age can bring: perspective. It's just about perspective. And that essential knowledge that fear and ego are to be lived beyond. They're the things that screw things up.
Do you feel you've reach a point of wisdom in your own life?
Wisdom? I don't know. But, I've certainly acquired an acceptance of my own laziness. That's going well for me. I'm too old to change now, I think. I'm really lazy. I love being in bed. It's my favourite thing. Doing nothing. I love doing nothing.
From: Esquire US