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Tilda Swinton

Tilda Swinton

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Also Known As: Katherine Matilda Swinton Died:
Born: November 5, 1960 Cause of Death:
Birth Place: London, England, GB Profession: Cast ... actor artist
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BIOGRAPHY

A luminous actress capable of immersing herself into a vast array of characters, Tilda Swinton succeeded in both art house and mainstream cinema, thanks to her prodigious talent, dedication to art and striking appearance which set her apart from her peers. She began her career as a leading lady of European art cinema, working with directors like Derek Jarman, John Maybury and Sally Potter and earning acclaim as the gender-shifting lead in Potter's Academy Award-nominated "Orlando" (1992). The edgy icon expanded into American filmmaking with an acclaimed performances in "The Deep End" (2001) and experimental outings like "Vanilla Sky" (2001) and "Adaptation" (2002). Despite her art house bent, bigger productions were not immune to her captivating appeal. She achieved international fame despite her adventurous spirit both on- and off-screen. Her alabaster glow and 5'11" stature gave an otherworldly quality to the high profile role of the icy White Witch in "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and The Wardrobe" (2005). She later became an Oscar-winning actress for her performance in the tense legal thriller "Michael Clayton" (2007), while continuing to work steadily in projects obscure and high-profile alike. Gifted unlike any other actor of her generation, Swinton's career seemed limited only by the scope of her immense creativity.

Swinton was born on Nov. 5, 1960 in London, England to Australian mother Judith Swinton and Major General John Swinton, former member of the Scots Guard and head of the Queens Household Division. Her father's post necessitated that Swinton and her three brothers lived in various countries growing up, though they always returned to the family estate in Scotland - an estate which had been in the family since the ninth century. Tilda was educated at the exclusive West Heath Girls School in Kent, England, where her academic excellence was at odds with the school's main goal of training privileged young women for a future as the wife of royalty. Classmate and friend Lady Diana Spencer was one example of the school's success in this regard. But Swinton was not cut out for the traditional role dictated by her heritage. Instead, her intellectual and artistic instincts first lead her to study writing and literature at Cambridge University, where she graduated in 1983 with a degree in social and political science. In addition to her academic studies, she became involved with the school's drama department, participating in a number of stage productions. Though not enamored of theater, Swinton was more taken by the idea of filmmaking and felt being onstage was a means to that end.

Swinton returned to Scotland and began her performing career with the Traverse Theater in Edinburgh, before spending a year onstage with the Royal Shakespeare Company in London. Her more creative voice began to surface when she shifted to avant-garde stage productions like Bertold Brecht's "Die Massnahme" and the award-winning "Man to Man," where she played a woman who assumes her dead husband's identity. A chance meeting and instant creative rapport with director Derek Jarman offered Swinton an opportunity to work in film. She instantly felt at home in the collaborative atmosphere of his productions, making an auspicious film debut with "Caravaggio" (1986), her classical looks custom-made for Jarman's biography of the Italian painter. Next up, Peter Wollen tapped Swinton's ethereal, androgynous presence to play an alien android shipwrecked on Earth in "Friendship's Death" (1987), before the actress played the role of Mozart in Aleksandr Pushkin's "Mozart & Salieri" on stages in Vienna, Berlin and London. Swinton gave bold performances in Jarman's "The Last of England" (1988) and "The Garden" (1990), before brilliantly capturing the icy hauteur of a woman scorned, Queen Isabella, in "Edward II" (1991), for which she earned a Best Actress Prize at the Venice Film Festival.

Confirming her place as an emerging icon of the art house, Swinton delivered a dazzling and complex lead performance in "Orlando" (1992), an adaptation of Virginia Woolf's chronicle of an Elizabethan courtier who evolves in both gender and lifestyle over the course of 400 years. In the same film, Swinton also doubled as the young Elizabeth I, prompting reviewers to note her resemblance to portraits of the Virgin Queen. Swinton developed a working relationship with filmmaker John Maybury with a film adaptation of "Man to Man" (1992), before the philosopher biopic "Wittgenstein" (1993) and documentary "Blue" (1993) marked her final collaborations with Jarman, who died the following year. In 1995, Swinton could be found sleeping in a glass box on display at London's Serpentine Gallery as part of a performance art piece by Cornelia Parker. Meanwhile, there was no shortage of directors waiting in the wings to work with the renowned risk-taking actress. She garnered critical attention as a lawyer who undergoes a personality crisis at the height of professional success in "Female Perversions" (1996) and continued in avant-garde films as the pregnant Ada Byron, daughter of poet Lord Byron and writer of the world's first machine algorithm, in "Conceiving Ada" (1997). Nearly unrecognizable and hugely pregnant with twins, Swinton reunited with Maybury to play an acerbic lesbian in "Love Is the Devil" (1998), based on the life of painter Francis Bacon.

Swinton next gave a brave performance as the mother of a family torn apart by incest in Tim Roth's "The War Zone" (1999), which landed a slew of Best Film nominations, including the Independent Spirit Awards and British Independent Film Awards. Despite a strong performance as a Utopian island-dweller opposite Leonardo DiCaprio, "The Beach" (2000) was an overall flop. But Swinton followed up with some of the best reviews of her career as a mother who goes to great lengths to protect her teen after his abusive lover is found dead in crime thriller, "The Deep End" (2001). Making her blockbuster debut, she supported Tom Cruise in a pivotal role in the indefinable "Vanilla Sky" before enjoying a brief but noticeable role as a Hollywood development executive in director Spike Jonze and writer Charlie Kaufman's acclaimed "Adaptation" (2002). Following co-starring roles opposite Ewan McGregor and Michael Caine in undistinguished thrillers "Young Adam" (2003) and "The Statement" (2003), Swinton's talent for bold dramatizations was better utilized as the androgynous, morally complicated angel Gabriel in the comic book-derived "Constantine" (2005).

Swinton stepped back into independent film for Jim Jarmusch's "Broken Flowers" (2005), playing one of four ex-girlfriends of a man (Bill Murray) on an unusual quest, and turned out another solid performance as the matriarch of a dysfunctional clan in Mike Mills' quirky suburban comedy "Thumbsucker" (2004). Swinton finished out the year with a role she seemed born to play, the icy White Witch of "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe" (2005), making for a deliciously nefarious nemesis. Little seen in limited release independent dramas "Stephanie Daley" (2006) and "The Man from London" (2007), Swinton was a must-see in the George Clooney legal thriller "Michael Clayton" (2007), one of the bigger critical hits of the year. She received the Academy Award for Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role (as well as a BAFTA) for playing the conflicted CEO of a troubled agro-chemical corporation, and proved that Hollywood indeed had an appropriate place for smart, unconventional, craft-oriented actresses like Swinton. The actress essayed another complex role, starring in "Julia" (2008) as an alcoholic woman who becomes involved in an extortion scheme while trying to conquer her demons and stay alive. The challenging film earned Swinton another round of excellent reviews.

Swinton memorably, but briefly revived The White Witch for "The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian" (2009), and costarred as a chilly doctor with Brad Pitt, Frances McDormand and old pal Clooney in the Coen Brothers' bleak comedy "Burn After Reading" (2008). Reviewers were divided over the film, but again agreed that Swinton was a true and unique talent. Critics were running out of adjectives with which to praise Swinton, but they again heaped the best they had upon her for an exquisitely drawn supporting role as a Russian woman who has a poignant affair with Brad Pitt's title character in "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" (2008). They found reason to shower her with further accolades for "I Am Love" (2010), an Italian film that she and director Luca Guadagnino had developed together over 11 years. Swinton starred as a Russian-born, high Italian society wife, who undergoes an awakening from her heavily structured, repressed existence when she meets a younger, handsome chef (Edoardo Gabbriellini). After returning to play The Witch in "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader" (2010), Swinton played the grieving mother of a young man (Ezra Miller) who goes on a high school killing spree in "We Need to Talk About Kevin" (2011).

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