Tilda Swinton: “I would rather be handsome for an hour than pretty for a week”


Seriously: Tilda Swinton is an alien. She’s just in this world, not really “of” this world. She’s studying us, playing with us, attempting to blend. I can see the wheels turning in her magnificent alien brain… she’s processing, collecting data. Tilda is the August cover alien of W Magazine, to promote her film We Need To Talk About Kevin, a film which I previewed when Tilda was in Cannes – it’s the one where she plays the mother of a teenage boy who goes on a Columbine-style rampage. Tilda is pretty much a shoo-in for Best Actress nominations all over the place, so I guess her management team was like, “Eh, what could it hurt if we let this crazy alien talk to a fashion magazine?” I’m not sure they’re make this mistake again. Tilda is interviewed in two pieces – one about fashion (here), and one about acting and Kevin (here). Here are some highlights from both pieces:

The Alien on style: “I follow my nose,” she says. “It’s as simple as that.”

On the Lanvin dress she wore to the 2008 Oscars, when she won: She had advised Lanvin’s Alber Elbaz that she wanted “to attract as little attention as possible and to feel as comfortable as if I were wearing pajamas,” she recalls. “Little did I know that the really simple, chic dress one might have worn in Paris or Berlin would stick out like a sore thumb in Los Angeles.”

On androgyny: “People talk about androgyny in all sorts of dull ways,” says Swinton. Ultimately, though, her starting and ending points are always her own style icons: David Bowie—whom she says she’s been orbiting ever since she saw The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976)—and her father, Maj. Gen. Sir John Swinton. “My aesthetic North Stars,” she calls them. “The individuals with whom I share the same planetary DNA.”

On her military father, and childhood memories: “From childhood, I remember more about his black patent, gold livery, scarlet-striped legs, and medal ribbons than I do of my mother’s evening dresses,” she says. “I would rather be handsome, as he is, for an hour than pretty for a week.”

On playing a less-than-perfect mother in Kevin: “I don’t think I’m courageous. One man’s courage is another man’s comfort zone. The movie, which is based on a novel by Lionel Shriver, explored a taboo subject: the idea of a less than perfect mother. I knew that, when an audience watched the film, there would be a gag reflex at some point. But I was fascinated by the subject—it scared me, and that interested me. When we were trying to finance this movie, we would reference Rosemary’s Baby. It’s every pregnant woman’s nightmare to give birth to the devil. And every mother worries that she won’t connect to her children. When I had my children, my manager asked me what project I wanted to work on next. I said, “Something Greek, perhaps Medea.” Nobody quite understood what I meant, what I was feeling.”

On being a mom to 13-year-old twins: “When I first saw the twins, I really liked them. And, at the same time, there was a ghost over my shoulder saying, What if I hadn’t liked them? Kevin spoke to that feeling. It is that nightmare scenario: What if you don’t feel that connection to your children? There’s no preparation for having children. In Kevin, the woman I play is in mourning for her past life, and yet she looks at this dark, nihilistic kid and knows exactly where he comes from. He isn’t foreign to her; she sees herself. And that is, quite literally, revolting to her.”

The story of mother and son in Kevin: “It is a love story: They understand each other. He doesn’t kill her, and in one version of the movie, she asks him, “Why didn’t you shoot me, too?” He says, “If you’re putting on a show, you don’t shoot the audience.” In that way, Kevin is a classic Oedipal drama—taboo, but not exotic. It’s just one of those things that’s never spoken about.”

On Michael Clayton, and winning an Oscar: “A “Hollywood” movie like Michael Clayton is a holiday for me. [Winning the Oscar] was lovely, but I have to admit that I’d never seen the Oscars on television and really had no idea that it was so important. It was a very long show, but it did move me up from the children’s table, professionally, in Hollywood.”

How her kids react to her career: “The only movie of mine that my children have seen is The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, where I played the evil White Witch. My daughter said it was too loud. They’re just not Disney kids: They live in Scotland and don’t have a television. When I brought my Oscar home and showed the children, nobody knew what it was. The thing sat on the kitchen table for two weeks. It was kind of meaningless to them.”

Does her Oscar mean anything to her? “Not really [Laughs]. After winning, I went straight to Milan and started I Am Love. Since then, I haven’t done another Hollywood film.”

[From W Magazinetwo articles]

I’ll admit, the only reason I want to see We Need To Talk About Kevin is because of Tilda, and because of all of the remarkable things I’ve heard about her performance. As for the interview… my favorite quote: “I would rather be handsome, as he is, for an hour than pretty for a week.” OMG. Tilda is magnificently odd. I also enjoyed the part where she talks about Madea and how glad she was when she “liked” her babies. I wish more women would discuss motherhood and children like Tilda – which is to say, I wish there were a few more aliens around, failing to blend in successfully.






Photos courtesy of Tim Walker/W Magazine, slideshow here.

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82 Responses to “Tilda Swinton: “I would rather be handsome for an hour than pretty for a week””

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  1. brin says:

    How about strange forever? She looks like David Bowie on the cover shot.
    She is a good actress, though.

  2. Danziger says:

    I love that quote and now I’ll be using it every day.. somewhere. And God I love how she looks.

  3. Truthful says:

    because she is stuck on “looks” I think this really allows her to be a great actress, I love her movies.

    uh, she looks like David Bowie’s brother/sister.

    I like people that are different and not so stuck in the mold.

    she is very good at her craft.

  4. Cherry says:

    SWINTON!! She’s not an alien, she’s just an extremely cool, eccentric lady. Gotta love her.

  5. Tabby says:

    Wow. She is marvellous. I find her so sexy and I don’t even know why. I wish I had her confidence.

  6. knowitall says:

    Gaga wishes she was this cool and original.

  7. Ja says:

    With an unique face and personality to match I salute her!

  8. Now SHE is someone I want to see on screen, not the average bubble gum looksfest of so many actresses. Yes please Tilda, keep the films coming.

  9. MarenGermany says:

    @knowitall exactly my thoughts. you can just tell if someone is weirdly cool or tries to be weirdly cool.

    @Danzinger dont, it is my daily quote now 😉

    i love that woman!

  10. Chloe says:

    Love Tilda.

  11. Micki says:

    I love her interviews.I love the fact she’s not afraid to explore taboo zones and speak her mind without politically correct sugar coating.

  12. fabgrrl says:

    Are her eyes seriously that green? or it is the lighting/contact lenses?

  13. anne says:

    She is who and what she is. So admirable in this day of the self obsessed hollywood “stars”.

  14. lolas says:

    I agree with the “gaga wishes she were her”. Btw, she was beautiful in I Am Love (though the movie sucked).

  15. aenflex says:

    She is ultimate. And scary.

  16. gobo says:

    She is INCREDIBLE.

  17. madpoe says:

    loved her in “Orlando”! happy to see she does her own thing w/o little care of what Hollywood demands. Surprised she and Bjork aren’t friends.

  18. Calli Pygian says:

    I really hope to see this film (…Kevin)- anyone know anything of its release??

  19. MorticiansDoItDeader says:

    I don’t know of anyone, other then her, who can pull off looking like a mannequin.

    Love the steam punk goggles!

  20. Hein says:

    Cuckoo lady. I like her.

  21. Ari says:

    Doesn’t she have like two boyfriends or something? I always ask this when an article is done on her and I never stick around for the answer – and I keep asking because its freaking cool if its true! I love her LOL

  22. knowitall says:

    She and Bjork are both Scorpios which explains why they are so damn cool and fierce.

  23. Nanea says:

    Oh, Tilda!

    I’d much rather have her personify the woman who fell to earth than another photoshopped spread of a generic surgically altered actress that are a dime a dozen.

  24. Lee says:

    I love her too. Her incredible acting chops, her eccentric persona, everything about the woman is fascinating. Apparently she has an open marriage.


  25. TQB says:

    She is fantastic and original, but her most amazing achievement is being like that and yet never coming off as if she’s trying too hard. She just IS.

  26. eva says:

    I LOVE LOVE LOVE this woman. She is what she is and she hasn’t let Hollywood change her. I wish I could be more like her.

  27. jello says:

    Gawd I love her. She’s breath of fresh air in a land of manufactured plastic starlette dolls.

  28. arock says:

    omg, i heart her. such an amazing presence and range. she can come sit by me any day. (tilda, call me girl)

  29. RHONYC says:

    you all know Tilda’s my girl!

    she’s got some amazing gams on her as well.

    handsome bitch. 😉

  30. Darlene says:


  31. Gwen says:

    She’s THE SWINTON. Totally unique and in a non-pretentious way. Love that.

  32. it is ME! says:

    SWINTON is awesome. If she is an alien, I want her to take me to her planet- it HAS to be way cooler than this one.

  33. bored says:

    She’s fabulous and perfect for the part of the mother in We need to tal about Kein. A great book, incidentally. I hope they do it justice with the movie.

  34. Isa says:

    This has got to be one of the most interesting spreads I have seen in a long time.

    Absolutely amazing photo’s.

    Well done Swinton and W Magazine

  35. original kate says:

    love her. she can do no wrong in my book.

  36. MorticiansDoItDeader says:

    @lee, thanks for the link. Whatever consenting adults do is their business. That being said, I’d have much more respect for her if she sublimated those carnal urges for the sake of her children. If that’s not possible then at least be a tad more discreet. Call me prudish, I just don’t feel it’s healthy to subject ones children to such a bizarre living arrangment.

  37. hazeldazel says:

    She was awesome in Orlando. Awe-to-the-sum! Do yourself and rent it!

  38. Rhiley says:

    Her younger lover is beautiful. I bet he is crazy as well but he is extremely gorgeous. I love Tilda, and the book we need to talk about kevin. I am looking forward to the movie.

  39. Beatrix says:

    Tilda Swinton is EVERYTHING!
    *drops mic*

  40. mzjask says:

    she is GLORIOUS!!

  41. TO BE OR NOT TO..WHATEVS says:


  42. WhiteNoise says:

    What an astoundingly beautiful, provocative, evocative photoshoot, each one a mini work of art. Major kudos to Tim Walker and the stylist. And Tilda, of course!

  43. Ana says:

    …Great Tilda! What is not to love?

    Woman is amazing… And yes, her eyes are mint-green, very rare color!

    Such an exquisite bird!

  44. Jeannified says:

    She IS magnificently odd…I can see how she can successfully pull off these fashions and remain such a respected actress.

  45. Az says:

    @bored: I loved the book as well and was overjoyed when I saw Tilds Swinton was playing the mother. I knew it would be excellent.

    @ Cherry and @ Gwen: SWINTON! Every time I see her that’s what I think. All caps and with an exclamation point, of course.

    I love this woman. I love the way she lives her life. I also think she is otherworldly beautiful.

  46. lil says:

    she has esmeralds in her eyes. So green.

  47. grayze says:

    I’m not interested in Lady Gaga-bashing, but it’s at times like these I’d love to sit down with her and point to Tilda and say, “THAT’s how it’s done.”

    Precisely because it’s not “done” at all.

    Whenever I read an interview with Tilda Swinton or see her speak, I never get the impression that this is something affected or some kind of facade. It’s just her way of being, and that eccentricity comes naturally to her and leaves people talking after she leaves.

  48. lrm says:

    yea, agree, but does she need to ‘dis’ hollywood films so much? and the oscar?
    no doubt it is part of her bread and butter-more so now that she’s won?
    yea, moved up from the children’s table-
    we all knnow it’s like that in hollywood-but i still think ‘celebs’ even true and original ‘actors’ should be just a little respectful to the ‘machine’ that at the very least supports their comfortable lifestyle.

    movies, media, promotion-are the vehicles that advance one’s ‘craft’ into the viewers world….
    otherwise, she’d be a broke theater actor,perhaps loving her work and excelling at it, but not able to enjoy the lifestyle she currently does. just sayin’.

  49. WhiteNoise says:

    @Irm – where is she dissing Hollywood? She is stating a fact as the notion of Hollywood and what it represents applies to her. And you are so wrong in your estimation of what her career would be without Hollywood. Take a look at her bio/cv on imdb: she has followed her own independent path fiercely since the 80s and has been in demand/worked solidly for 2 solid decades, earning widespread critical acclaim for the brilliant maverick of an actress she is and the very singular way she has approached her craft. Her cv is extraordinary by anyone’s standards. In addition, she has sat on the boards of countless major festivals, testament to the respect in which she is internationally held, all this prior to her Oscar win. So your assessment that without Hollywood’s help, she would be a ‘broke theatre actor’ is quite ridiculous. She is not and has never been ‘Hollywood’, so is perfectly entitled to say that for her, winning an Oscar was nice but meaningless in the scheme of things for her.

    Hollywood is not, despite popular opinion, the centre of everyone’s acting world.

  50. XIOnce says:

    Loves it.

  51. Rog says:

    “I would rather be handsome for an hour than pretty for a week”

    She need not worry… she’ll never be either.

  52. hatsumomo says:

    WEll, she certainly is provocative, bringing up the issue of a less than perfect mother. As I recall, a poster tried to bring that subject up not too long ago on Celebitchy, under the Octomom story of not loving your kids sometimes. And as I recall, alot of poster tore her a new one for being ‘a monster’. The subject certainly is taboo and no matter how forward and intelligent the ladies on here are, I’m sure, every one still has a bone to pick about a less than perfect mother. And we wonder why these subjects are never discussed out loud!

  53. Annie_Grey says:

    She reminds me of Queen Elizabeth I. She would be perfect for that role.

  54. Erandyn says:

    David Bowie + Christopher Walken + one extra X chromosome = Tilda.

  55. DreamyK says:

    Huge Swinton fan! The dress she referenced was awesome (white shirt, pale lemon skirt, pink pumps) and so her.

  56. Lucy says:

    She is a wierd…if octomom was saying these strange things everyone would be saying take her children away from her (which I totally agree with) or she must be on drugs…she is not pretty and not handsome and not normal!

  57. j says:

    Love. She is perfection, every time.

  58. Katy says:

    An amazing, HOT woman! I listened to her in an interview with Charlie Rose and from then on it was love <3

  59. Camille says:

    What is not to love about this woman? At least she isn’t some bimbo, airhead wannabe ‘actress’ with nothing interesting to say.

    <3 Tilda.

  60. kris31 says:

    she looks almost exactly like Bowie.. I wonder if she had any work done to make herself look more like him..

  61. Poppy says:

    I will be the odd one out today.

    I’ve never taken to Tilda, I can’t say why exactly, I don’t actually dislike her but for me she just gives off a cold and selfish vibe.

  62. Shay says:

    Jeez, she can run for leader in that experimental genderless experiment they currently have somewhere in Europe.
    Definitely not my cup of tea as an actress. But maybe Madonna can consider her to play Wallis Simpson in her biopic film. Dye Tilda’s hair brown/black and she has the aesthetics for a Wallis.

  63. Maritza says:

    The cover photo is cool but the others are kind of spooky.

  64. S says:

    She’s fabulous. Adore her.

  65. Kimbob says:

    Tilda Swinton: ‘I’d rather be handsome for an hour than pretty for a week.’……Uh, after looking at these pics, she doesn’t need to worry about being either one.

    Ok…couldn’t help making the smart aleck comment. When “made up,” she really is a GORGEOUS woman. That being said, I’ve heard snarky comments about her because she doesn’t wear eye makeup, & usually I think she looks just fine w/out the make-up. However, I’ve read these comments & don’t see any alluding to her lack of make-up, but yet bloggers really beat up Paz de la Huerta for that look.

    Also, yes she is a wonderful actress…right up there w/Cate Blanchet. Has anyone noticed the Brits seem to have the better actresses?

    Yes, I’ve heard she has two guys in her life, but I’m wondering is she bi-sexual because I definitely get that vibe. Does anyone know?

  66. bugsy says:

    I’ve always thought that Swinton was and is one of the most talented and gifted actresses working today, but I can’t help but recoil at some of the things she’s said in this interview. There is no arguing that she’s truly gifted, and I see no problem with an individual wanting to be different, but she comes across as down-right disturbed in some of her sentiments. And I agree with the few other posters who pointed out that if it were any other public figure saying these types of things, the entire world would be jumping on them. She seems quite confused when it comes to normal emotions felt for other human beings, and she seems quite confused when it comes to her own self and her own identity. And I’m sorry, but her personal life is just as bizarre as her public life. Sometimes being bizarre and confused makes for wonderful art. There hasn’t been a single film I’ve ever watched her in where she wasn’t superb. But as a person, she’s quite frightening. And no, it’s not the style of the photos. I actually like them. Though some of them are frightening as well.

  67. Emily says:

    I think I’ll go see that movie now, it sounds interesting. And god, if I was a manager and my client had just given birth and said she wanted to do Medea I’d freak the hell out.

  68. LIVEALOT says:


  69. Kara Ann says:

    Best quote for me: “One man’s courage is another man’s comfort zone.” This is absolutely true and very succinctly and eloquently put. I’ve never been a particular fan but I really do like that she has the insight to make that statement.

  70. Kevin Johnson says:

    I don’t like that they tried to make her ‘more weird’ with plastic. She is unique and great.

  71. Cheyenne says:

    Agree with Poppy. I don’t think she’s cold and selfish (maybe looking like a block of ice can give you that impression, though), but for some reason she totally creeps me out.

    Don’t know if I want to see the movie but the book is excellent.

  72. Gossip Owl says:

    She’s the modern day David Bowie, but I love her. And yes, I guarantee you Gaga cries before she goes to bed every night wishing she was Tilda Swinton.

  73. Isa says:

    Omgosh! I didn’t realize this movie was on it’s way out soon! I’m so excited!

    If you haven’t read the book do so! It’s great. Although don’t read it while you’re pregnant haha. I read it while pregnant with my first and it worried me. I used to cry because I was afraid I would’nt feel a connection. It was such a relief to know find out that everyone was right.

    Oh and the first time I read the book I was convinced the boy was just a demon child. The second time (after I became a mother) I was convinced he turned out that way because of her parenting. Great book.

  74. DethHammer says:

    “Gaga wishes she was this cool and original.”

    AMEN, KnowItAll!! And Grazye I agree with you too; Tilda doesn’t run around screaming “look at me I’m sooo weird and different omg aren’t you shocked?” Tilda just IS different; thus she doesn’t have to act the part.

    I LOVE those goggles! I must have them (and that wonderful half blazer/half skirt dress)! I’m gonna buy this issue of W so I can know where to buy them!

  75. bugsy says:

    ^^^@Isa: I have a hard time believing that there isn’t a serial killer, mass murderer or otherwise “demonic” child that isn’t a product of a broken/strange/abusive home or of parents or a parent who didn’t give him/her the proper care and love that she/he deserved. Look at any high profile case about a killer or a child that goes on a mass shooting at school, and you’ll see problems that started in his home. As for the idea that some parents don’t feel connected to their children, I know I’ll be unpopular for saying this but most mothers with those sentiments (at least in my experience) are usually plagued with one or more of several issues:
    1. Drugs. Drug addicts will sell their own babies for another hit.
    2. Mentally disturbed. Either by birth or by their own circumstances that probably had to do with their own upbringing.
    3. Nihilistically selfish. It IS possible for a mother to hate and or abandon her child/ren if she has a severe disorder that gives her tendency toward sociopathic or narcissistic behaviors, which I guess would still fit neatly under #2.
    4. Rape or Trauma. Obviously the baby conceived by rape or incest can make anyone a little queasy. But even then, there are many, many examples of mothers who still love their children under these horrendous circumstances.
    5. Age and maturity level. Having a baby at too young an age, when the mind isn’t capable of understanding or reasoning well, can make teens hate their babies. But again, there are many examples of teen mothers who love their children and try to be excellent parents, or who give their children up for adoption with the right frame of mind.

    Honestly, it’s almost impossible to “hate” your children once they’re born. You may dislike motherhood sometimes, or even a lot of the time. You might wish you had more time to yourself. You might get frustrated at your kids or angry at something they’ve done, but you don’t hate them or so casually dismiss them. I honestly thought I could NEVER like children. From the moment mine was born, I knew I’d do anything for her. You may think that could never happen to you, but it does. And if you have such issues when your child is born, I suggest you seek help because it’s obvious that the problem truly runs deeper.

  76. Isa says:

    bugsy- You don’t believe that some people are born that way? Like they have something wrong with their brain? I believe it’s possible too, in addition to your statement about messed up homes.

    Like you, I didn’t think I could like children. I was 20 when she was born and pretty immature. Plus I tried to mentally prepare myself for sleepless nights and hours of crying, rather than picturing a sweet, cuddly baby like most do. After she was born I “liked” her but didn’t cry tears of happiness or feel overwhelmed with (insert happy emotion here.) The first three days were a blur, but soon enough I was in love, watching her sleep. 🙂

    I can’t wait to watch this movie and also “Beautiful Boy.”

  77. Aqua says:

    I’ll admit the first time I saw her I though she was one of the oddest persons I’ve ever seen.Everything that I saw her in, she was always so cold,she actually sent a chill down my spine, but now,I find her to be one of the most interesting actresses that has come to Hollywood in a long time.She’s so far off from being a Hollywood cookie cutter that I just have come to admire and respect her more and more.I love that she is completely unfazed by it all.

  78. sierra says:

    She bugs the hell out of me. I used to adore her because she isn’t cookie cutter Hollywood and she’s super talented that can’t be denied, but she is pretentious. Plus her support for Polanski really was the knife through my heart. I think because she’s older and critically acclaimed people take her eccentricity as natural, plus her British accent helps take the edge off some of her words. When in reality she’s as concerned with being seen as so different, unusual, and incredibly enlightened as gaga is.

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