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24 September 2014
FILMS - Interviews

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Tilda Swinton
Young Adam
Written by David Michael
updated 25th September 2003


Tilda Swinton
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Read our review of "Young Adam

Hear Tilda Swinton talk about "Young Adam" on Collective

Interview with Ewan McGregor

Known initially for her work with Derek Jarman in the late 80s, Tilda Swinton is a principled artist. While she has described her approach to film as "subverting with art that disguises itself as commerce", "Young Adam" at least gave her the comfort of working in her Scottish homeland, and getting absorbed into the existentialist world of Scotland's finest beat writer, Alexander Trocchi.

It's not always easy pulling off an existentialist mood in cinema, but David Mackenzie has been very true to the book...
I honestly believe it's the purest novelisation of a film I've ever seen. A fly on the nipple, a cigarette on the floor - it's all in the book. And it's all there in the film. It says everything about David Mackenzie's powers as a filmmaker. What he's done is recognise the cinematic nature of the book. It's beautifully realised - it's a beat film.

Were you drawn to the existentialist nature of the film and Trocchi's work?
I've always been interested in the existentialist movement. Alexander Trocchi is an important figure for us Scots. I felt clearly that the atmosphere of the film is about loneliness, and existentialist loneliness - in all the characters, including my own.

So how does your character, Ella, fit into the existentialist scheme of things?
She's in the sort of classic proletarian trap of isolation for a woman. And she has absolutely no one - who can she talk to? She's not a talker, or an intellectual, and she's a woman at a certain stage of her life who's already made a certain amount of choices. For example, to marry and to take on her father's barge, and to have a child.

She's reached that bend in the road where she looks ahead and realises, 'Oh, this is going to go on forever and nothing's going to change it.' The thing that moves me about her, is that somehow in that grimness, when this gauntlet is thrown down to her by Joe [Ewan McGregor], she has the spirit to take it up, and she has the aspiration to look for her Eden. I always think of the word 'abandonment' when I think of the character.

Going back to the fly on the nipple, how was the fly directed?
It was an amazing performer. Very temperamental, it spent a lot of time in its trailer. The description in the book is of this fly on the nipple, and it's rubbing its legs together as if it's carving a minute turkey. So we had this moment with the fly, and we all thought: 'Well, you can't hope to direct a fly. If it walks around a bit, that will be enough.' And it did exactly what happened in the book, and it was just phenomenal. It's just an amazing performance!

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