Tilda Swinton taught me it was okay to have pubic hair. I was 14, and friends with some mean boys who had me convinced that no one would ever touch me unless it was completely shaved. Swinton was naked on the TV screen in my English class — in Sally Potter's Orlando — and there was her bush for all to see. If pubes were okay for a movie star, they were all right for me too. Later, I realized that Swinton was less a movie star per se and more, as nerve.com put it, "the least ordinary actress around." She's an awesome performer, and an icon of a kind of bizarro-femininity that makes prettiness look passé. She's also on the cover of this month's BlackBook; inside the magazine she discusses her androgyny, her fashion sense, and her lover's penis.My favorite moment in the interview is this one:
[...] when the photographer says she looks a bit too much like a boy in one of the pictures, several hours into the shoot, she leans in and, as if letting him in on a secret, stage whispers: "That's kind of who I am."
Swinton's not into being cute, or girly, and although she describes herself as "resigned" rather then "comfortable" with her looks, she says, "I never had an aspiration to look like a doll, which is fortunate." Fortunate for her and fortunate for us, because we get a woman BlackBook calls "to some, the most beautiful woman on the planet," who is frankly odd-looking. I like to think of Swinton as post-beautiful, a visitor from some paradisaical future time when it's more important to look fascinating than to have big breasts or pouty lips (not that these things can't also be fascinating — they're just not the be-all and end-all of female hotness). Part of Swinton's otherworldly look comes from her fashion sense, of which she says, "'red carpet dressing' sounds like something that would take you out of your own instincts, but haven't gotten there yet. I will wear what I want to wear." Which includes a one-shoulder Lanvin gown that looked, to my mind, space-age awesome. When Swinton's iconoclasm goes beyond style, however, it gets a little more complicated. She calls the MPAA "the Motion Academy of doo da — what was it called?" And she says of her 2008 Oscar, "a lot of people really want one — really, really want one. And I'm embarrassed because I never did, and I feel a little ashamed that I was given one when I didn't really want one." What starts out as a bit of Doris-Lessing-style cussedness ends up sounding kind of ungracious, even holier-than-thou. And her opinions on Hollywood politics are just kind of confusing. She lists Javier Bardem and Marion Cotillard as proof that "there is a possibility for our generation, point being that one doesn't necessarily have to give it all up. One can actually stand up and be counted." Maybe her interviewer didn't push hard enough, but I'm not sure what she, Bardem, and Cotillard are being counted for, unless it's good acting and European hotness. Worthwhile pursuits both, but hardly revolutionary. But perhaps I'm expecting too much of Swinton. I originally encountered her as a counterexample to a particular borrowed-Playboy standard of female sexuality, and she remains one to this day. She is also a very, very good actress. A woman doesn't have to be inspiring in every way to be inspiring, and looks are still important — or rather, it's important for us to see someone who still looks how she wants to look and wears what she wants to wear. Tilda Swinton shows that female beauty and sexuality can be creative, self-determined, and weird, rather than mere products of the male gaze. That — and Orlando — are enough for me. A final note: in addition to her longtime partner and the father of her 10-year-old twins, Swinton is now involved with actor/painter Sandro Kopp, who played a centaur in The Chronicles of Narnia. At the end of the interview, Swinton describes him as "half New Zealander downstairs." Kopp's mother is from New Zealand, but what's with the "downstairs" crack? Is this some sort of centaur joke? Or are Kiwis known for their penises? Readers from the NZ, please help me out here. Tilda Swinton's Reign [BlackBook]