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Tilda Swinton 5 FEATURE

Spellbinding Moments with the Ancient One – My Interview with Tilda Swinton of Doctor Strange

I recently had the honor of sitting down (among 24 other bloggers) with Tilda Swinton, one of my all time favorite talents, for the upcoming theater release of Doctor Strange. Tilda, known for a mile-long list of films, originally gained my interested when I first saw her in The Beach with Leo DeCaprio. After that, she wowed me again as the White Witch in The Chronicles of Narnia.

I was thrilled when I found out she had been cast as the Ancient One for Doctor Strange, and even more so when I found out I would have the opportunity to meet and interview her. So what did we talk about? Well, everything from spells to horror movies (which was a total nerd bonus for me).

No one’s going to need acid after this….

Doctor Strange can be seen in theaters everywhere November 4th. Go see it in IMAX 3d (you’ll thank me later).

Tilda Swinton, Doctor Strange, interview
Photo Dusty Pendleton 2016

My Interview with Tilda Swinton

The interview took place at the Montage Beverly Hills Hotel. From the moment Tilda walked through the door she exuded elegance. She’s so graceful and down to earth. An absolutely stunning woman, very much like a runway model, she was very easy to converse with and a lot of fun. Here’s what Tilda had to say about working on Doctor Strange and what’s next:

We talked about wardrobe for Doctor Strange and what it was like performing in it on set with all those sweet spellbinding moves, fight scenes and whether or not it was difficult to do any of it.

The costume, oh it’s such a great costume! It’s just like, pajamas. Yeah really, really great. And those beautiful colors… Yeah, really wonderful.

As for being bald, it was my decision – it was my suggestion and we had several months of playing with options, all sorts of weird wig ideas, all sorts of long lobes. I thought it looked really, really ancient, but also kind of modern and rad… it was a nice feeling, as well.

The fighting is fantastic fun, really good fun – and difficult and interesting in fun ways. I set myself the task that the Ancient One would be completely serene through all the fighting. That was— that was something.

One thing that I find very challenging, and I would— I would challenge anybody to do this, is to do the moves (without making fighting noises) like a nine-year-old boy, because we’ve all done that when we were little.

The only other real struggle was casting spells – learning all these amazing things with fingers, and then remembering what to say at the same time. And then they would say, ‘So you have to put your hands there, not there, because the light is going to go like this….

Tilda Swinton, Doctor Strange, interview
Photo Dusty Pendleton 2016

Tilda talks about what it was like to be cast for a role that had been written in the comics as a Tibetan man and why it was important to shake up the stereotype.

The comic strip was an Asian man, in fact, a very ancient Tibetan man living on the top of a mountain. The film script that I was given wasn’t an Asian man, so I wasn’t asked to play an Asian man. I was asked to play an ancient Celtic person. If I’d been asked to play an Asian man I would’ve shown them Benedict Wong.

Kevin and Scott were very, very clear about the reasons they wanted to shake up the stereotype. They felt there were couple of kind of gnarly, racial stereotypes around the two big Asian characters in the film, one was Benedict’s—Benedict Wong’s character; he was a sort of servant. And the other was the Ancient One, who was a kind of old, wise Fu Manchu character. Scott wanted to make it a woman, which the male overlord falls over.

I think it was a really, really cool move to put a woman in the Marvel universe who’s not twenty-one and in a bikini – although we love the girls in bikinis, but it’s really important, for the idea of a sorceress supreme being a woman. When Scott thought of an Asian woman, he was worried that it would turn into a kind of dragon lady. So basically they kind of… came through the wash, and ended up with me.

Filming any movie can be very difficult. With long hours and often times, very uncomfortable conditions, personalities can mesh or not. Tilda tells us what the dynamic was like on set.

We were so happy! I don’t know about anybody else in Marvel movies, but for me, it was like being asked to join the circus. We all joined the circus and we were all given these incredible costumes and everybody in the Marvel universe that I’ve met so far is so psyched to be a part of it! Even though there are some people who have been there for years, the technicians or people who have lit all these films for years. Or Alex Byrne who does the costumes, she’d done seven Marvel films. Nobody’s jaded, everybody’s psyched…it’s a playground! And the cast, we were all so happy to know each other.

Tilda Swinton, Doctor Strange, interview
Photo Dusty Pendleton 2016

Tilda was the only member of the cast who had seen the entire length of the film (although not in 3d at this point). She shares her thoughts on the film

I was really, really happy. I was so impressed with the way in which—I mean, it’s always weird.  I mean, maybe it’s weird for all of us, you know, if you see yourself on a home movie, you sort of go—it’s like when someone’s fuzzed out in a police video, you—you sort of see everybody else except yourself for a bit. But with this one, I don’t know whether it’s the way in which it’s in this heightened universe, and everybody looks— we all look like Marvel characters.  We don’t really look like ourselves. There’s something very smooth about everything, and that’s to do with the way it’s lit, and the way it’s designed. And it’s cut like a comic strip. So it’s quite an experience. It was better than I’d hoped.

Ad-libbing during takes can be fun and often can add a special element to a film that hadn’t been written in before. I love when talent finds inspiration to ad-lib. Tilda tells us about ad-libbing on Doctor Strange.

Scott was very clear from the beginning that even though the script was really sound and very good, he wanted us to be free and easy. There are moments when we ad-libbed it. I do remember, there’s one ad lib I made that we laughed so much at that’s not in the film.

I throw Benedict into a winter scene and he’s stuck there. He has to work his way back, and then when he came back, and I  wanted to say, ‘That’ll do, babe.’

That’s my one disappointment about the film. They said they thought that maybe the Ancient One wouldn’t have said “Babe.” But, I think the Ancient One knows everything. Scott was very welcoming and wanted us to throw stuff in, and we did.

Tilda Swinton, Doctor Strange, interview
Photo Dusty Pendleton 2016


So what’s it like getting a role in a Marvel film? Tilda talks about her meeting with Scott Derrickson.

I was in a very fortunate position of not auditioning at all. I was in LA anyway, working with the Coen Brothers and I was told that Scott Derrickson wanted to meet me and I didn’t know why. I’d met him in the past and I didn’t know why he wanted to meet me particularly. We had tea and he told me he was going to do this film, and that he had written this part for me. He basically kind of emotionally blackmailed me and said, “If you don’t do it, I’ll have to rewrite it.”

I was flattered and honored and intrigued – and then of course I read it and I felt really good about it. The film that he spoke about there at that tea table, I remember, was incredible. He said, ‘This is going to be a film, a big, tent pole Marvel film about creation, and not about destruction.” Now we’ve seen it – that’s what he’s done!

That’s what’s so moving about the film. This power that Doctor Strange is taught to wield is a power for good. It’s really new.

What’s next for Tilda Swinton? I was probably the MOST excited person in the room to learn this news. I’m a huge fan of the horror genre and can actually proudly say I own this original.

I’m going to start a movie in about two week’s time. Another film with my friend Luca Guadagnino, who’s an Italian filmmaker I’ve worked with many times before; two films that have been released here, one called “I am Love” and one called “A Bigger Splash” which was released last year, and we’re making a new film called “Susperia”. Scary movie. I’m really excited. I’m a big horror fan.

Tilda Swinton, Doctor Strange, interview, poster
Disney / Marvel 2016

It was such a lovely chat with Tilda Swinton. She was cast perfectly for the role as the Ancient one in Doctor Strange. I can see why Scott Derrickson was so tenacious about having her. She’s brilliant. I’m very excited for Suspiria, and will be keeping an eye on Tilda’s work.

Catch Doctor Strange in theaters this Friday, Nov. 4th in IMAX 3d!

Missed the trailer? See it here:


Christa Thompson

Christa Thompson is the Founder and Chief Editor of The Fairytale Traveler. She started traveling the world in 2003 when she attended a summer abroad study at the University of Cambridge in England. Since then, her wanderlust has been fierce. Her three passions in life are her son, traveling, and being creative. The Fairytale Traveler brand gives Christa the opportunity to do all of these things and to live intentionally every day. "It's never too late to believe in what you love and to pursue your dreams." -Christa Thompson

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