Tilda Swinton reunites with childhood pal Joanna Hogg for ‘Eternal Daughter’ – Daily News

As a child, Tilda Swinton always felt like an outsider, an observer of others, sometimes even in her own family. One day at the British boarding school she loathed, she met another girl, Joanna Hogg, who shared a similar worldview. (Another classmate was Diana Spencer, the future princess.)

“We were two aliens, if you like. It was that wonderful thing of being isolated, but together in that,” Swinton recalls a half-century later, sitting on a couch in Manhattan with her lifelong friend, discussing their latest collaboration, “The Eternal Daughter,” which arrives in theaters on Dec. 2. Hogg wrote and directed the film; Swinton stars. 

“There was a feeling of not being in step at the school, so we took refuge in each other,” Hogg adds, prompting Swinton to note that “nothing has changed,” which sparks a burst of laughter from the two women. 

Swinton says that as children they weren’t consciously plotting future film careers – “There wasn’t a point where we stopped talking about treehouses and started talking about cinema” –  but she argues that it was all happening below the surface. 

“We enjoyed the mutual experience of sharing awareness about the energy of groups, the unspoken tendencies of other people,” she says. “We were always feeling between our fingers and our thumbs the metal of the kind of work we’re creating now.” 

When Hogg studied photography in their late teens, she used the distinctive Swinton as one of her models (Swinton recently found photos from that period), and when she moved into filmmaking it was “a seamless transition” – they collaborated on two projects, one unfinished and one, “Caprice,” that became Hogg’s graduation project from National Film and Television School in 1986. 

By that point, Swinton was a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company. Her first feature film, “Caravaggio,” came out the following year, directed by Derek Jarman, who was a mentor to both women. 

At that point, their careers diverged: Hogg spent most of the next two decades directing television in Britain, enjoying success but chafing at the restrictions. Swinton first made her mark in 1992’s “Orlando,” about an androgynous nobleman in the Elizabethan era, but was mostly below the radar as well until the 21st century. 

Finally, it seemed the world caught up to what Hogg and Swinton had to offer: starting in 2007, Hogg directed three critically acclaimed features in six years (“Unrelated,” “Archipelago,” and “Exhibition”); in 2007, Swinton won an Oscar for her supporting role in “Michael Clayton,” which she followed with distinctive turns in films like “Burn After Reading,” “Snowpiercer” and “The Grand Budapest Hotel” and “We Need to Talk About Kevin.”

In 2019, more than 30 years after their last film collaboration, the two reunited on Hogg’s semi-autobiographical movie “The Souvenir.” Swinton played Rosalind, a stand-in for Hogg’s mother and Hogg cast Swinton’s daughter, Honor Swinton Byrne to play her own alter ego, Julie. They reunited for a sequel last year. 

“Tilda knew my mother and I knew hers,” Hogg says. “There was a knowledge there and no research needed.”

Now they are back together again – Hogg and Swinton as well as Julie and Rosalind. But “Eternal Daughter” is very different from its predecessors. A haunting meditation on familial bonds, it is filmed like a ghost story, with fog swirling around a large and ominous inn that is run by an enigmatic desk clerk and filled with slowly creaking doors and  plagued by poor cell phone reception.

But despite the setting and mood, this is not a movie about jump scares and things that go bump in the night – the fears in the movie are more prosaic and profound, as Julie struggles to accept the idea that she is going to lose her increasingly frail mother.

“The genre aspect is very tied into the worries that Julie has and the fabric of their relationship,” Hogg says. “They’re not different things.”

This film, like “The Souvenirs,” is emotionally autobiographical. 

“I always worried about my mother and saw her as fragile, but maybe I just perceived her as that and then she became really fragile, which brought out the eternal daughter in me,” Hogg says. “It was always strong, but it intensified then. The core of the film is about grief – you can feel the loss when someone’s still alive. I felt like I was grieving my mother years before she died.” 

Hogg had struggled writing the film and separating out her real relationship from the fictional one until she decided to make the characters older versions of Julie and Rosalind. 

“Then I didn’t feel the same responsibility like I was trespassing on our lives,” she says. “Well, that’s not entirely true – I still felt guilty but I’m getting over it.”

She knew she wanted Swinton to play Julie but was struggling to conceive of an appropriate older actress to play Rosalind until Swinton made a suggestion. “I’d already established myself as Rosalind in ‘The Souvenirs’ so I said, ‘Maybe I can play both.’”

Hogg needed no persuading. “It was a brilliant idea,” she says. “What the film is about was born in that moment – before it was about two people; the idea of ‘My mother is myself’ was there, but this made it a concrete thing.” 

The lack of separation from her mother Hogg always felt, she acknowledged  “is not a healthy state.” It has not changed since her mother died while Hogg was editing the film. 

“I’m more accepting of the eternal part of being a daughter now when I’m saying something my mother would have said,” Hogg says, “I take comfort in it because I want to be reminded of her.”

“This morning we started to have our mothers’ breakfasts,” Swinton adds, noting that she didn’t feel much “crossover” with her mother until she died a decade ago. 

“But since then, there’s been this strange picking up of her frequency,” Swinton says. “I’m wearing clothes she wore, but even stranger, I’m wearing the types of things she wore and saying turns of phrase that only she used. And I was not doing it consciously or for my own sake – it’s a strange sort of, one can almost say, possession or incarnation.”

That experience, which Swinton has been told is common both by friends and by psychiatrists, nourished the idea that she play both Julie and Rosalind. 


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