MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
The new film "A Bigger Splash" swims with jealousy, intrigue and lust. It's set on the rugged Italian island of Pantelleria. A rock star, played by Tilda Swinton, is staying there, along with her lover, Paul. She's recuperating, rendered virtually mute after surgery on her vocal cords. Suddenly her ex appears on the scene, all manic energy, along with his nubile young daughter. And the stage is set for trouble when Swinton's character invites the visitors to stay in their villa.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "A BIGGER SPLASH")
MATTHIAS SCHOENAERTS: (As Paul De Smedt) You asked him to stay. Why is that? You feel nostalgic.
TILDA SWINTON: (As Marianne Lane) Don't let him know we can talk like this.
BLOCK: This is the fourth movie partnership for Tilda Swinton and the film's director, Luca Guadagnino. And they both join me now from New York. Welcome to the program.
SWINTON: Thank you, Melissa. Good to be here.
LUCA GUADAGNINO: Thank you.
BLOCK: And, Tilda Swinton, we're going to get you to do something that you don't get to do in the film very much, which is talk about this role and in particular, the choice to have your character be largely silent. And I gather that this was your decision, right? This was your idea.
SWINTON: Well, it was my suggestion, and it was, of course, Luca's decision. It was a - like a challenge that I sat down in front of him. And one of the things that's quite emblematic of our relationship is that we challenge each other and we tend to say yes to each other (laughter). I - it just occurred to me that this force among this island and this sort of nightmare holiday scenario would be the tension, which is there already, would be ramped up if Marianne couldn't speak. And when Luca first approached me with the idea of being in the film, she was quite different. She was an actress for a start and she and Harry, who's the character that Ray Fiennes plays who comes and...
BLOCK: Your ex.
SWINTON: ...disrupts this - yeah, disrupts this idyll that she's in with Paul in this new life. They kind of, you know, batted dialogue back between each other. And, I don't know, I was suddenly tempted by the idea of her not being able to speak and imagine what that would do to him. And it certainly ramped him up a bit. And I'm a little tired of seeing people being consistently portrayed as very articulate.
SWINTON: And able to hear exactly what each other really means to say. Because apart from anything else, it doesn't feel like it's the most interesting thing about life, as far as I'm concerned, but it's also, to my mind, not the best use of the cinema. The cinema feels like a great open invitation to look at all the mess in life. And it's not really a place to look at people talking like playwrights constantly.
BLOCK: And, Luca, how does having Tilda's character, Marianne Lane, this rock star, be silent? How did that change how you directed her when there's so much more stillness really in her role?
GUADAGNINO: Well, the first day of shooting, I think that I was watching the monitor and I saw Tilda performance in the first take. And I thought oh, my God, this is so vivid and alive. And it reminded me of silent comic actors. And we started to talk about Harpo Marx.
SWINTON: It's why I had curly hair.
GUADAGNINO: (Laughter) Yes.
BLOCK: That's why you had curly hair, Tilda (laughter)?
GUADAGNINO: I think it's not true that - I mean, the lack of dialogue is not necessarily a lack of action. Actually, the dialogue can be a great contrivancy (ph) against the action.
SWINTON: I would even say that the lack of words doesn't preclude dialogue. You know, you can be in dialogue with someone who's not actually speaking. And so that was a real delight to play with.
BLOCK: I'd like you to talk a bit about the collaboration because you have done a number of films together. Is there just a shorthand that's developed where you intuitively know what the other wants?
SWINTON: I think so.
SWINTON: We don't - we very seldom need to make decisions. It's unfolding a carpet. You sort of go, oh, right, so this is the next bit. And yes, yes, yes, this is the next bit.
GUADAGNINO: When we were shooting, I remember I was not telling anything to you after the - every cut because I thought it wasn't necessary. Because it's unspoken.
BLOCK: In this film, Tilda, in "A Bigger Splash," the first time we see your character, the rock star Marianne Lane, you are taking the stage. You're in front of a crowd of thousands and thousands of fans who are going wild and chanting your name.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "A BIGGER SPLASH")
BLOCK: And you're in full rock star regalia, right? You've got a spiky, punk haircut. You've got silver face paint. You're wearing a jumpsuit made out of sequins. We never get to hear you sing to that crowd. And I wonder if you wanted to. Did you want a big arena rock scene?
SWINTON: I did feel like a cheat for standing in front of that incredibly kind crowd, by the way, who we were lent by our friend Jovanotti, who's a great rock god in Italy. He lent us these 70,000 fans who were there for him and who had been queuing all day in the heat for them. And then we kind of crept out onto the stag and said, can we have your attention for 15 minutes. And they were so kind and they chanted Marianne Lane, Marianne Lane. It did feel very ungenerous not to be able to give them a song. But I - but the film is really, interestingly enough, the elephant in the room, of course, is Marianne's voice. But it felt important, rather like the shark in "Jaws," not to show it.
BLOCK: Are there more collaborations in the works between the two of you?
GUADAGNINO: Oh, yeah.
SWINTON: Oh, yeah.
GUADAGNINO: Many more.
BLOCK: Many more?
GUADAGNINO: Many more. Literally many more.
SWINTON: Yeah, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many...
BLOCK: (Laughter) I think we got the idea there. No question.
SWINTON: It's a rich garden. I always think we're, like, farmers. You know, there's the moment when you have a harvest, like now when a film comes out. But then there's the, you know, go back to the drawing board and you have to plow the field and you have to plant the seeds and then you have to water them and you have to sit around for - in private, you know, for years very often. And Luca and I have a great tradition of taking generations to make films. I mean, "I Am Love" took 13 years, I think, to make so...
GUADAGNINO: You know, and the professional cinema, which can be compared to advertisement, is about doing things in a limited amount of time. Be professional. Build the sets. Go there, shoot and go away. Yes. Cool. Nice. But truthfully, the process of this company, such an important one.
SWINTON: The process altogether, just - I mean, to sound extremely self-serving - just the enjoyment of the work of the process, that's also important. It's not just about product. It's about the work with your colleagues and with the ideas and seeing those ideas develop. The film gets - it's rather like babies get themselves born, you know? Films get themselves made somehow.
BLOCK: Tilda Swinton and director Luca Guadagnino. Their new film is "A Bigger Splash." Thanks to you both.
SWINTON: Thanks, Melissa.
GUADAGNINO: Thank you very much.