Tilda Swinton “The Ancient One” Interview
“The Ancient One”: The wise and enigmatic figure known only as The Ancient One has safeguarded the secrets of the Mystic Arts for a very long time indeed. When she encountered Stephen Strange, the centuries-old sage saw potential in the bedraggled ex-surgeon and agreed to show him a new side to reality: the mystical way of magic!
The room of 25 bloggers was about to interview Tilda Swinton who brings to life The Ancient One in the November 4, 2016 release of Marvel’s Doctor Strange when I had more than a few butterflies in my stomach. I have Tilda in my head as her portrayal of an icy witch. Her execution of that character was so well done it has stuck with me and I think I had started to project some of the characters attributes on to Tilda. Never have met her before, I was 99% sure she was not part icy witch. Actors bring their characters to life beautifully that sometimes we think they ARE the character they played.
After this interview I was sure she was 0 percent witch and 100% someone I wanted to sit on a beach with and talk about life. I found she has a gentle spirit, a quick wit and a passion for what is good and right in the world. After this interview Tilda will be ‘Tilda’ in my mind but also she will be ‘The Ancient One.’ I hope you find the same.
Side note: we applauded for her when she entered to interview room and instead of taking a bow, she applauded back at us. Just an indicator of the loveliness that is Tilda Swinton.
So what was it like getting into costume for the Ancient One?
Oh it’s such a great costume! It’s just like, pajamas. Yeah really, really great. And those beautiful colors… Yeah, really wonderful.
Did you have any struggles with this particular role?
The only 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….
How did you feel about being cast in a role that’s traditionally an Asian man?
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 that 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 was a really, really cool move to put a woman in the Marvel universe who’s not twenty-one and in a bikini was a good thing – 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.
You will be beyond impressed with the way Tilda portrays The Ancient One. She holds such power, grace and knowledge, all at the same time. I will never be able to see The Ancient One and not think of her in the role. She BECOMES The Ancient One!
What was the most difficult scene to film, and why?
I have to think because it was all really quite easy. 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 challenging 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.
Did you do your own stunts?
I did a lot of them but there was an amazing stunt double who I worked with Julia who became a friend.
How did you feel about being bald in the movie?
Well, 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.
What was the dynamic of everyone 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.
Was there any ad-libbing on set that made it into the film?
Oh yes. 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 adlib 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, pig.’
That’s my one disappointment about the film. They said they thought that maybe the Ancient One wouldn’t have seen “Babe.” But, I think the Ancient One knows everything. Scott was very welcoming and wanted us to throw stuff in, and we did.
Was there anything you learned about yourself while making this film?
I loved all the action. We would jump over to a B stage and do some physical stunts, and then we’d come back and do some quite Zen scene.
I had a reminder of something I should’ve learned earlier which is that it’s really important to do both types of scenes. Physical kind of energetic life, alongside some kind of introspection… is a really healthy thing.
I remembered and was reminded of how lazy I am. How difficult I find learning lines is. I tried something with the Ancient One which was quite tricky. I tried to actually be in a kind of state of mindfulness when I was speaking, which meant that I didn’t really learn my lines very well. I don’t think I’ll do that again. That was quite hairy.I was reminded again, how good it is to be happy when you work. Tilda Swinton in her… Click To Tweet
How would you describe your character, the Ancient One, in one word?
It’s a noun and not an adjective, it’s perspective.
After the audition, what were your feelings upon hearing you had gotten the role?
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.
But there is more!
Marvel Studios Teams Up With Save The Children to Raise Fund Through Hero Acts
Marvel Studios has a very exciting announcement! With the help of Fotition, Marvel fans can upload a photo of themselves in their favorite super hero pose and Marvel will donate $5 to Save The Children. This activation runs through the end of 2016 or until fans have uploaded enough for Marvel to donate one million dollars.
Hear from Benedict Cumberbatch himself:
Marvel Studios will donate five dollars ($5) to Save the Children. Up to U.S. one million dollars, for every fan who uploads a photo of themselves in their favorite Marvel hero pose. Marvel Studios is collaborating with Fotition, a new social change platform, to power the experience on a brand-new website MarvelStudiosHeroActs.
Marvel’s DOCTOR STRANGE is in theaters everywhere on November 4th!