During my latest press trip to LA, I had the pleasure of interviewing “The Ancient One” Tilda Swinton for her role in Marvel’s Doctor Strange. With Tilda’s career spanning almost 30 years and her numerous awards – it was a true honor to have her come speak with us.
Tilda Swinton Exclusive Interview
Q: So what was it like getting into costume for the Ancient One?
Tilda Swinton: Oh it’s such a great costume! It’s like pajamas. Yeah really, really great. And those beautiful colors…Yeah really wonderful.
Q: Did you have any struggles with this particular role?
TS: The only real struggle was casting spells – learning all these amazing things with fingers, and then remembering what to say at the same time.
Q: How did you feel about being cast in a role that’s traditionally an Asian man?
TS: Well you know, 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.
Kevin and Scott were very, very clear about the reasons they wanted to shake up the stereotype. They felt that there were couple of racial stereotypes around the two big Asian characters in the film, one was 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 [that] the male overlord falls over….I think it was a 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 I think the idea of a sorceress supreme being a woman is important. The thought of an Asian woman…he was worried that it would turn into a kind of dragon lady thing.
Q: What was the most difficult scene to film, and why?
Tilda Swinton: Oooo…I have to think because it was all really quite easy. I mean, the fighting is fantastic fun, and difficult and interesting in fun ways. You know, I gave myself the task that the Ancient One would be completely serene through all the fighting. That was something.
One thing that I find very challenging – and I would challenge anybody to do this – to do these moves without making faces like a nine-year-old boy. That was quite hard. Not making faces.
Q: Did you do your own stunts?
TS: I did a lot of them, but there was an amazing stunt double who I worked with called ‘Julia’ who became a friend.We all had stunt doubles ‘cause they do the things that are really dangerous.
Q: How did you feel about being bald in the movie?
TS: Well it was my decision – it was my suggestion and we had this great several months of playing with options, all sorts of weird wig ideas, but eventually, it felt like less was more…and I loved it. I thought it looked really, really ancient, but also kind of modern and rad and… yeah and it was a nice feeling, as well.
Q: What was the dynamic of everyone on set?
Tilda Swinton: We were sooo 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, you know – technicians or people who have lit all these films for years, or Alex Byrne who does the costumes, she’d done like seven Marvel films. Everybody’s psyched, it’s a playground! The cast – we were all so happy to know each other.
Q: Was there any ad libbing on set that made it into the film?
TS: Oh yeah. 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’s a lot of nodding and winking that wasn’t scripted. I know that there are moments when we ad libbed it. Benedict has a moment when he’s saying, ‘What, like Madonna? Like Beyoncé?’ We were all suggesting, you know, all the different names he would use at that point.
I do remember, there’s one adlib I made that we laughed so much at that’s not in it, which is when I throw him out into the Everest, and then he has to work his way back, and then he came back, and I wanted to say, ‘That’ll do, pig.’ Scott was very welcoming and wanted us to throw stuff in, and we did.
Q: Was there anything you learned about yourself while making this film?
TS: Well I really loved all the action. We were all very physical while we were working, and we would kind of 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 the two. It’s nice to have the physical kind of energetic life, alongside some kind of introspection it is a really healthy thing. And I didn’t get sick throughout the shoot, and we all always get sick when we’re shooting, and I think that’s something to do with that. So that’s quite a dull answer but that was true – I did learn that.
Q: How would you describe your character, the Ancient One, in one word?
Tilda Swinton: It’s a noun and not an adjective – it’s perspective. Yeah.
I can completely understand why she was chosen for the role of The Ancient One. She was amazing to interview and I just loved her down to earth nature. After the interview, she was happy to take a photo with our group, which we really appreciated.
About Doctor Strange
Marvel Studios’ “Doctor Strange” follows the story of world-famous neurosurgeon Dr. Stephen Strange who, in his quest for healing after a horrific car accident, discovers powerful magic in a mysterious place known as Kamar-Taj—the front line of a battle against unseen dark forces bent on destroying our reality.
See the trailer below and don’t forget Doctor Strange is in theaters everywhere November 4th!