Few actors have as varied a body of work as Tilda Swinton. She's as comfortable (and believable) as a crass, off-brand Anna Wintour in her handful of scenes in Trainwreck as she is as the regret-filled and haunted mother at the center of We Need to Talk About Kevin - and those are just two of her more than 80 credited roles.
That amount of range and that steady of a career for any actor is, of course, rare, and it's frankly rarer still for a woman in her 50s, given the more common steady drop-off in Hollywood offers for many women at a certain point in their career. However, Swinton belongs to that rare class who not only books, but books often, and her sheer gameness surely helps explain why. There's no one quite like her, and filmmakers as disparate as Judd Apatow and Joanna Hogg obviously see the appeal. Here's a brief rundown of 16 of her roles - all of which, it's worth noting, could easily be substituted for a different 16 to make an equally strong case for her being one of the most versatile actors working. She's even made a habit of playing dual roles in the same movie.
Vote up your favorite roles from Tilda Swinton's strange and incredible career.
- 154 VOTES
‘Burn After Reading’ - As The Two-Timing Wife Of A CIA StoogePhoto: Focus Features
The Coen Brothers’ 2008 dark comedy Burn After Reading tracks a pair of bumbling gym workers and would-be extortionists who stumble upon what they believe to be high-level national security information and attempt to flip it for cash. Swinton plays Katie Cox, the wife of John Malkovich's burned-out CIA agent Oswald Cox. She's in something of her Michael Clayton vein in the role, as she’s a hyper-competent East Coast professional, albeit this time with a good deal more contempt for Oswald, whom she regularly (and happily) cheats on.
Throughout, her particular acidity complements the hijinx-heavy plot, which includes a number of surprise twists, an elaborate sex machine, and a willfully distant version of a CIA head played by J.K. Simmons in a tremendous "let’s wait and see" bureaucrat mode.Great performance?
- 250 VOTES
‘Michael Clayton’ - As A Ruthless, Duplicitous Corporate LawyerPhoto: Warner Bros.
Tony Gilroy’s 2007 feature directing debut, Michael Clayton, holds up today as an expertly crafted legal thriller with a legendary bouquet of baguettes. It also landed Swinton her first (and, to date, only) Oscar, which she won for her supporting role as Karen Crowder, an overstretched and compromised corporate lawyer who conspires to have a number of her company's enemies quietly terminated.
Swinton is all nervy competence in the part, regularly shifting between the confidence of a high-powered and well-credentialed professional and the insecure Machiavellian begrudgingly doing what she thinks she must to keep her work - and her life - from going off the rails. Her Oscar acceptance speech was all charm, too, and if the Academy voters somehow don't see fit to give her another one sometime soon, at least we'll always have that moment.Great performance?
- 3239 VOTES
‘Constantine’ - As A Half-Human, Half-AngelPhoto: Warner Bros.
Francis Lawrence’s 2005 comic book adaptation Constantine tracks the title undead angel/demon hunter's work assisting a detective uncover the truth of her sister's demise while fighting to redeem his immortal soul. Swinton plays the Archangel Gabriel, a sort of world-straddling figure whose non-humanity is reflected in their decidedly androgynous self-presentation.
Swinton imbues the character with a sort of distant disdain for humanity's privileged position in the everlasting-life sweepstakes the movie explores. Gabriel resents the cosmic favoritism God dotes upon man, and Swinton plays the sort of existential stakes of that dynamic quite well.Great performance?
- 4194 VOTES
The ‘Chronicles of Narnia’ Franchise - As The Sinister White WitchPhoto: Buena Vista Pictures
The abandoned C.S. Lewis Chronicles of Narnia franchise remains a fairly fascinating late-2000s object. It essentially coasted off of post-Lord of the Rings hype, only to actually see three of the famed Christian author's seven Chronicles books - The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Prince Caspian, and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader - adapted. Each met with steadily decreasing box office returns before stopping altogether.
As of 2020, additional Chronicles films have been scheduled for production with Netflix, but given that a decade has passed since the last entry, whether or not The Silver Chair or The Horse and His Boy will ever make it to screens in live action seems increasingly difficult to say for certain. If it does, some version of the White Witch will quite probably return, but whether Swinton will play her is not clear. The character is the closest thing the franchise has to a Saruman-type figure and the fact that she appeared in both Caspian and Dawn Treader certainly makes the odds likely. Swinton is quite solid in the role, which isn't a surprise - it essentially calls for equal parts charming manipulation and icy aggression, both of which she's played all over her career.Great performance?