8 Surprising Facts About Tilda Swinton

Tilda Swinton in Pedro Almodóvar's The Human Voice (2020).
Tilda Swinton in Pedro Almodóvar's The Human Voice (2020). / Courtesy of the Pathe UK

Few actors can automatically make a movie better quite like Tilda Swinton. Whether it’s a lead role in an indie like We Need to Talk About Kevin or a supporting performance in a blockbuster like Doctor Strange, the Oscar winner leaves an impression. Her aura isn’t limited to her onscreen characters either. Read on to learn more about Tilda Swinton, who celebrates her 60th birthday on November 5, 2020.

1. Tilda Swinton was born into a historic family.

The roots of Tilda Swinton's family tree date back to the 9th century—but she's hardly the only notable member. Swinton's great-great-grandfather, John Hutton Balfour, was a famed botanist; her great-grandfather, George Swinton, was a noted Scottish politician; and her father, Major-General Sir John Swinton, was an officer in the British Army. Her daughter, Honor Swinton Byrne, is also following in her mother's footsteps; she's an actress who received acclaim for her starring role in Joanna Hogg's The Souvenir (2019), which also featured Tilda.

2. Tilda Swinton considers herself Scottish.

Though she was born in London, Swinton's family lineage was firmly planted in Scotland and she has always considered herself Scottish. When Glasgow-born Trainspotting and No Country for Old Men star Kelly Macdonald questioned Swinton's Scottish credentials, the artist was quick to respond, telling The Press and Journal, “I have lived in Scotland full-time for the last 20 years, I was brought up in Scotland through my childhood, I am from a family that has lived in Scotland for centuries ... I am happy to describe myself as Scottish and I feel, like many people, that Scotland is a naturally independent country."

3. Tilda Swinton saved her brother's life when she was 4 years old ... though that wasn't her intention.

Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston in Only Lovers Left Alive (2013).
Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston in Only Lovers Left Alive (2013). / Sandro Kopp - © 2013 - Sony Pictures Classics

When Swinton was 4 years old, she prevented a family tragedy when she saved her newborn brother from choking. But the reason Swinton happened to be in her brother's room at just the right moment was much more sinister.

"[W]hen I was four or five, I tried to kill my own brother," Swinton told The New Yorker in 2002 of her grim intentions. "I went into his room to kill him, saw some ribbons from a bonnet going into his mouth, and began to pull them out. And I was discovered saving his life. So I had this strange reputation—my brother's savior—and no one knew I wanted to kill him."

4. As a child, Tilda Swinton stopped speaking for several years.

While promoting We Need to Talk About Kevin, Swinton talked to The Guardian about her upbringing, and again referenced the incident with her younger brother. She also talked about being sent to boarding school when she was 10. While she was initially excited by the prospect of being surrounded by other girls (she grew up with three brothers), the reality was much different. It was a very difficult time for Swinton, who was bullied as a student. "I don't think I spoke for five years,” she said.

5. Tilda Swinton was a classmate and friend of Princess Diana.

Swinton attended West Heath Girls' School in Sevenoaks, Kent, where she was classmates—and reportedly friends—with Lady Diana Spencer, who would soon come to be known as Princess Diana.

6. Tilda Swinton has a thing for glass boxes.

If Swinton has claustrophobia, she does a good job of hiding it. In 1995, she made her first appearance in "The Maybe," a one-person art exhibition at London’s Serpentine Gallery. The installation featured Swinton sleeping inside a clear glass box, and more than 22,000 spectators came to see her. Since then, she has repeated this living art performance in Rome and New York, putting on multiple shows at the Museum of Modern Art in 2013.

7. Tilda Swinton can't remember how many movies she has made with Luca Guadagnino.

Olivier Strecker, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

Swinton has had repeated collaborations with several directors. She made her film debut in Caravaggio (1986), an experimental drama directed by the late Derek Jarman, with whom she worked a total of nine times. Swinton has also made four films apiece with both Wes Anderson and Jim Jarmusch. However, she seems to have a special connection to Italian director Luca Guadagnino.

"For me, his ability to understand the way cinema works is something that makes me feel very happy and secure because there's a safety net,” Swinton told Screen Daily about the Call Me By Your Name director, and confessed that she could not name all of their projects together. For the record, they’ve made four films together—most recently the 2018 remake of Suspiria.

8. Tilda Swinton, her ex-partner, and her boyfriend all shared a home in Scotland.

Though sources report that Swinton split from playwright John Byrne, her longtime partner and father of her two children, in 2005, there wasn’t a falling out—or even a moving out. Swinton and Byrne continued to share their Scotland home for some time, even after artist Sandro Kopp, Swinton's partner, moved in. While she and Byrne no longer share a home, Swinton told The Daily Mail the arrangement was hardly anything noteworthy. "The father of my children and I are good friends and I’m now in a very happy other relationship," Swinton said. "And we’re all really good friends. It's a very happy situation."