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Tilda Swinton And Joanna Hogg On 'The Souvenir'


"The Souvenir" is no rom-com. A young woman named Julie meets a young man named Anthony, and he's no good for her or really for himself. She's in film school. He has a job he can't talk about in the foreign office. He also doesn't talk about something else. His drug addiction begins to overtake both of their lives, even as Julie tries to continue to make a film that resonates.


HONOR SWINTON BYRNE: (As Julie) I'm making a feature film.

TOM BURKE: (As Anthony) You're not trying to document some received idea of life up there on the docks, the daily grind, huddled, listening to the wildness.

SWINTON BYRNE: (As Julie) Well, I am, but I'm creating something new with it.

SIMON: The film stars Honor Swinton Byrne as Julie. And yes, she is related - the daughter of actress Tilda Swinton, who plays her mother in this film. Tom Burke plays Anthony. The film is directed by Joanna Hogg, the highly acclaimed independent filmmaker, and based on a story based on a relationship in her own life. Tilda Swinton and Joanna Hogg are lifelong friends. They both join us now from New York. Thank you both very much for being with us.

TILDA SWINTON: Thank you, Scott.

JOANNA HOGG: Thank you. It's a pleasure.

SIMON: Tilda Swinton, you knew the real guy in Joanna Hogg's life.

SWINTON: Yes, I did.

SIMON: And forgive me, but did you ever in real life say to her - I don't know - anything? Did you ever venture an opinion, like, this isn't going anywhere, or he's got bad news written all over him?

SWINTON: No, I didn't. I didn't. I think that Joanna and I similarly didn't see that there was bad news written on him at all. And one of the things that I think a modern audience will find really particular about this story is the way in which this young woman, who's so empowered in so many ways, is completely clueless about something that, to us, when we watch the film, we see is fairly obvious. But that is true. We were pretty clueless for all sorts of rather interesting, sociological reasons. I think we were extremely naive.

SIMON: Joanna Hogg, what were those reasons? - because I've got to say, by the way, Tom Burke gives a great performance.

HOGG: Yup.

SIMON: But as soon as he hit the screen, my fatherly instincts were riled.


HOGG: Well, I didn't see that at all. I saw someone who is incredibly articulate and intelligent and would always have an interesting argument. But also, it made me feel somewhat inadequate because I didn't have the knowledge and what seemed like the knowledge of the world and how the world works that he had. So in the process of making this film, I do see a very passionate human being but someone who had this self-destructive streak. And that's very sad to me for someone who had so much potential but never realized it.

SIMON: Yeah. May I ask, Joanna Hogg, what was your thinking in not showing Anthony's story? We don't know how he came to drugs. We don't really know what he does, all of that.

HOGG: Yes. Well, that's an interesting point because that was almost the reason why I hadn't made the film before because I felt that if I was telling this story, I needed to tell it from both points of view. And I didn't have the confidence. I actually didn't have the knowledge about this character to be able to tell his side of the story. And it's something I felt was like a failing in myself not to be able to know him better. But he was - you can see as he's portrayed, he was somewhat an enigma and quite mysterious about what he did. So I let go of this idea of having to be accurate and get the facts right. I thought, well, it's not about the facts anyway. It's about an impression at that time. But I gave myself license not to see his viewpoint. And, actually, I didn't want to see his viewpoint because there's a second part to this tale. So some of that is being...

SIMON: There is a sequel in the works, I gather, yes?

HOGG: There is. There is imminently.

SIMON: Oh, mercy. Tilda Swinton, what (laughter) - how did you feel about your daughter, Honor Swinton Byrne, playing your daughter in such an emotional film?

SWINTON: Well, it was a very interesting process because Joanna was talking to me about playing the mother for quite a while. And as the months went by, I kept asking her how she was getting on finding this girl. And Joanna loves to work, for very intelligent reasons, in my view, with people who haven't performed before. She likes to work with the wild animals. And we talked about, you know - I talked to her about my friends' children and Honor's friends and only finally about two weeks before we started filming did it occur to us. And I sort of looked over to her rather as I am doing now across the studio and said, there's somebody we haven't discussed. And she was valuable for so many reasons. But the very fact that she was not interested in performing - she's still not interested in performing She's, you know...

SIMON: Still, after this performance, she doesn't think she has a knack for it.

SWINTON: She wants to go to university and read psychology and neurology, so no. But I mean, as you may know, Scott, I still don't identify as an actor myself, having...


SWINTON: ...Made films for 35 years. So one doesn't necessarily have to call oneself an actor if one's in films.

HOGG: "The Souvenir," the title, is, of course, also a painting that hangs in a gallery, which Anthony takes Julie to see. And the painting recurs in the film.

HOGG: That's right. Yes.

SWINTON: What does Anthony see in that painting, do you think?

HOGG: Yeah. Well, I'd quite like to hear what you think because I'm still figuring it out myself. And I went to see the painting. It's in the Wallace Collection in Manchester Square in London. And it's almost a miniature. It's minute. And it's very detailed. And I - I'm still fascinated in why I was taken because I was taken, like Julie, to the Wallace Collection to see that particular painting. It was a favorite painting of the person I knew. So it has significance. But I'm still - yeah. The honest truth is that I'm still working out what that significance is. And I suppose that's something that I felt when I was being shown that painting, that there was - I was in some way looking at myself. But I think I remember - just thinking about it now, I remember a slight feeling almost of shame or embarrassment that I was being told that this relationship is going to be important in some way, or I was important to this man. And I hadn't quite got my head around that at that point when we first met.

SWINTON: And in the film, significantly, when you - when Julie and Anthony are looking at the painting, they make different things of it. It's important that she doesn't really see what he sees in it. And it's important to him that she's very much in love, I guess...

HOGG: Yes.

SWINTON: ...You know? Speaking as an audience now - but I love that moment because, obviously, it's important to him to think of her as very much in love.

HOGG: Yes. Yes. Yes. And that was the pressure I felt as a young woman at that time that I was to be in love with somebody. So he puts her in the picture literally.

SIMON: Joanna Hogg, who is the director of "The Souvenir," Tilda Swinton is one of the stars, thank you both very much for being with us.

SWINTON: Thank you very much, Scott - and very nice to speak to you.

HOGG: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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