Tilda Swinton's wildest transformations, ranked
The many faces of Tilda Swinton
Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria, which premiered at Venice in September, hits theaters Friday. The remake of the 1977 horror classic marks the Italian auteur’s fourth collaboration with star Tilda Swinton, and Swinton’s zillionth (approx.) collaboration with a highly inventive hair and makeup team. In honor of the chameleonic star’s latest, we examined, compared, and definitively ranked a dozen of her wildest transformations. See which makeover comes in at No. 1.
12. The Limits of Control (2009)
With the exception of her bright green eyes and a bold lip, Swinton went monochrome in a platinum wig and long trench coat as “The Blonde” in Jim Jarmusch’s arty The Limits of Control, her second collaboration with the filmmaker.
11. Trainwreck (2015)
As the shallow magazine editor Dianna in the raunchy rom-com Trainwreck, Swinton looks as conventional as you’ll find her on this list. But the fake honey-gold beach waves and even faker tan are as disconcerting on Swinton as any of these other vampire/mystic/dystopian-government-official looks might be on a network TV ingénue.
10. Moonrise Kingdom (2012)
While Swinton does look entirely human (which sounds like a low bar, but read on for some films where she doesn’t) as the austere Social Services in Wes Anderson’s coming-of-age comedy, the carefully sculpted red hair, flippy jacket, and jaunty hat make Social Services (who also refers to herself as such, in the third person) practically unrecognizable as Tilda Swinton.
9. Okja (2017)
We get twice the Tilda in Swinton’s second Bong Joon-ho film, in which she plays twin sisters Lucy and Nancy, different sides of the same villainous coin. Lucy, above, appears first to reveal the corporate scheme that serves as the catalyst for the plot — and if her extreme peppiness didn’t mark her as a certain kind of deranged, the strangeness of her severe platinum bob and the pink lipstick that brings extra attention to her braces should do it.
8. Orlando (1992)
As the title character in Sally Potter’s adaption of Virginia Woolf’s novel, Tilda Swinton is only half recognizable in period clothes and long, coppery red hair. But the actress' transformation is secondary to Orlando’s own: After magically living and staying young through several centuries of England’s history, the androgynous young nobleman turns into a young noblewoman, only to find that while she is very much the same person, the world around her — and the way she experiences it — is hardly even recognizable.
7. Only Lovers Left Alive (2013)
Jim Jarmusch’s vampire romance imagines the bloodsucking immortals as brilliant artist-poet-scientists who spend their days lounging around in their sunglasses and savoring little shots of delicious, hospital-grade O-negative. Made over as the centuries-old Eve, Swinton fits perfectly into this moody vision of rock-n-roll vamps.
6. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (2005)
As Jadis, Narnia’s White Witch, Swinton looks icy and regal right down to her glittering eyelashes. The transformation is obviously extreme from a costuming perspective, between the elaborately coiled hair, icicle tiara, and mountains of furs, but Swinton is so natural as the otherworldly queen it doesn’t feel like a big leap (that is, until she is revealed to be an evil and ruthless tyrant, obviously).
5. Doctor Strange (2016)
If Swinton was ever going to make a superhero movie, it could only be like this. As Doctor Strange’s enigmatic sorcerer The Ancient One — a character that had previously typically been portrayed as male — Swinton wore no visible makeup and even less hair along with her mystic robes and transcendent composure.
4. The Zero Theorem (2013)
Swinton appears in the third entry in Terry Gilliam’s Brazil trilogy as Dr. Shrink-ROM, an AI therapist who appears as a suitably cartoonish approximation of a real doctor, with her inexplicable triangle haircut, oversized earrings, and aggressive houndstooth skirt suit.
3. The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)
Wes Anderson is not a filmmaker to skimp on the details, and he and Swinton certainly didn’t in the creation of Madame D., the very old, very rich lady who dies and leaves a priceless painting to the concierge of the Grand Budapest Hotel. Just look at that wrinkly skin, the unmoving pile of hair, the sloppily applied lipstick!
2. Snowpiercer (2013)
Swinton’s first collaboration with Bong Joon-ho, and the filmmaker’s first English-language movie, ranks among her best. There are so many strange and inventive elements at play — the teeth! The medals! The accent! — in Swinton’s Minister Mason, it’s difficult to even identify and pick them all apart well enough to find the actress underneath. But then, that’s what it means to be transformed, isn’t it?
1. Suspiria (2018)
The character of Dr. Jozef Klemperer in Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria is played, Swinton maintains, by Lutz Ebersdorf. When pressed on the subject, however, she points out that a better question than “Are you playing Dr. Klemperer?” would be “Are you playing Lutz Ebersdorf?” — the answer to the latter being “an unequivocal yes.”
While Swinton also more obviously portrays the mysterious dance director Madame Blanc, it's her fierce commitment to her secret second role — for which she wore a "weighty set of genitalia" just to feel the prosthetics "dangling between her legs," per makeup artist Mark Coulier — that shoots Suspiria to the top of the list.