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Tilda Swinton on Making the Eerie Mother-Daughter Drama ‘The Eternal Daughter’: ‘The Film Possessed Me’

TIFF 2022: The actress and director Joanna Hogg discussed their new film’s spooky exploration of one of life’s most complicated relationships

“The film possessed me.”

That is how Tilda Swinton described how she came to star in “The Eternal Daughter,” her third pairing with director Joanna Hogg, and a sequel to their two previous collaborations, “The Souvenir” and “The Souvenir: Part II.”

The actress’ choice of words is fitting, since the new film is a ghostly, mysterious tale of a filmmaker, Julie, who’s caring for her elderly mother, Rosalind, in their family’s grand home in the country. Swinton reprises her “Souvenir” role as Rosalind and also takes on the role of Julie, who was played in the previous movies by Swinton’s own daughter Honor Swinton Byrne.

During a visit to TheWrap and Shutterstock’s Interview and Portrait Studio at the Toronto Film Festival, Swinton and Hogg discussed “The Eternal Daughter” with TheWrap’s Editor in Chief, Sharon Waxman, explaining that the idea for the film came from a deeply personal place.

“The story completely came about because of my relationship with my mother, and because of a fear of my mother one day disappearing,” Hogg said. “It’s something that has haunted me since I was a child.” The idea had been on her mind for years, but she felt guilty pulling material from her mother’s life — similar to the conflict Julie grapples with in “The Eternal Daughter.”

“I eventually got over that,” Hogg said. “There was something about making the “Souvenirs” together [with Swinton] and the way Rosalind and Julie became their own people. So at a certain point, it’s no longer about my mother and myself. It’s about these two other people.”

As for Swinton incarnating both mother and daughter for the project, that came about gradually.

“We were always talking, Joanna and I, about the relationship between a mother of the age of our mothers and the daughter of our age,” the actress said. “And when we started talking about this film, we were talking about me playing the daughter and finding an older person to play Rosalind. And then one day, I don’t know, it was the strangest sort of bubble of a thought: Why didn’t I play both?”

That decision “gave birth to an entirely different film,” Swinton continued — one that often leaves the audience wondering what is real and what is imagined or dreamed. “I love that thought, that the audience might ever [wonder], ‘Is it just me? Because I’m not getting it.’ It’s sort of what one wants as a filmmaker — is for people to be open enough to not know because the truth about this story in particular is that it’s very important not to know. It’s very important to feel lost in the way that Julie is lost.”

The film explores the complexities of the mother-daughter bond, which only becomes more complicated, Swinton and Hogg said, when a woman’s mother is approaching death. “I can’t separate, still, myself and my mother and sort of where I begin and where she ends and vice versa,” Hogg said. “So I was so interested in those ideas of this overlapping and these ‘ghosts’ that are there.”

“This entanglement between daughter and mother: In reality, you know, what is there that we can really know about that? It’s a mystery,” Swinton added. “It’s a real mystery to all of us how it’s possible to survive our mother. I still don’t know…. How does one disentangle one’s own identity from one’s mother’s?”

Adding to the complex nature of “The Eternal Daughter” is that, remarkably, there was no screenplay, only a document that Swinton could draw from to play each scene. “The closest way I can describe it, is it’s almost like a short story,” the actress said. “It’s like a sort of scaffolding. So she might say: ‘The morning, they come into TheWrap studio, they sit and talk to Sharon.’ That’s it. What we say is entirely improvised.”

“And it’s improvising with yourself in this case,” Hogg said. “It’s an incredibly intricate process, but very free and just constantly moving forward and never looking back.”

For the full conversation about “The Eternal Daughter,” check out the video above.

Studio sponsors include GreenSlate, Moët & Chandon, PEX and Vancouver Film School.