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Tilda Swinton   ('The Chronicles Of Narnia') Tilda Swinton ('The Chronicles Of Narnia')

'The Witch Is Back!'

Tilda Swinton hasn't got the biography of your usual Hollywood player. The ultimate flag bearer for independent film, she spent eight years collaborating with Derek Jarman, played the eternal and androgynous Orlando for Brit helmer Sally Potter and appeared in performance art pieces that would have La La land suits running for the Hollywood hills.

But after roles in more mainstream pics such as 'The Deep End' and 'Constantine,' the Scottish actress now finds herself in a bona fide blockbuster playing Jadis, the super cool - and super evil - White Witch of CS Lewis' 'The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe.'

Catching up with Tilda on one of her many press junkets for this movie in LA recently, we first wondered if she knew CS Lewis' Narnia books before she had agreed to star in the film? "I'd never read them - I was an infidel. So I was free to be fully attracted by what Andrew [Adamson, the director] talked about wanting to make; I was infected by his enthusiasm. He told me the story of the film he wanted to make so that was my exposure to the narrative. I read the script and then I read the book. I feel privileged in that sense; I didn't feel any pressure in my own mind about it being this great book. I've been there once before with Orlando which was my favourite book as a child, so I'm aware of what that pressure can feel like. But I didn't have it with this one, thank the Lord."

And of course, you play the baddie, the White Witch. "I've always been attracted to the bad guy. I remember when I was at school I read Paradise Lost and found Satan so damn sexy, with all the best lines! Furry and cuddly characters tend to frighten me more."

How did you make her so frightening? "It occurred to me always even before having the opportunity to do this that it's not always necessarily the most frightening thing for small children to be shouted at. Children shout and get hot themselves all the time, and in my experience it's actually a relief if you shout back at them. Whereas the thing that's really unfathomable for children is a kind of coldness and emotional detachment; that's the thing they don't do. So it occurred to me it would be more frightening to be faced with something really unaffectable. You can't affect the Witch; you can't appeal to her; she's incapable of any compassion. Someone who gets angry is emotional; I thought it would be fun to shake up that stereotype."

What do you think is the essential appeal of the story? "It's a beautiful myth for a particular age group. It feels like an ancient myth; it's about what all great fairy stories and myths are about - finding self-sufficiency in difficult circumstances and finding the capacity when your parents aren't around to dig deep, survive and prevail; to bring about something good in the face of something evil. It's very classical in that way."

After years working in independent film, how did you cope with the difference of scale? "Well, 1500 people turned up to lunch every day and we went to set in helicopters. I'd never done that before; not on any Derek Jarman film did we ever do that! What's interesting to me is that all the creativity happens months ago when you work on big films; all the decisions were made a long time ago. It's not as chaotic; with little films you have to make friends with chaos really fast, but it's not really welcome on big sets. But it's amazing to me that a big film can feel as alive as this one did."

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