Known throughout Britain for her idiosyncratic performances and long-time association with the late filmmaker Derek Jarman, Tilda Swinton is nothing if not one of the more unique actresses to come along during the second half of the 20th century. Born in London on November 5, 1961, Swinton attended Cambridge University, where she received a degree in social and political sciences. While at Cambridge, she became involved in acting, performing in a number of stage productions. Following graduation, Swinton began her professional theater career, working for Edinburgh's renowned Traverse Theatre and the Royal Shakespeare Company.
In 1985, Swinton began her long collaboration with Derek Jarman, both as a friend and fellow artist. She made her screen debut in his Caravaggio (1986) and appeared in every one of the director's films until his death from AIDS in 1994. It was for her role as the spurned queen in Jarman's anachronistic, controversial Edward II (1992) that Swinton earned her first dose of recognition, becoming a familiar face to arthouse audiences on both sides of the Atlantic and earning a Best Actress prize at the Venice Film Festival for her work in the film. The acclaim and recognition Swinton garnered was amplified the same year with her title role in Sally Potter's adaptation of Orlando, Virginia Woolf's classic tale of an Elizabethan courtier who experiences drastic changes in both gender and lifestyle over the course of 400 years.
Following appearances in Jarman's Blue (1993) and in his acclaimed biopic, Wittgenstein (1994), Swinton earned some of her strongest notices to date for her lead in Female Perversions (1996), in which she played a successful lawyer trying to cope with her own insecurities and self-destructive tendencies. She then portrayed another brilliant, troubled woman in Conceiving Ada (1997), a science fiction piece that cast her as the real-life daughter of Lord Byron, a woman who was widely held to be the inventor of the first computer.
Never one to choose films for their simplicity or mainstream appeal, Swinton subsequently appeared in Love Is the Devil (1998), John Maybury's controversial account of the life and times of artist Francis Bacon. She then portrayed a battered wife in The War Zone (1999), Tim Roth's hellish portrait of extreme family dysfunction. Following on a slightly lighter note with Trainspotting director Danny Boyle's The Beach in 2000, Swinton would later take the lead in The Deep End (2001). Noted for her delicately textured performance as an isolated and protective mother who makes a desperate bid to protect her son after assuming he has committed murder, many critics noted Swinton's performance as a key element to the film's success. The next year, the talented actress took on multiple roles in a complex tale of cyborg fantasy and speculative science fiction, Teknolust, and appeared in a small role in Adaptation, written by Charlie Kaufman and directed by Spike Jonze.
In 2003, Swinton delivered strong performances opposite Michael Caine in the thriller The Statement and Ewan McGregor in the erotic drama Young Adam. She went on to star in the ensemble comedy Thumbsucker and appeared with Keanu Reeves in the supernatural thriller Constantine. In 2005, she would play the White Witch in the much-anticipated live-action adaptation of C.S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia.
For her work in 2007's legal thriller Michael Clayton, Swinton earned her first Oscar. That organization was one of many to recognize her portrayal of a cold, controlling corporate achiever as one of the best of the year.
She followed that up in 2008 as cold-hearted pediatrician in the Coen brothers' Burn After Reading, and garnered awards consideration for her work in David Fincher's The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. She earned rave reviews for her work in 2009's I Am Love, and built awards buzz yet again two years later for her work as the mother of a disturbed child in We Need to Talk About Kevin. In 2012 she had a small part in Wes Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom.