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Why Alithea From Three Thousand Years Of Longing Looks So Familiar

Following the massive critical and commercial success of "Mad Max: Fury Road" in 2015, visionary filmmaker George Miller has again delivered an unbelievable story for audiences to sink their teeth into. Trading in a bleak, post-apocalyptic landscape for a whimsical fantasy romance, Miller's "Three Thousand Years of Longing" takes viewers on a multi-millennia journey leading to the romantic pairing between a mystical Djinn (Idris Elba) and a loveless intellectual named Alithea. What ensues is a story about the importance of love and stories in our everyday lives.

Alithea will almost certainly look familiar to viewers. That is because the character is portrayed by Tilda Swinton, one of Hollywood's most recognizable and omnipresent actresses. Considering how lengthy Swinton's IMDb list of credits is (not to mention the fact that she has numerous projects on the horizon, which will only grow her filmography in the coming year), the following are some of the most notable roles from her prolific career in Hollywood.

She played Rebecca Dearborn in Vanilla Sky

One of Tilda Swinton's early roles that put her on the map for prominent Hollywood filmmakers was her performance in Cameron Crowe's "Vanilla Sky." The film follows a man named David Aames (Tom Cruise), who finds himself embroiled in a bizarre sci-fi journey of self-discovery. In the film, Swinton portrays a character named Rebecca Dearborn, an official involved with the company Life Extension, keeping David in the lucid dream state that much of the film takes place within.

One notable element of Swinton's involvement in "Vanilla Sky" is how she came to be in the project. In fact, in an interview released before the film's debut while she was promoting the premiere of "The Deep End," Swinton admitted (via Slant Magazine) that she took her part as Rebecca Dearborn upon the request of Cameron Crowe via email. Swinton explained, "Cameron Crowe asked me in an email to be in the film, so I went and did it."

She played a Hollywood studio executive in Adaptation

In 2002, Tilda Swinton joined the star-studded cast of "Adaptation." The film follows Nicolas Cage as screenwriter Charlie Kaufman (the real-life Kaufman penned the script for the movie) navigates his way through life in the film industry while suffering from writer's block in his quest to write an adaptation of "The Orchid Thief." Swinton has a relatively minor role in the film, portraying a studio executive who hires Kaufman to begin working on the project.

"Adaptation" featured a stacked cast of major Hollywood heavyweights — some already well-established in Hollywood and others who were on their way up. This cast included the previously mentioned Nicolas Cage, Meryl Streep, Chris Cooper, Stephen Tobolowsky, and more. "Adaptation" was directed by filmmaker Spike Jonze and was nominated for four Academy Awards in 2003. In the end, of those four nominations, Cooper walked away with the film's sole Oscar win.

She portrayed Gabriel in Constantine

One of Tilda Swinton's earliest forays into blockbuster filmmaking came in 2005 with the debut of "Constantine." Starring Keanu Reeves as the titular character — an exorcist from the DC Comics canon — on a quest to stop Swinton's Gabriel from unleashing hell on earth. Within the film's story, Gabriel is presented as an archangel who has grown increasingly weary and frustrated with God's forgiveness for humanity's sins. Despite being an adaptation of a character from the DC world, Swinton defied many traditional conceptions of Gabriel, who is often canonically male in the comics, by portraying the character in a more androgynous fashion than fans were used to seeing.

In October 2022, it was confirmed that Reeves would finally return to the role of John Constantine for a long-awaited sequel to the original film (via Variety). However, while it is entirely possible that Swinton could come back as Gabriel, her return remains unconfirmed at this time.

She won an Oscar for Michael Clayton

In 2007, Tilda Swinton starred in "Michael Clayton" alongside George Clooney. The film follows the titular fixer for a New York law firm (Clooney) who works to reveal a legal coverup to the public, at risk to his safety. In the film, Swinton portrays Karen Crowder, a high-level official for a company called U-North who has worked extensively to cover up the adverse effects of their chemicals.

Despite her role in "Michael Clayton" being villainous (like many roles in her career), Swinton did not approach the role from an unsympathetic perspective. Speaking out about the part with Girl.com at the time of the film's release, Swinton explained, "You know, it's hard to imagine a human being whom one can't find some sympathy for. But I'm not a performer who needs to love my characters or whatever they say." Swinton's work on "Michael Clayton" received significant praise from the critical community at the time of the film's release. So much so that her performance ultimately earned her the one Oscar win of her career.

She made two movies with The Coen Brothers

One of Tilda Swinton's most interesting creative partnerships in Hollywood is her work with Joel and Ethan Coen. The actress first teamed up with the Coen Brothers in 2008 for the release of "Burn After Reading," a black comedy spy caper set in the bureaucracy of Washington. In the film, Swinton portrays Katie Cox, the soon-to-be ex-wife of CIA analyst Osbourne Cox.

Almost a decade later, in 2016, Swinton re-teamed with the Coen Brothers for their zany Hollywood satire, "Hail, Cesar!" This time, Swinton got a chance to go bigger than she had in "Burn After Reading," portraying the dual roles of Thora and Thessa Thacker — gossip columnists who happen to be identical twins. In creating the character, Swinton wanted to do something akin to kabuki theater and lampoon Hollywood actresses of the 1950s. 

Per The Guardian, she explained, "I felt my role was to represent those American actresses from the 1950s that you can't tell if they're English or not. They have these strange accents: they might be speaking Americanised English or doing a British accent. Overprepared and enunciated, constantly ready for her closeup. It felt really of the period — it's the style of performance. That appealed to me: it's not exactly kabuki, but it's not far off."

She was an evil bureaucrat in Snowpiercer

In 2013, Tilda Swinton appeared in Bong Joon-Ho's classic thriller "Snowpiercer." The film takes place on a train circling the last of humanity around the Earth after a failed effort to curb global warming, with Swinton portraying Minster Mason, a pencil pusher responsible for maintaining the train's unbalanced society.

Getting Swinton into "Snowpiercer" took a bit of creative work, as the film did not have many primary female characters in the earliest stages of development. Swinton addressed this during the movie's release and noted (via Collider) that the character was written as a man. However, once Swinton opted to take on the role, she was given considerable creative freedom to make Mason her own. Swinton explained, "when we decided to try to make something out of Minister Mason, who was director Bong's idea, it was a challenge. He put down a glove, and we dared each other. I had these fantasies of this clown, which was originally based on one photograph we found of a museum lady who was a real person from my childhood."

Of course, "Snowpiercer" would not be the last film that Tilda Swinton would work on with Bong Joon-Ho. Four years after the release of the post-apocalyptic thriller, she would go on to reunite with the director for his Netflix original film, "Okja."

She was Amy Schumer's boss in Trainwreck

While Tilda Swinton has acted in many dramas and black comedies throughout her career, she has also appeared in broader comedies. One notable example is her performance as Dianna in Judd Apatow's 2015 comedy "Trainwreck." A star vehicle for Amy Schumer, the film sees the standup play a writer for a men's magazine who works for Dianna, an abrasive British editor.

One significant component of Swinton's "Trainwreck" performance that was much talked about at the time of the film's release was her incredible visual transformation to become Dianna. Arguably unrecognizable as the character, Swinton felt that the look was essential to help her take on the role. Describing the experience (via The Mary Sue), Swinton explained, "It's just fun to dress as someone different, and this woman looks frankly like a lot of women I pass on the street every day — the women who go for that particular tandoori tan and the eye make-up and hair. But for me, that look is pretty extreme. It's just as much a burlesque as playing the character I played in 'Snowpiercer,' and both are deep disguises, which is such fun. It was fun to imagine what it would be like to walk down the street dressed like Dianna."

She stars in several Luca Guadagnino films

There are several directors Tilda Swinton has developed longstanding working relationships with throughout her career as an actress. One of the most notable of the bunch is her frequent work with Luca Guadagnino. In a partnership dating as far back as the 1999 film "The Protagonists," Swinton has continued to appear in several of Guadagnino's movies in roles of varying scope. These include performances in movies such as "A Bigger Splash" and the 2018 remake of "Suspiria."

Even when Swinton does not directly appear in one of Guadagnino's films, her presence is still felt. She is even thanked in the credits of "Call Me By Your Name." Discussing the collaborative process with Swinton in a 2018 interview with Indiewire, Guadagnino noted that she is more than just an actress; he collaborates with her in the same manner that he collaborates with the crew. The director explained, "Tilda is a filmmaker, not just an actress. She has a great knowledge of the machine of the making of a movie, and this is very profound because it's like working with my DP; it's like working with someone who is actually contributing to the movie itself, not just adding her voice as a performer only, but adding her voice as a filmmaker."

She portrays The Ancient One in the MCU

Tilda Swinton has appeared in several significant franchises throughout her career. However, the biggest of the bunch is none other than the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Starring as The Ancient One, the character first appeared as a pivotal supporting character in Scott Derrickson's 2016 film "Doctor Strange." From there, Swinton has gone on to reprise the role multiple times. This included a critical scene in Avengers: Endgame and a voiceover role in the animated Marvel series, "What If?"

Swinton's arrival in the Marvel Cinematic Universe was not without controversy. Marvel was accused of "whitewashing" a traditionally Asian character when The Ancient One was repositioned as a Celtic mystic. Marvel head honcho Kevin Feige recently opened up (via Men's Health) about the controversy and admitted that the decision to move away from The Ancient One as an Asian character was a misstep. Feige said, "We thought we were being so smart and so cutting-edge. We're not going to do the cliché of the wizened, old, wise Asian man. But it was a wake-up call to say, 'Well, wait a minute, is there any other way to figure it out? Is there any other way to both not fall into the cliché and cast an Asian actor?' And the answer to that, of course, is yes."