CANNES – George Miller is one of the most acclaimed filmmakers of his generation, but when it comes to Tilda Swinton he truly knows among the greats. The star, along with Idris Elba, of his new film “Three Thousand Years of Longing” says she doesn’t pick roles. She picks people. And those people are filmmakers such as Bong Joon Ho, the Coen Brothers, Spike Jonze, Luca Guadagnino, Jim Jarmusch, David Fincher and Pedro Almodóvar, among others. And, it turns out la Croisette first brought them together.
“I was in Cannes exactly five years ago because it was the last birthday for Cannes, the 70th, and I was invited to the celebration lunch,” Swinton notes during a press conference at the 75th edition of the festival. “I was very shy and I didn’t know very many people there and I sat down opposite someone I didn’t recognize and we just fell into a very beautiful conversation and about 15 min in I realized it was George Miller and that was it. The dye was cast. We just hung out the whole day. Sat together with Bong Joon Ho in the evening, that was a very good table, And we just became friends quite quickly but also quite deeply and about a year later he sent me a script and this was it.”
Elba also happened to meet Miller at a prestige event. In his case, it was the BAFTA Awards and the director had two major fans approach him on his behalf.
“It was at the BAFTA’s and I’m in this chair and there was an intermission and these two lovely ladies came and over and one was Johnny Seale’s wife and the other was [Miller’s wife Margaret Sixel] and said ‘Hello’ and I think ‘Mad Max’ was nominated at the time. And George Miller would like to say ‘Hello’ and I said, ‘What? Of course.’ and we talked I didn’t think he knew who I was and we just spoke for a second. Then I think a year later my agent called and said ‘George Miller wants to talk to you.’ After I fainted and got back up the floor that’s when I talked to George and that’s when he introduced me to this project. So, thanks, Louise. “
“Three Thousand Years” centers on a dance between a modern day scholar of storytelling, Alithea (Swinton) and a Djinn (Elba), who will be released from his centuries long curse if she asks for three wishes. Miller, who had been developing the project for years with co-screenwriter Augusta Gore, realized she’d be perfect for Alithea after they spent time together at Cannes, but had no idea who could play the Djinn. He admits, “If it wasn’t for Louise and Marnie saying the only person we want to meet is Idris Elba. If they had not mentioned that I would have no idea who could play the Djinn. I honestly couldn’t name anybody.”
We won’t spoil if and what wishes Alithea asks for in the movie, but even after months of shooting the trio at the press conference dias still had coming up with three of their own.
“First wish is I wish I had a better answer,” Elba says. “The second wish would be the audience would understand, watch it once or two times and take away an understanding that we learn from stories and that this film is quite an unconventional telling of a story. And the third wish would be for an electric Ferrari.”
Swinton waxes, “I sort of feel in George Miller we have met a Djinn. Seriously. He says he’s going to do something and he does it. I was thinking about wishes. It feels like the most rational thing to do with someone’s wishes would be something you usually couldn’t get. So, yes, meeting George Miller who says he’s going to make a small film that covers three thousand years is already a box that has been ticked for me. You might imagine that Idris and I have been asked this question a little bit since we got here and I still feel like I wish I had prepared one answer. I dunno. Infinite wisdom amongst all members of the human and nonhuman race in perpetuity on this planet. I don’t know how else we’re gonna get that. That would be a start. And a little bit more sleep.”
Miller had the quickest and easiest response saying, “It would be to win the Gold Medal in the 100 dash in world record time and that’s my wish. Is it gonna happen?”
At one point in the film, images of modern day superheroes appear during a presentation Alithea is giving at a global storytelling conference. Miller, who famously was about to direct a “Justice League” movie before it was canceled at the last minute, was asked if he thought the current wave of superheroes would endure as long as the mythical heroes are heralded in “Three Thousdand Years.” He believes, in a sense, they have endured already.
“The one thing you can be certain of is they will change, they will morph into something else. I think it’s obvious that the Marvel/DC universe are basically the vestiges of the Geek and Norse and Roman mythologies and there is a direct equivalence between those characters. So, we are going through an era which I think where we are expressing through moving image narrative these stories. They are echoes of the past but they are adjusted to have meaning to us. And it’s no accident that they are so popular. And the people who make them are sincere. And I don’t think they would be so popular if they were not made with that degree of sincerity. In 10, 20, 30 years’ time they will be different. But in a sense, the same sort of story.”