Life is harsh as a celebrity’s child. While many of them follow in their parents’ footsteps, talent is not a given. Sometimes the magic happens, and success follows. Honor Swinton Byrne is one of those gifted children. Starring in The Souvenir Part II, she shines as a young discreet and timid film student, besotted with a charming junkie. As the daughter of the aristocrat Tilda Swinton and Scottish playwright John Byrne, Honor Swinton Byrne has been in good hands. Along with her twin brother Xavier, she spent her childhood in a Scottish alternative school where self-confidence and attention to one’s needs are the focus, as opposed to a conventional education. Jane Austen, Nancy Mitford, Virginia Woolf… Honor Swinton Byrne knows the classics off by heart. Well-mannered, she kept an elegant turn of phrase, highlighting each of her lines with a delicate “My Lord”.
Even if her mother brought her on sets early on, the young Honor never dreamt of becoming an actress. Right after she finished high school at the age of 19, Honor Swinton Byrne was asked to play in Johanna Hogg’s autobiography. Thrilled by that perspective, she didn’t hesitate much. Why would she? The British film director is her godmother and an old friend of Tilda Swinton, who met her on Derek Jarman’s film set. Tilda Swinton was even part of the Londoner’s final project Caprice back in 1986. The Souvenir is indeed a family matter, but is talent a DNA one? In Swinton’s case, the answer is yes.
Suit jacket, vintage heels, hair tied back… Honor Swinton Byrne naturally radiates in her interpretation of Julie, this “little upper-class sparrow” as the French newspaper Libération portrayed her in an article about Cannes Festival. Honor Swinton Byrne embodies her character with such an ease that one could think she acts the same in her life. Yet she is the exact opposite of her timid character. With her Californian mermaid-like hairdo and her glamourous and feminine silhouette, Honor Swinton Byrne looks like a young American who just landed on the old continent. She is a talkative, free-spirited, and not afraid to take a stand about her career path. Being also an undergraduate psychology student at the University of Edinburgh, she tries to demonstrate that her two passions are not incompatible. In fact, she sees her studies as a “toolbox” to understand herself and her relatives.
In order to put herself into her hypersensitive character’s skin, Honor Swinton Byrne took her inspiration from her personal life and love stories – less tragic than the main character’s ones, she confessed. However, even if she seems to share a lot with the good girl Julie, she is less tolerant than her about her romantic setbacks. She describes her character with tenderness and benevolence and admires her complexity: “All of my friends saw The Souvenir and none of them couldn’t help but identify to this character, even if they did not understand her completely. I dare anyone to say loud and clear that we cannot identify, even on a single level, to Julie”, she declares. When asked about the toxic relationship of the two lovers depicted by Johanna Hogg, Honor Swinton Byrne defines it as timeless. Far from perceiving it as a power dynamic, she describes the rut, turmoil, and misery in which the two characters led one another. According to her, cinema works as a therapy: “When people go see to the cinema, I want them to feel reassured, to better understand themselves and even to feel less lonely”.
If Honor Swinton Byrne plays in a slow contemplative film, she enjoys psychological thrillers above all. Intricate plots, thrills, strong emotions… Her favorite film director is without any doubt Bong Joon-ho! Palme d’Or recipient for Parasite in 2019, the South Korean director knows the Swintons well. Tilda Swinton starred in various of his productions, such as Snowpiercer (2013) and Okja (2017). She is also part of The Souvenir. It comes as no surprise that she plays Rosalind, Julie’s mother. When asked about how difficulty it could be to play with her own mother, Honor guffawed: “Not at all! It was completely natural and effortless. Really, it was like a game”. On screen she asserts that tense mother-daughter relationships bore her, but in real life they apparently get along pretty well.
If Honor Swinton Byrne does not get her fame thanks to her prestigious line – she is also the daughter of aristocrats – she does not conceal the fact that she adores her mother and saw each one of her films. “She is the best. I am a total fan of her”, she says. Honor Swinton Byrne still remembers the first time she watched the Narnia saga, in which her mother played one of the protagonists. The young girl was traumatized for a long time after that, as she witnessed the death of her mother’s character. Perhaps she chose to study psychology for a reason… Despite her growing fame and her first successful experience on screen, the young hard-working woman reveals that she will soon go back to her psychology mid-terms.
The Souvenir Part II by Johanna Hogg. Coming out on February 2nd, 2022.