CANNES, France -- Tilda Swinton learned how to play blackjack at Cannes. It was 1987, and she'd come to the international film festival for the first time as part of the ensemble cast of "Aria," an anthology of 10 short films set to operatic music. The piece she was in had been directed by Derek Jarman, and the others were directed by the likes of Jean-Luc Godard, Bruce Beresford and Robert Altman. In other words: They were rolling deep. Or as the actress likes to say: carousing.
"We came nice and early and were here for days carousing. There was lots of carousing in that crew," she recalled.
Carousing that apparently took her to one of the casinos on the Croisette, where Altman himself taught her how to play blackjack.
"It was wonderful, and we all became firm, lifelong friends," Swinton continued. "And then we all saw the film on the last night and we hated it. But we're all still friends, which is the main point of making films -- to make friends."
Swinton, 58, is back in the south of France this week with another of her filmmaker pals, Jim Jarmusch, with whom she's collaborating for the fourth time, on a film called "The Dead Don't Die." The movie, which opened the festival Tuesday to mixed reviews, is a zombie apocalypse comedy in which a picturesque small town is overtaken by the undead. Swinton has perhaps the most memorable turn as an eccentric Scottish mortician named Zelda, whose side hobby wielding Samurai swords pays off mightily when the ghouls rise from the ground.
Since that first fateful trip to Cannes over three decades ago, Swinton has been back to the festival so many times she literally cannot remember them all. She's been with Jarmusch before -- most recently in 2013, for "Only Lovers Left Alive" -- as well as with the directors Wes Anderson and Lynne Ramsay. One year, she was on the jury of the festival's Cinefondation program, judging shorts made by student filmmakers alongside Martin Scorsese. She also sat on the festival's main competition jury in 2004 when Quentin Tarantino was president, awarding the Palme d'Or to Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11."
And yet, the morning after Jarmusch's latest had debuted, she said: "Even though we've made this great list of how many times I've been here, I still feel like a complete newcomer."
Q: The last time you were at Cannes was in 2017, when you were here with Bong Joon-ho's Netflix film "Okja." That film could not play in competition now, since Cannes has banned the streaming service from the festival. How do you feel about that?
A: All I know is the cinema -- big screen, live entertainment and a massive dark room with lots of strangers -- is never, ever going anywhere. People are gonna do it forever. And that's the same with Cannes. There are these fashions that come up and go down and cinema is robust enough to take the talkies; it's robust enough to take television; it's robust enough to take streaming. It's all fine. It's not going anywhere; it's just going to adapt. Let's just have a perspective on it, and everything will evolve. Evolution, that's all I want to say.
Q: OK, so with "The Dead Don't Die," you actually suggested this role to Jim?