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Friends give Tilda Swinton alcoholic inspiration

By Michelle Nichols

NEW YORK (Reuters) - British actress Tilda Swinton says drinking just makes her sleepy or sick so when seeking inspiration to play a loud, hard-partying alcoholic in her latest film, she turned to her friends.

The self-confessed "art world freak," who won a best supporting actress Oscar last year for "Michael Clayton," plays a 40-year-old flamboyant, lying alcoholic in "Julia," which opens in some U.S. theaters on Friday.

"I'm so aware very often when you see alcoholism in films, people tend to emphasize something that I don't really recognize in the alcoholics I know and love, which is a kind of loser quality," Swinton told Reuters in a recent interview.

"I don't think of alcoholics as losers, particularly. Alcoholics tend to number the most energetic and fantastic people I know. So I was always thinking it would be nice to look at that kind of portrait," she said.

Swinton, 48, confessed that due to her own drinking experience -- "If I get drunk, I throw up or I go to sleep," the actress said -- she was concerned as to whether she could successfully "stagger around being drunk" in the film.

"But once I started, I realized that I've actually been doing that for years because my friends are drunk and I pretend to be drunk," said Swinton, who lives in the Scottish Highlands with artist John Byrne and their 11-year-old boy and girl twins.

The film directed by Erick Zonca, which premiered at the 2008 Berlin International Film Festival, was released last year in Britain and some European countries. It follows Julia as she commits a crime after a chance encounter with a Mexican woman.

SWINTON "FIRST CHOICE"

Swinton's performance received strong reviews, with The Telegraph newspaper in London saying she was "unmissable," London's Metro newspaper that she gave a "powerhouse performance" and The Mirror newspaper said it was "truly unforgettable."

"I wanted a woman full of life," French director Zonca told Reuters. "I always thought about (Tilda Swinton). I love the way she appears in movies. What I really like is her energy and her body ... She was really my first choice."

Despite roles in Hollywood films including "Michael Clayton" and "The Chronicles of Narnia" series, Swinton says independent films like "Julia" are where she feels most at home.

"This constituency is where I live really. Me being in big Hollywood movies is such a recent development. That's not where I live, that's a tourist destination for me," said Swinton, who also appears in director Jim Jarmusch's "The Limits of Control," which opened in some U.S. theaters last week.

She says winning an Academy Award has helped her career in independent films as the industry struggles amid the financial crisis. "I won a big prize and that apparently for some strange reason makes it easier for people to give money to independent films I'm involved with," she said.

But there is one place you are unlikely to find Swinton any time soon -- the stage.

"I'm not one of those performers who says the theater is my great love," she said. "It really isn't. I'm not really interested in the theater at all to be honest. I don't go to it. I find it really boring."

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols, Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and David Storey)

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