The highly-anticipated Best Performances portfolio is an annual feature curated by W’s editor-at-large Lynn Hirschberg and highlights stars at the forefront of cinema, from industry legends and icons to those whose phenomenal talent is ushering in a new wave of stardom.
Paying tribute to the actors who left us in awe over the past year, this year’s Best Performance issue features Cate Blanchett, Gemma Chan, Jessica Chastain, Benedict Cumberbatch, Adam Driver, Lady Gaga, Jennifer Hudson, Kristen Stewart, Tilda Swinton and Honor Swinton Byrne, and Denzel Washington across ten unique covers photographed by Tim Walker and styled by W Magazine’s Editor-in-Chief, Sara Moonves.
This year’s films, many shot amid the pandemic, have a common theme celebrating family in all its forms – from the corrosive and complicated, ambitious and sexy, to joyous, close and rebellious – their performances were vibrant, captivating, mesmerizing, devastating, intimate, complex and so much more and we are beyond excited to share these gorgeous covers with you.
W Magazine’s first issue of 2022, Volume 1, Best Performances, hits stands February 8, 2022 and is online Tuesday, 1/11.
On the clear romantic chemistry between her character, Patrizia, and her soon-to-be husband, Maurizio Gucci when they meet at the disco: “Romantic scenes can’t just be two people who look good together—there has to be that nonverbal communication. Patrizia was a disco queen who so wanted to be a socialite. When she was just 12 years old, her mother showed her photos of eligible bachelors. I felt Patrizia would dance like she was underwater, like she was coming up for air. Everything about her had to do with striving. At the disco, she knew she was seen—and in a way, it was the last time she was free.
Explaining how she became her character: “…The most important element in becoming Patrizia was dyeing my own hair brown. I couldn’t be blonde with that Italian accent—I was still myself. It was also important to me that the film not be a red carpet. Fashion was a key part of Patrizia’s survival; she tried so hard, but she was never as shiny as the Guccis.”
On how she knew she was ready to let the character go following filming: “On the last day of filming, I was on the balcony of my apartment in Rome, and I was blasting Dean Martin singing ‘Mambo Italiano,’ and I had a cigarette hanging out of my mouth. I was Patrizia. But I knew I had to say goodbye to her: Large swarms of flies kept following me around, and I truly began to believe that she had sent them. I was ready to let her go.”
On how she knew at age 9 acting was what she wanted to do with her life: “When I made my first film, The Safety of Objects, I was like, This is it; this is the feeling. I’ve been chasing that ever since. It’s that sense of creating something together with others. It was exciting to see how many versions of myself I could find.”
Recalling the first time she knew she wanted to direct: “I used to ask every adult actor that I was working with: “Would you ever be directed by a kid under 18?” [Laughs] I was saying that at 12.”
Her go-to karaoke song: “I think it’s nice when people really go for it. I love when people strike that balance of performing and leaning into the silliness of karaoke, but not taking their minute to let everyone know they’re actually a great singer. That makes me cringe. I haven’t found my balance yet. I usually just scream Blink-182, because that’s my safe place.”
Recalling the time she had her fortune told: “Years ago, I played a psychic in a film called The Gift. I’d never had a reading, so I thought I should. She said some very strange things that didn’t make sense at the time, including that I would have four children. Much of what she said came to pass, and here I am with four children! Part of me wanted to rush back to see her again, and part of me never wanted to see her again!”
On the activities she did during the pandemic: “I gardened; we had a derelict greenhouse that we brought to life. I practiced the piano. And I also watched every episode of The Sopranos, which I hadn’t seen. I now have PTSD about watching anything at home. I want to be in a cinema, a concert hall, a theater, experiencing something with strangers. I missed that communal bond.”
On whether he feels attracted to Shakespearean roles: “The second role I played in college was Othello. I was 20 or 21. With this Macbeth, I think it’s interesting to have an older couple play the parts. There’s a desperation. There’s a finality.”
Joking about the challenges of directing himself: “I wanted to fire myself a couple of times! But I always hire myself back. I make up with myself, but I do hold myself accountable. [Laughs]”
On whether he likes acting or directing more: “I like acting, but I love directing. The challenge is greater.”
On whether he thinks actors might find him intimidating: “I’m not conscious of that. I’m just me: an ordinary guy with an extraordinary job. Not the other way around.”
On how House of Gucci was the most difficult project he filmed this year: “I went to Juilliard, and they train you to be a repertory theater actor: Chekhov in the morning, Arthur Miller at night. I like that discipline. In some ways, House of Gucci was the most difficult. I do not live in the same world as Maurizio Gucci! The way he picks up things that are valuable and discards them; the way he is the most elegant man—those qualities were interesting to think about. But after 14 hours a day of being a Gucci, I was ready for it to be over. In general, I leave jobs immediately. I haven’t been to a wrap party since Girls. I just want to get the character out of my system and go home.”
Sharing how he prepped for his recent commercial for a Burberry fragrance: “It took me a couple of months to train. I wanted to be muscular like a horse. And horses are very lean, so I lost weight. We shot it in the Canary Islands, and I found it very challenging. I don’t like to watch my films, but I actually watched the Burberry ad. I wanted to see it.”
Sharing how Aretha Franklin herself chose her for the role: “Over 15 years ago, we had a breakfast at the Ritz-Carlton in New York City, and that was our first sit-down meeting about me portraying her. Eight years after that, she called and said, ‘I’ve made my decision, and it is you.’ It was exciting, but also the scariest thing.”
Remembering her first job: “I worked for the Disney Cruise Line. I was Calliope, the head muse in Hercules, the musical. I also did the ‘Circle of Life’ solo, as Mother Earth, in Disney Dreams. I thought, If I can get through this cruise contract, I can go audition for American Idol. But if I can’t get through this, I should go home. And I made it. So here I am.”
Recalling her audition for American Idol: “My introduction to the world was ‘Share Your Love With Me,’ by Ms. Aretha Franklin. And I got the golden ticket.”
Her go-to karaoke song: “‘I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You),’ by Aretha. People are like, ‘Jennifer, this isn’t fair!’ But in my family, we take music seriously. So even with karaoke, it’s not a game.”
On the challenges of portraying the intense and complex sibling relationship his character Phil Burbank has with his brother: “We did crazy exercises of proximity to create an understanding of each other as brothers. The director, Jane Campion, had us waltz together so we could hold each other, smell each other, be very close to each other’s bodies, as we would have done as brothers. These are two men who slept in the same room. Phil’s a mean bitch to his brother. His story is heartbreaking: He’s looking for love and understanding, but because of how far he is from his one taste of forbidden fruit, he ends up hating everything.”
Explaining which new skill he learned to do for the role (whittling, braiding leather, playing the banjo, castrating calves, and rolling cigarettes with one hand) was hardest: “I never quite mastered the cigarette rolling. It’s harder than you think! Phil’s cigarettes are rail-thin and tight. They reinforce everything about Phil that’s controlled and buttoned-up. It’s all there in one tiny little thing.”
On her physical transformation into Tammy Faye Bakker: “My first makeup test was probably a month before we started shooting, and that was stressful. I had seen the documentary on Tammy Faye and really wanted to tell her story. The filmmakers told me recently that right before they gave me the rights to the story, they thought, Jessica can’t do this. For Tammy Faye’s makeup, we found interviews where she talked about the exact products she used. She always wore waterproof mascara. People associate her with black tears, but the only images of mascara smearing down her face are from sketch comedy TV shows. Her mascara was always waterproof, and never ran.”
On what she loves about Tammy Faye: “Her heart. She went against the conservative evangelical community and brought Steve Pieters, an openly gay minister with AIDS, on her show. She looked into the camera and said that being Christian means you love through anything. We should be talking about that radical act of love, rather than her mascara.”
Recalling her first ever acting job: “I did a commercial for Bing, the search engine. I had to learn reams and reams of related words—it was a lot to memorize. The money from that commercial paid for my drama school. But sadly, it did not do much for Bing.”
On her role as a dominatrix in Secret Diary of a Call Girl and whether the latex costume prepared her for playing the godlike being Sersi in Eternals: “Yes. That was fun…The latex was comfortable! My costume in the Marvel Universe was much more confining, but still far easier than my first time in the Marvel Universe: In Captain Marvel, I was painted blue.”
Honor Swinton Byrne and Tilda Swinton
Tilda, this film (The Souvenir Part II), written and directed by Joanna Hogg, is the continuation of an autobiographical story about one of your oldest friends. In essence, you are playing Hogg’s mother, and Honor, your daughter, is playing Hogg. TS: “Yes. I knew Joanna’s mother very well. Joanna and I were very moved by a woman of a certain generation who has a daughter who becomes an artist. That was our story. I remember that when my own mother would come to one of my more unorthodox premieres, she was always concerned about what was the proper attire. Should she dress for a dinner party? Would a ball gown be correct? I found that very touching.”
Honor Swinton Byrne on whether she had to audition for this part: “Oh no. I was cast only two weeks before we started shooting the first film.
TS: We had thought about lots of actresses, but then I mentioned Honor, the elephant in the room. Not to describe you as an elephant, darling.
HSB: I was 19. I had planned to go teach in Namibia, but I postponed. I also knew that there was no script, that we would be creating the dialogue as we went. Joanna made writers of all of us.”
Tilda Swinton: “So much of our lives went into the film: Most of Honor’s clothes came from my cupboard! I was in Joanna’s actual graduation film [Caprice], in 1986, and Honor wore the same shoes that I wore for that film at her character’s graduation film in The Souvenir Part II.”
Honor Swinton Byrne notes that her actual springer spaniels were featured in the movie: “Yes! Snowbear, Dora, and Rosy won the Palm Dog at Cannes. We were very proud!”
[Photo Credit: Tim Walker/W Magazine]