Known throughout Britain for her idiosyncratic performances and long-time association with the late filmmaker Derek Jarman, Tilda Swinton is nothing if not one of the more unique actresses to come along during the second half of the 20th century. Born in London on November 5, 1961, Swinton attended Cambridge University, where she received a degree in social and political sciences. While at Cambridge, she became involved in acting, performing in a number of stage productions. Following graduation, Swinton began her professional theater career, working for Edinburgh's renowned Traverse Theatre and the Royal Shakespeare Company.
In 1985, Swinton began her long collaboration with Derek Jarman, both as a friend and fellow artist. She made her screen debut in his Caravaggio (1986) and appeared in every one of the director's films until his death from AIDS in 1994. It was for her role as the spurned queen in Jarman's anachronistic, controversial Edward II (1992) that Swinton earned her first dose of recognition, becoming a familiar face to arthouse audiences on both sides of the Atlantic and earning a Best Actress prize at the Venice Film Festival for her work in the film. The acclaim and recognition Swinton garnered was amplified the same year with her title role in Sally Potter's adaptation of Orlando, Virginia Woolf's classic tale of an Elizabethan courtier who experiences drastic changes in both gender and lifestyle over the course of 400 years.