Julio Torres and his favorite 'diva' Tilda Swinton on creating “Problemista”'s 'queen of chaos'

Julio Torres and his favorite 'diva' Tilda Swinton on creating “Problemista”'s 'queen of chaos'

The duo shares with EW their bad work experiences, their mutual adoration for each other's work, and which of them wants to be cryogenically frozen.

Tilda Swinton is a confirmed fan of The Comeback, but she’s not interested in making one of her own — at least not the kind that involves cryogenics and being thawed out in the distant future as her character in the new film Problemista is invested in.

The surreal comedy (out now) written by, directed by, and starring fan-fave former Saturday Night Live scribe Julio Torres centers on his Alejandro, an aspiring toy designer from El Salvador pursuing his dreams in New York City but forced to find a job before his work visa runs out. He reluctantly takes a temp position assisting a high-strung art world eccentric named Elizabeth (Swinton) whose artist husband Bobby (RZA) had himself cryogenically frozen while awaiting a cancer cure. Alejandro is tasked with helping his new boss curate a show of her iced husband's egg paintings in hopes she will sponsor him to stay in the country long enough to land his dream job.

While speaking with EW about their new film, Swinton and Torres contemplate their own views on cryogenics. "The comeback — I don't mean the show, although also the show — but the idea of the comeback is a wonderful thing," Swinton muses. Does that mean she's game to be frozen and preserved to make her own comeback centuries from now?

"God no, absolutely not," she quickly replies. "I'm interested in the end. I'm up for it. The world, the whole experience of living and getting older, seems to be so crazy anyway that I don’t know that the future 100 years from now could be any much more crazier than it is now. I'm going for 100 and it'll be even crazier by then."

<p>a24</p> Julio Torres and Tilda Swinton in 'Problemista'


Julio Torres and Tilda Swinton in 'Problemista'

Torres, on the other hand, reveals he's long been drawn to cryogenics, which is why he made it more than a throwaway plot point in his directorial debut. "I don't know why I am so attracted to that concept. I think that it is because I'm attracted to the idea of going to the future. And I am attracted by saying the end is not the end," he says.

And speaking of comebacks — not the show, although also the show — Torres links the concept to something he finds himself saying often about another of his beloved projects. "I'm now making a connection, that every time someone mentions Los Espookys and how that's no longer a show, I say like, 'Oh, you know, maybe it'll resurrect in 10 years, maybe 30 years from now.' And I think that I'm very drawn to that conceptually," he realizes, before answering the true question at hand. "There's immense vanity in admitting it, but I would consider [freezing myself]."

Torres hasn't been shy about his affection for Swinton over the years, referring to her in the past as his favorite "diva," the way some might have a top pop star they're endlessly devoted to.

"I think she's far from a diva, but I find that gay men get asked that question a lot expecting for them to say like Mariah Carey or Lady Gaga," he explains. "And I think like, 'Oh, I suppose my equivalent would be Tilda.'"

Swinton smiles and places her hands over her heart as Torres makes the revelation. She shares that she's been an "absolute adorer" of the comedian's too and says she was "absolutely thrilled to get a chance to work with him."

<p>a24</p> Julio Torres and Tilda Swinton in 'Problemista'


Julio Torres and Tilda Swinton in 'Problemista'

Torres may not consider Swinton a diva in the temperamental sense, but he's turned her into one as Elizabeth, a sharp-dressed woman who is easy to snap, albeit under a very uneasy shade of magenta-red shaggy hair. She makes things unbearable for tech support workers, servers, and her new assistant, who is forced to tolerate it as his only current hope for navigating an immigration system full of impossible rules and bureaucracy — which is laid out visually in a brilliant maze montage in the film. But Elizabeth needs Alejandro too, to help sort out her self-made chaos — and try to figure out how the hell to use FileMaker Pro.

"I don't have the Elizabeth temperament," Swinton shares when asked if she'd ever been the problem causer in a workplace. "I think if anything, I might have got into trouble in the past by just not saying what I really wanted and trying to make sure that everybody else was happy and then at the end of the day going [shakes head], but that's I think small fry compared to Elizabeth. She's definitely the queen of chaos."

Swinton does reveal that she has experienced an Elizabeth-like figure in her own career. "I have worked with someone — who will remain nameless in perpetuity — who I realize it took a while to figure out what was weird about the dynamic," she says. "And then I realized that this particular individual really doesn't enjoy harmony, is not comfortable with harmony and really, really prefers things to be a total kind of cluster. And having realized that, things went more smoothly for me because then one wasn't constantly surprised and bruised because there was no harmony."

<p>a24</p> Julio Torres in 'Problemista'


Julio Torres in 'Problemista'

Problemista is loosely based on Torres' own path. He came to the United States from El Salvador to pursue his artistic dreams and found himself struggling to find day jobs to help him stay. So Alejandro turns to Craigslist, which isn't just a website in the film, but hilariously personified by comedian and musical theater star Larry Owens.

"Craigslist is just filled with people who are hoping that someone will solve their life. And so many of the jobs listed [in the film] are like actual jobs that I had," Torres says. "There's parallels. Freeze Corp is sort of based on an art archiving job that I had and which became sort of that environment — those boxes, those great boxes became such a seed. I had so many bosses in such a little amount of time and they have all sort of stayed with me."

As for what he hopes stays with the audience after watching his newest creation, Torres says he wants moviegoers to come out of this fiIm with "an appreciation for disorder, an appreciation for not having a life that checks all the boxes neatly, for your life to not be linear, but to be a knot. And for that to be okay."

Problemista — also starring Isabella Rossellini, Catalina Saavedra, Spike Einbinder, Greta Lee, James Scully, and Megan Stalter — is in theaters now.

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