“People say ‘Oh Tilda, Bowie. Bowie, Tilda,’ but truthfully it was a coincidence.” Guadagnino and his leading lady, Tilda Swinton.
CREDIT: Supplied via StudioCanal
“You have to find that place like a detective who is investigating a murder. There is only one guilty person,” director Luca Guadagnino recently said of the art of filmmaking during his time in the country discussing A Bigger Splash. As far as analogies go, it’s a fitting one in the context Guadagnino’s latest film – a supremely stylish domestic drama that takes an unexpected twist.

Below, we speak to Italian director about unpacking A Bigger Splash’s disparate influences, the unmistakeable Tilda/Bowie connection and why directing a cast of 70,000 is more intimate than helming a psychologically intense scene starring his dynamic leading lady.

Where did you shoot the film, and how well did you come to know the island where these characters undergo such an extreme transformation? “We shot the film on an island called Pantelleria, which is off the coast of Tunisia, in Sicily. And we shot there because we wanted to give a sense of otherness and something that could challenge those four neurotic characters, who are all intertwined with one another. It was a very alien place. It challenges you. I met a lot of people who came to the island and eventually decided to stay. There are many, many people who flew there, and they have a life changing experience while they’re on the island to the point where they said, ‘I’m going to stay and live my life here.’ [They’re] Americans.”

A life changing experience, not unlike the one these characters undergo during the film. What is it about that island that makes people want to stay forever, or escape entirely? What makes it so magnetic? “Well, it’s a volcanic and magnetic island. You’re right. I wanted to make a movie about adult people and the complexity of their identities. To make a movie about behaviour in people. People say the movie has no story, [but] I think it has a story in the relationships. So I wanted to dig into that. And I wanted to get this great location to do so.”

Swinton with her Belgian co-star, Matthias Schoenaerts
CREDIT: Supplied via StudioCanal
Along with costume and location, music plays a very large role in the composition of your films. Would you say in this film that for both the characters’ lives and the narrative, that music plays a much larger part than usual? “I’m influenced by my own curiosity. I’m committed to be playful and to work with the elements as a filmmaker. A filmmaker works with many elements. Of all the arts, the director is the one who has to deal with so many things. As a director I have to work with space, I have to work with the human being, I have to work with history, with politics and logistics. So much complexity comes with the work of filmmaking. And eventually you create an image. And a narrative to [accompany the] image. So the least that someone can do is not to resist being influenced by all these elements, you know? So it is not one thing you are influenced by, it is everything. You are influenced by everything.”

Do you think it’s a fair assessment to say that Tilda Swinton’s character, Marianne Lane, is similarly largely influenced by the late David Bowie?“We were thinking of Chrissie Hynde to be honest. We love David Bowie, I mean, of course. He, like The Rolling Stones, is our mentor and he is always on the back of my mind, even now. So of course he was there but we didn’t go straight into David Bowie’s world. It’s a bit lazy. People say ‘Oh Tilda, Bowie. Bowie, Tilda,’ but truthfully it was a coincidence. We got this beautiful sequinned dress by Dior that we used for the concert scene and we had this wig and this makeup. You know, I think things go consciously and unconsciously. So it was unconsciously that Bowie was our reference, probably. Consciously it’s the elements that we have to play with.”

Ralph Fiennes, who plays Swinton’s mercurial ex-lover Harry, in Guadagnino’s erotic thriller, A Bigger Splash
CREDIT: Supplied via StudioCanal
Where did you shoot those stadium scenes?“In San Siro [Stadium], Milan, with a real crowd – that’s not CGI.”

No! Really? That’s incredible. “[Swinton] came out in front of a real audience and they all screamed ‘Marianne Lane’. You would be surprised to know all the things people think are CGI in the movie are not. And maybe things that people think are real, are CGI. I’m not going to say which is which.”

How many extras were involved in that scene? “Zero [extras] because we were given the privilege of shooting on the stage by the great Lorenzo [Cherubini] Jovanotti, who is one of our rock stars in Italy. He was doing a concert there, so he said to us ‘You can come onto my stage for ten minutes and shoot”. So it took ten minutes to shoot that sequence. So no extras. They’re real people, all 70,000 of them.”

And how does the experience of directing 70,000 people compare to directing a LEAD cast of four? “It was fabulous. Very intimate in a way. Because I went onto the stage with Tilda and I said, ‘Hi, this is Luca Guadagnino and this is Tilda Swinton. She’s a movie star and we’re doing a movie. We are shooting a little scene where Tilda plays this role and can you yell the name ‘Marianne Lane’ as if she is the love of your life?” And they say ‘Yes!’ and so we started to talk with the audience and they were great. So everybody was reacting positively. We shot the scene twice and it was fantastic.

The thing that is more embarrassing to me is when you go to an actor and say ‘Listen, we should go in that direction, in front of a crew because it is very personal. But when I directed that [stadium] scene, the idea was that everybody was a part of my cast, and it was great. I wasn’t shy. They were supporting me against the crew. You know what I mean, when you have an actor and director conversation you [are outnumbered by] all the crew. So it’s two against the 40. But in that case it was a cast of 70,000 against 15. It was intimate.”

Dakota Johnson sizzles as A Bigger Splash’s island-bound Lolita, Penelope
CREDIT: Supplied via StudioCanal
A Bigger Splash is in cinemas now.