With a famous actress mother and playwright father, it’s no surprise that 24-year-old Honor Swinton Byrne would end up in the entertainment business at some point in her life. And of course, it’s no surprise that having such unconventional parents as Tilda Swinton and John Byrne, her entry into that world would also be unconventional.
Swinton Byrne came seemingly out of nowhere to star as the lead in Joanna Hogg’s 2019 film The Souvenir, playing Julie, a young film student involved in a turbulent and emotionally fraught relationship with the charismatic and manipulative Anthony, who is much older than her.
Designed as a two-part film, The Souvenir Part II comes out in theaters on Friday, October 29, and picks up two days after the first one left off. Now Julie must untangle the mess of that relationship while making her graduation film and sorting out fact from Anthony’s fiction.
The UK-born and -based actress spoke to Casting Networks about working on the two films, having her mother as a co-star, and why acting will not be the only career she plans on having.
There are only two days between Part I and Part II of The Souvenir, but it was two years between shooting them in real life. You were 18 when you shot the first film. Was it easy or challenging to reprise the role after all that time away from the character?
It took a little bit of adjusting because I had gone away. I was a teacher in Africa for a year, and I’d seen the world and seen how things could be so much worse. I’d grown a little bit more of a perspective. I came back a woman rather than a girl. But I do think it was quite appropriate for Julie to have had this massive growth spurt. She’s a completely changed person since Anthony has passed on, like clicking into a different gear.
It seems like you’ve clicked into a different gear now too. When Part I premiered in Sundance and introduced you to the world as an actor, you had no media experience at all, as you do now. What was the difference between promoting the first film and the second?
Oh my Lordy! I remember the first one at Sundance. I was such a rookie. I had no idea how these interviews worked or that I would have to speak. I didn’t realize I could think about the questions before I answered. I was such an innocent. Since then, I’ve gained so much intel and experience, just doing it again and again, making mistakes, saying something I regret. By the time Part II premiered at Cannes (in July of 2021), I felt very confident and sure of myself to present what we had made.
Before The Souvenir, your only film experience was a cameo playing a younger version of your mother in Luca Guadagnino’s I Am Love. Did it in any way prepare you for what was to come a decade later?
I remember that experience, but not very well. I was, like, eight or nine years old. Luca is my godfather. I remember being on the set with my mom and Luca saying, “You look like your mother; you should be the little girl.” I was like, “Oh yeah, absolutely, let’s play a game, let’s do it!” I remember not quite understanding how it worked, but it was fun and an experience. But it didn’t predict The Souvenir in any way.
How did The Souvenir come about?
I was 18 and working as a florist assistant in the Highlands of Scotland. I had no idea what I was going to do with my life. I wanted to go to university. I had this plan to go to Africa first, but that was still six months away, and I wasn’t sure what I was going to do during that waiting period yet.
Your mom and Joanna were good friends and had worked together previously. How did they rope you into The Souvenir?
Joanna came to stay with us, and I’d heard whisperings about this film she was going to make and my mom being in it, and I was like, “Oh, I’m excited to go visit you on the set.” When Joanna asked me to be in it, I was like, “Let’s do it. I trust you. Let’s try it because I’ve never done this before.” I was like, “I might enjoy it, I might also hate it.” But it would be an adventure.
Your real mother plays your character’s mother in the films. Though she plays a supporting character, what was it like to share scenes with her? Was it intimidating? Was there pressure?
I didn’t feel remotely intimidated, nor did I feel any pressure. I didn’t feel like there was a right or wrong way to do a scene. But I also didn’t feel like I was doing the project because of my mom. Whether or not she was involved was semi-irrelevant. But it was wonderful to work with her, have fun together and grow an even stronger bond. It doesn’t matter what we do; we’re always growing closer. She was very careful to make me feel independent with this role and let me do it myself. She was there if I needed her, but she made sure it was my thing with Joanna.
And what was the consensus on the acting? Love it or hate it?
I loved it, particularly the second one. I found it exciting. I’m studying psychology at university now. I’m in my third year. For me acting is so empathetic. It’s all about getting raw about your emotions, and putting yourself in other people’s shoes. What interests me next is that I want to continue acting. I’m interested in pushing myself, putting myself in the shoes of a murderer or a villain, because I’m neither of those things, and I want to feel that. I want to experience other people’s experiences.
Wait! You mean you’re not a murderer?!?
(Laughs) Well…..I’ll tell you off the record after the interview.
So what happens next career-wise?
I have an agent who’s very active and fantastic. I’ve done some auditions. I’ve had callbacks for things, met with people, and done some voiceovers. I did a short film just after Cannes with this wonderful director Hazel McKibbin whose last film, Doublespeak, was at Sundance. But I’m enjoying what I’m studying at school right now. I’ve just never wanted acting to be the only thing I do. I want to do many things. But if the right role comes along, I will do it.
How has the auditioning experience been?
I like auditioning. I find it quite challenging, but I feel like I come across a lot better in person than over Zoom. I feel like I make a better impression in person. My flatmate helps me with the auditions. We try and get the light before it gets dark, as it always does in Edinburgh (Scotland). We make it fun, and I don’t take it personally when I don’t get it because acting is not my entire life.
That is a healthy attitude to have. Where does it come from? Is it something learned from your parents, or is it innate?
I’ve always been this way. It was never instilled in me by my parents. My dad is not like this. I have a twin brother who’s not like this at all. We’re very, very different. In class, I literally studied the nature-nurture debate of why twins are not exactly the same. I think it’s got all to do with my personality. I don’t put all my eggs in one basket, but that doesn’t mean I don’t give it my all. I put everything into each audition and spend hours researching the project, the character, the director, learning the lines. I love and respect the process so much. I just don’t allow it to control me.
Essentially, just like the nine-year-old Honor who decided it would be a fun adventure to appear in her godfather’s film, the adult Honor still has that same spirit all these years later when taking on a lead role in a film, which is, “Let’s do this! Why not?”
Exactly. Why not? What have I got to lose? Otherwise, it’d be such a boring life. You regret the things you don’t do. Acting is fun to me. I’m so glad I did it. I have no regrets.