Naturally, she was attracted to the miserable, lonely underwear scene in Michael Clayton, in which she plays an American executive gripped by vice-like ambition and desperation who is tempted to murder to save her career. Alone in her hotel room, Swinton's character, Karen Crowder, sits before the dressing-table mirror rehearsing a corporate speech. She's in her bra, and a middle-aged droop of flesh sags beneath the strap on her back.
"That image struck me very early on when I was reading the script," Swinton recalls fondly. "It was one of the things that made me want to do the film - it made her seem vulnerable. She needed to have a certain kind of body, which I built with the help of rather a lot of pie."
What Swinton recognises in these roles is that the body matters so much more to the identity of a woman than it does to a suit-camouflaged man. Towards the film's dénouement, Crowder gets ready, laying out her sharp jacket and reinforced tights, "preparing like a Samurai warrior, her hair frozen by the hairdresser, ready for battle," says Swinton. "I kept thinking of Condoleeza Rice..." She grins wickedly.
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