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Idris Elba and Tilda Swinton break down their ‘spiritual’ sex scene in ‘Three Thousand Years of Longing’



George Miller elevated the art of the action movie with Mad Max: Fury Road, and now the 77-year-old Australian director is doing the same for love scenes in his new romantic drama, Three Thousand Years of Longing. Midway through the film, Tilda Swinton’s unassuming scholar, Alithea Binnie, has a passionate encounter with Idris Elba‘s magical Djinn (Idris Elba) — more popularly known as a genie — whom she’s freed from his centuries-long captivity. The ensuing phantasmagorical union of their hearts, souls and bodies is much, much more than just a typical cinematic sex scene.

“It’s referred to as ‘lovecraft,’” Swinton tells Yahoo Entertainment about that transporting sequence, which should make the audience’s heart beat faster. For his part, Elba compares participating in “lovecraft” to practicing yoga. “[We were] really stretching our lungs out,” he recalls. “It was all a bit spiritual.” (Watch our video interview above.)

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Elba and Swinton in a scene from Three Thousand Years of Longing. (Photo: MGM/Courtesy Everett Collection)
Idris Elba and Tilda Swinton in a scene from Three Thousand Years of Longing. (Photo: MGM/Courtesy Everett Collection)

Based on a short story by A.S. Byatt, Three Thousand Years of Longing is a film that Miller has been longing to make for years. And during its extended creative genesis, he devoted a great deal of thought to the way he wanted to depict the consummation of the attraction between Alithea and the Djinn. In the finished film, their “lovecraft” is depicted as a lavish tableau brought to life with immersive digital effects and a roving camera that moves about the frame with grace and style.

“It was an image that George had in his mind from the very early conversations I had with him,” Swinton recalls. “It was almost like building a sculpture: he had that image in his mind for years, and planned special effects around it well in advance. The idea of having the focus of a lovemaking scene as one still image, I thought, was really fascinating. George operates in many ways as a sculptor, and that was a really remarkable moment.”

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It was incredibly sensitive, beautiful,” Elba agrees. “We shot a lot of this story in a chronological way … so that [scene] happened at a junction in our filming process where we were all in love with where we were … And as Tilda said, George had sculpted this for a long time.”


While moviegoers who only know Miller for the Mad Max franchise might be surprised to see him indulge his romantic side in Three Thousand Years of Longing, the movie’s stars note that he’s always sought to avoid being pigeonholed, helming such disparate films as The Witches of EastwickLorenzo’s Oil and Babe: Pig in the City.

Swinton, director George Miller and Elba on the set of Three Thousand Years of Longing. (Photo: MGM/Courtesy Everett Collection)
Swinton, director George Miller and Elba on the set of Three Thousand Years of Longing. (Photo: MGM/Courtesy Everett Collection)

“He has made this incredible chocolate box of films,” Elba says about what drew him to film in the first place. “He told me after we met that once he had envisioned me as the Djinn, he couldn’t envision anyone else. And when someone like that says that to you, you cannot help but be committed — especially to someone with his experience.”

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Three Thousand Years of Longing is currently playing in theaters


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