NEW YORK (Reuters) - Fantasy is an integral part of actress Tilda Swinton's life, which she both adores and dislikes.
There is the imaginative world of making movies that she considers a passionate hobby, not work, including producing her new "I Am Love" for the past 11 years with Italian director Luca Guadagnino. It began playing in U.S. theaters on Friday.
Then, there is her private world in which she has long been dogged by talk of her involvement in a love triangle, which Swinton calls pure fantasy made up by celebrity tabloids.
The British actress said "I Am Love," in which she portrays a Russian woman married into a wealthy family in Milan, was created in her usual practice of dreaming up ideas then fleshing them out with colleagues.
"You go on and on fantasizing, and then you start to dare each other, and then you start to visualize it, and then you do it," she told Reuters. "It's no more exotic than that. It's just friends."
Swinton, 49, began her career in the 1980s on British television and in movies, and saw her breakout role in 1992's "Orlando." Since then, she has balanced work in European and U.S. independent films with Hollywood roles, such as her Oscar-winning turn as a corporate lawyer in "Michael Clayton."
In "I Am Love," Swinton's character Emma Recchi, who speaks Italian laced with a hint of a Russian, is a mother in the midst of a midlife dilemma when her children grow up and she confronts her long-repressed sexual desires.
Recchi bonds with a young chef who is a friend of her son over a shared love of cooking, and she embarks on a passionate affair with the man, pondering all the while whether she can break free of society's conventions.
The Los Angeles Times called Swinton's work in the film, "a delectable performance."
Recchi's choice of a younger man is not far removed from Swinton's own love life, which stirred headlines back in 2008 and still prompts questions today after she split with playwright John Byrne, the father of her twin children.
She is still friends with Byrne but now dates a much younger artist boyfriend, and for years, media reports have said she is engaged in an open marriage with the two men.
Swinton calls those stories the "fantastic fantasies" of tabloid journalism. "It's just some sort of fantasy that people have that it's all going to be 'sturm und drang'," she said, using the German phrase for storm and stress.
"(It) does actually sadden me," she added, "if it's exotic for people to go on being really loving to each other when they have children together, when they are in other relationships."
Another concept, Swinton said puzzles her is that she is widely considered to be daringly non-conventional.
"I conform absolutely to the laws of the love of my friends and family and my own," she said. "I feel very conformist."
"I am Love" is Swinton's third collaboration with Guadagnino, and she said it reminds her of "Orlando," which was directed by Sally Potter.
The 1992 movie is a fantasy in which Swinton portrays a British nobleman who is transfixed on contemplating the nature of love. He lives forever and over the generations switches genders from man to woman to better understand what love is.
"Orlando" reminds Swinton of "I Am Love" because she was told both would never get made. She also took that piece of conventional movie-making wisdom as a fiction and saw the film finally land in theaters to critical acclaim. In fact, "Orlando" is about to be re-released in some U.S. cinemas.
And whether fantasy or reality, the actress considers her life one long "turn of the wheel."
"Life doesn't really feel constitutionally that different. The business of making work slowly and carefully with your friends over many years. It's the same now as it ever was."
editing by Bob Tourtellotte