Joe McGovern
April 19, 2016 AT 12:00 PM EDT

Silence speaks volumes — especially for Tilda Swinton in the erotic new thriller A Bigger Splash.

The Oscar-winning actress costars alongside Ralph Fiennes, Dakota Johnson, and Matthias Schoenaerts as a megafamous rock star vacationing on a sun-baked Mediterranean island after undergoing potentially career-ending vocal surgery. Her peaceful recovery with her younger boyfriend (Schoenaerts) is disrupted when her volatile ex-boyfriend/ex-manager (Fiennes) and his daughter (Johnson) arrive unexpectedly.

And Swinton’s character, named Marianne Lane, is most certainly seen — though not heard — in the film, as you can see in this exclusive clip with Johnson, above. “I wanted her to be mute,” Swinton tells EW. “It was a reverie I had on a long walk one day about how I could imagine myself playing the part.”

Due simply to a desire to pull away from movies after the death of her mother, Swinton had initially turned down the offer from her longtime collaborator Luca Guadagnino. The stylish Italian director of A Bigger Splash also helmed 2009’s acclaimed I Am Love, starring Swinton as a wealthy Russian émigré living in Milan. But the actress reconsidered after brainstorming about what it might be like to play a musician who has no voice.

“It occurred to me that the tension would be ramped up if one of these people — particularly Marianne, because she’s the linchpin — couldn’t speak,” Swinton says. “Plus, there’s something really dreamlike about the situation — you have this ex, and he turns up and makes trouble — and I loved arousing that rubbery feeling in dreams when you want to express yourself but can’t.”

The film is a loose remake of Jacques Deray 1969 La Piscine — the title A Bigger Splash is both the name of a famous David Hockney painting and a witticism on the notion of remakes — and though Swinton’s character was intended to be an actress (who can talk), Guadagnino loved Swinton’s suggestion for a dialogue-less Marianne. “The second this idea popped into my head I couldn’t let it go. So I put it to Luca and he was game for it and so we went for it. It was wonderful.”

For more on Tilda Swinton, pick up the current Summer Movie Preview issue of Entertainment Weekly. A Bigger Splash opens in theaters on May 4.

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