Ever since we got our first look at the trailer for Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria, there’s been a strong suspicion (bordering on certainty) that aged German psychiatrist Josef Klemperer was not, in fact, being played by an unknown actor named Lutz Ebersdorf, but by star Tilda Swinton in a dual role. And while both Swinton and Guadagnino put up a good faith effort to keep the hoax in play—even going so far as to create a fake IMDB page for Dr. Ebersdorf, supposedly an actual German psychoanalyst—the skinned cat is now officially out of the bag.
Swinton resignedly revealed the truth to The New York Times today, noting that, while she still holds that Lutz Ebersdorf plays Josef Klemperer, she says nobody ever bothered to ask her whether Tilda Swinton was playing Lutz Ebersdorf, a question which has, as its answer, “An unequivocal yes.” (And at this point, our assumption that Tilda Swinton would be a simultaneously fascinating and deeply frustrating person to get dinner with solidified into concrete.)
Why the big hoax? Partly, Swinton says, because it was fun. “Undeniably, I would have to say, for the sheer sake of fun above all As my grandmother would have it—a motto to live and die by —‘Dull Not To.’” But there’s also the fact that, by taking the film’s sole major male character and putting him in the hands of a woman, Swinton and Guadagnino have ensured that a movie about female identity never loses touch with its feminine side. Not that Dr. Ebersdorf wasn’t in sync with his masculinity on set, too: Swinton apparently asked makeup artist Mark Coulier (who also created the rest of the character’s look) to create a set of prosthetic genitals for her to wear while playing Ebersdorf.
“She did have us make a penis and balls,” Coulier told the Times. “She had this nice, weighty set of genitalia so that she could feel it dangling between her legs, and she managed to get it out on set on a couple of occasions.” Our own Katie Rife, who saw Suspiria at Fantastic Fest, confirmed that the movie does, indeed, feature “some full frontal faux-old man nudity,” although it’s not clear if that was the prosthetic, CGI, or some combination of the two.