Brow Beat

Tilda Swinton Invented an Elaborate Biography, Wore Fake Genitals to Play an 82-Year-Old Man in Suspiria

A wrinkled man with white hair holds a teacup.
Tilda Swinton as “Lutz Ebersdorf.”
Amazon Studios

The cat is out of the wrinkly, prosthetic-covered bag: The actor known as “Lutz Ebersdorf” is actually, as we suspected all along, Tilda Swinton in disguise. Swinton is only credited in her new movie, Suspiria, for the role of Madame Blanc, but photos from the set that leaked in March 2017 identified a man in a hat and coat as Swinton, and a trailer released in August of this year seemed to support that claim. Now Swinton herself says it’s true, admitting that she also plays the elderly Dr. Klemperer, who is credited as “Lutz Ebersdorf” in the film.

Swinton confirmed the news in an email to the New York Times, writing that she wanted to play the part “for the sheer sake of fun above all.” (Unlike Star Trek: Discovery’s recent actor fakeout, which was designed to cover up a major plot twist involving a character’s secret identity, Swinton’s dual casting has no bearing on Suspiria’s plot.) Swinton spent four hours each day transforming into “Lutz Ebersdorf” at the hands of makeup artist and Oscar winner Mark Coulier, who tells the Times his team used prosthetics to thicken her neck, jaw, and … genitals.

“She did have us make a penis and balls,” Coulier said. “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.” And where is Swinton’s superfluous genitalia now? “Probably in a box somewhere!” Coulier said brightly. “I should try and find it, and put it on a plaque on the wall of my workshop.”

The Times story also reveals that Swinton personally wrote the elaborate IMDb biography for “Lutz Ebersdorf,” detailing how his family fled from the Nazis when he was a child, extolling his education studying “Kleinian psychoanalysis,” even providing an excuse for why he’s never been heard of in show business before. The 82-year-old actor was supposedly once part of “a radical performance ensemble heavily influenced by the Vienna Actionists and in particular the work of Hermann Nitsch,” but their films from the 1950s and 60s have since been lost. The biography now redirects to Swinton’s own page.

Director Luca Guadagnino told the Times that he deliberately cast Swinton as Madame Blanc, Dr. Klemperer, and a third role in Suspiria, for thematic reasons. “This is a movie that is very connected to psychoanalysis, and I like to think that only Tilda could play ego, superego, and id,” he said. That’s a very different answer from Guadagnino’s original response to the rumor: He once called it “fake news,” a tactic for preserving the secrecy that the Times calls “remaining coy” but which is known to the rest of us by its less technical term, “lying.”