Tilda Swinton has long been one of the great actors of our generation, even taking home the Oscar for her performance in 2008’s Michael Clayton. Yet her latest performance took her artistry and talent to a new level, as she orchestrated an elaborate hoax around her upcoming film Suspiria, and were it not for the difficulties of keeping a conspiracy secret, she would have gotten away with it.
Swinton is set to star in the remake of the 1977 Dario Argento classic alongside Dakota Johnson, Chloe Grace Moretz, and an 82-year-old first-time actor by the name of Lutz Ebersdorf, who will play the key role of psychoanalyst Dr. Josef Klemperer. As it turns out, Tilda Swinton was Lutz Ebersdorf.
During filming, Swinton donned prosthetics and makeup — and even fake genitals — to play the role of Klemperer. Oscar-winner Mark Coulier put Swinton through four hours of makeup application each day, using prosthetics to add mass to her neck and jaw to make her appear more masculine. In addition to the role of Klemperer, Swinton also plays Madame Blanc, which gave her the opportunity to create the hoax by posing as an unknown actor who did not exist.
Swinton even took the ruse as far as creating a fake IMDb page for Ebersdorf. Her grand plan was to complete the film, then begin a rumor that Ebersdorf died during the editing of the film, even going so far as to add an In Memoriam title card for Ebersdorf at the end of the film. It is uncertain if she would have allowed the ruse to continue on indefinitely had it not been discovered.
When asked why she would go through so much trouble to create such an elaborate hoax, Swinton responded, “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.”
Swinton’s machinations were almost uncovered by The Guardian reviewer Peter Bradshaw, who upon seeing the film noted in his review that Ebersdorf had “an odd-looking face (that) looks like prosthetic makeup.”
There is method to the madness, however, in both the casting of Swinton in multiple roles, including as the male Klemperer, as well as the ensuing hoax. Suspiria director Luca Guadagnino felt that casting Swinton as Klemperer was essential to the film as the story is largely about female identity. He said, “…there will always be this element of femininity at its core. Being a film about the fantastic, it was important we did not play by the book.”
Suspiria opens nationwide on October 26.