Ac­tress Swin­ton turns into an old man


>> Tilda Swin­ton is one of Hol­ly­wood’s most chameleonic ac­tresses: She has played wicked queens, frumpy housewives and David Bowie. So when ru­mours spread that in the new film Sus­piria, the 57-year-old Swin­ton was se­cretly cast as an 82-year-old male psy­cho­an­a­lyst, it seemed both out­landish and per­fectly be­liev­able.

The movie, a re­make of Dario Ar­gento’s 1977 hor­ror clas­sic that is due on Oct 26, stars Dakota John­son as a young dancer who en­rolls at an all-fe­male Ber­lin dance academy only to find out that it is run by a coven of witches. The troupe’s artis­tic di­rec­tor, Madame Blanc, is played by an unadorned Swin­ton, but in­ter­net sleuths have also pegged Swin­ton as play­ing Dr Josef Klem­perer, the film’s third lead, un­der mounds of makeup.

Still, Swin­ton and di­rec­tor Luca Guadagnino have re­mained coy on the is­sue. “Fake news,” Guadagnino said in Fe­bru­ary, in­sist­ing that he had cast a first-time ac­tor, Lutz Ebers­dorf, as Klem­perer. But when Sus­piria had its pre­miere at the Venice Film Fes­ti­val last month, Ebers­dorf was not among the stars in at­ten­dance; in­stead, Swin­ton read a state­ment at a news con­fer­ence there that she at­trib­uted to this reclu­sive fig­ure.

Now both Swin­ton and Guadagnino are ready to come clean. “The an­swer to the ques­tion to me, ‘Are you play­ing Dr Klem­perer in Sus­piria?’ is al­ways that Dr Klem­perer is played by Lutz Ebers­dorf,” Swin­ton told me last week in an email. Yet there is a more spe­cific ques­tion she has been wait­ing for some­one to put to her, “and cu­ri­ously, to date, no­body has thought of it.”

That query, if any­one had both­ered to ask, is “Are you play­ing Lutz Ebers­dorf?” And the an­swer, Swin­ton said, is “an un­equiv­o­cal yes”.

Of course, that begs an­other ques­tion. Swin­ton’s real iden­tity does not au­gur some sort of gen­der-bend­ing Sus­piria plot twist, and while Klem­perer spends much of the movie in­ves­ti­gat­ing the coven’s su­per­nat­u­ral schemes, at no point does this el­derly psy­cho­an­a­lyst shed his makeup to re­veal that he is an­other char­ac­ter in dis­guise. So why was Swin­ton play­ing Lutz Ebers­dorf?

“Un­de­ni­ably, I would have to say, for the sheer sake of fun above all,” Swin­ton emailed. “As my grand­mother would have it — a motto to live and die by — ‘Dull Not To’,”

Still, Swin­ton and her di­rec­tor had more in mind than just play­ful­ness. Guadagnino had al­ways con­ceived Sus­piria as a movie about fe­male iden­tity, and to cast Swin­ton in the only sig­nif­i­cant male role, would en­sure that “there will al­ways be this el­e­ment of fem­i­nin­ity at its core,” Guadagnino said. “Be­ing a film about the fan­tas­tic, it was im­por­tant that we did not play by the book.”

Swin­ton added, “A psy­cho­an­a­lyst, or a psy­chi­a­trist with a sense of the un­con­scious, is some­one who knows that in ev­ery delu­sion is an at­tempt to tell a truth.” Not­ing Klem­perer’s pre­oc­cu­pa­tion with a spouse he had lost in the war, she said,

“Klem­perer is in­hab­ited by the phan­tasm of his lost wife: He is, in this cru­cial re­spect, ‘played’ by a woman. She dic­tates the rhythm of his life in the ev­ery­day tex­ture of his be­reaved lone­li­ness.”

And while to say much more would be a spoiler, there is also a third, more mon­strous char­ac­ter that Swin­ton plays in the fi­nal act, and Guadagnino in­ten­tion­ally con­ceived th­ese three fig­ures for her. “This is a movie that is very con­nected to psy­cho­anal­y­sis,” he said, “and I like to think that only Tilda could play ego, super­ego and id.”

To aid Swin­ton in her trans­for­ma­tion into Klem­perer, Guadagnino hired the Os­car-win­ning makeup artist Mark Coulier. Though Coulier had pre­vi­ously put Swin­ton in old-age pros­thet­ics for The Grand Bu­dapest Ho­tel, and Swin­ton has played male char­ac­ters be­fore on film (most no­tably, in the 1992 Or­lando) to do both at the same time would be a new chal­lenge. In fact, the strik­ing fea­tures that have served Swin­ton well in other trans­for­ma­tions were of no use as Klem­perer.

“Al­though she has a slightly an­drog­y­nous look from sort of a fash­ion-model point of view, Tilda’s got a very fem­i­nine bone struc­ture,” said Coulier, who thick­ened Swin­ton’s neck with pros­thet­ics and built her jaw out to look heav­ier and more mas­cu­line.

While in char­ac­ter on set, Swin­ton pre­ferred to be ad­dressed as “Lutz,” and Coulier said that many of the ex­tras and crew mem­bers on Sus­piria had no idea who they were re­ally look­ing at: “They were all like, ‘Is this a fa­mous ac­tor, Lutz Ebers­dorf?’ They’d go on IMDb look­ing for him, and there wasn’t any in­for­ma­tion.”

To ex­tend the mys­tery, then, Swin­ton her­self wrote an IMDb bi­og­ra­phy for Ebers­dorf: He was a re­tired psy­cho­an­a­lyst from Ber­lin who had never be­fore ap­peared in a film, and con­ve­niently had no plans to act again in the fu­ture. Swin­ton even con­scripted Coulier to add a mus­tache to her makeup so she could up­load a faux head­shot to Ebers­dorf’s IMDb page. (IMDb has since di­rected users to Swin­ton’s own pro­file.)

The ruse might have held longer had a pa­parazzo not snapped a photo of Swin­ton as Ebers­dorf dur­ing pro­duc­tion in Ber­lin, then sold it to US ser­vices two win­ters ago as a pic­ture of Swin­ton as dis­guise. “Maybe there was a mole in the Ger­man crew,” Guadagnino said. “It did bother me.” Though not ev­ery­one was pay­ing at­ten­tion at the time, as Sus­piria be­gan to near re­lease, jour­nal­ists started ask­ing ques­tions about the mys­te­ri­ous man cred­ited as “Lutz Ebers­dorf”.

“The in­ten­tion was never to fool any­body,” Swin­ton said. “The ge­nius of Marc Coulier notwith­stand­ing, it was al­ways our de­sign that there would be some­thing un­re­solved about the iden­tity of the per­for­mance of Klem­perer.”

Still, now that the se­cret is out, Swin­ton can’t help but voice one last, cheeky re­gret. “Frankly, my long-held dream was that we would never have ad­dressed this ques­tion at all,” Swin­ton said.

“My orig­i­nal idea was that Lutz would die dur­ing the edit, and his ‘In Me­mo­riam’ be the fi­nal credit in the film.”

AN­DROG­Y­NOUS: Tilda Swin­ton’s new film ‘Sus­piria’, a re­make of Dario Ar­gento’s 1977 hor­ror clas­sic, is due out on Oct 26.

TRANS­FORMED: ac­tress Tilda Swin­ton in the new film ‘Sus­piria’. To make Swin­ton look like a male doc­tor, pros­thet­ics were used to thicken her neck and build out her jaw.

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