The new Suspiria remake is gaining lots of attention for being both one of the most terrifying and most stylish films of the year, and a lot of the praise is going to the movie's main stars: Dakota Johnson, Tilda Swinton, and Lutz Ebersdorf. And while most film fans will be familiar with those first two names, the third will give even the biggest cinephile pause. So who is Lutz Ebersdorf, and how did this elderly German actor no one's ever heard of land such a plum role in a major Hollywood production?
Lutz Ebersdorf, a supposed 82-year-old first-time actor from Germany, is earning raves for his turn as Dr. Jozef Klemperer in Suspiria — but don't expect him to receive any nominations come awards season. That's because the actor doesn't actually exist. In reality, Ebersdorf is actress Tilda Swinton, who portrays Dr. Klemperer in the film along with her other roles of dance academy director Madame Blanc and ancient witch Mother Helena Markos. There was speculation for months that Swinton, long known for her deeply transformative roles, was portraying the elderly man in the film, but that theory wasn't confirmed until roughly a week before the film's release, when Swinton confessed that it was indeed her behind the old man makeup.
Swinton finally gave up the ruse and admitted she portrayed the old man in an email to The New York Times' Kyle Buchanan, claiming she hadn't admitted it earlier because people weren't asking the right question. To her, she wasn't playing Dr. Jozef Klemperer, which is what she had been asked previously; she was playing Lutz Ebersdorf, an octogenarian German making his film debut as Dr. Jozef Klemperer. Make sense? So why, then, did Swinton and director Luca Guadagnino go through the trouble of making up the actress to look like an old man when they could have just cast an old man in the film? Guadagnino told The Times it was due to his wanting to keep the film's core themes of femininity intact, even if it meant casting a woman in the movie's only significant male role. Plus, they wanted to do something unique. "Being a film about the fantastic, it was important that we did not play by the book," the director told The Times. As for Swinton, she did it "for the sheer sake of fun above all," she told Buchanan.
Prior to coming clean, Swinton and Guadagnino put on quite a show to maintain the fib that Ebersdorf was a real person. They released a phony headshot of the "actor," Swinton read a letter "written" by Ebersdorf explaining his absence at the film's Venice premiere, and Guadagnino even lied directly to The Hollywood Reporter when asked about Swinton playing the character. "It’s an 82-year-old man. I’m telling you, I can promise you," he said at the time "I’m really being very straightforward, that is the body of an 82-year-old person."
Now that the jig is up, one wonders why anyone would have wanted to cover up Swinton's performance in the first place. Her role of Jozef Klemperer, er, of Lutz Ebersdorf, is one of the actress' most impressive to date, and one would think all involved would want to give her the praise she deserves for it.