Tilda Swinton has long been billed as Madame Blanc, the headmistress of the prestigious Berlin-based dance company at the center of the Call Me by Your Name director Luca Guadagnino’s highly anticipated remake of the horror classic Suspiria. For seemingly just as long, though, rumors have circulated that she also plays an 82-year-old man by the name of Dr. Josef Klemperer, who spends the film investigating the supernatural, supergory goings-on at the company.
Those rumors, according to Guadganino just this past February, were “fake news”; instead, the director maintained that he’d cast a first-time actor by the name of Lutz Ebersdorf—an assertion that Swinton has also spent months firmly standing by, even reading a statement she said was on Ebersdorf’s behalf at the film’s press conference during the Venice Film Festival. It was only recently, though, that someone thought to ask Swinton the question she’d considered “curiously” neglected—not simply if she was playing Klemperer, but if she was playing Ebersdorf. As for her answer, which appeared in The New York Times on Wednesday? “An equivocal yes.”
The 57-year-old actress was just as direct in her response to the question of why she was doing so: “Undeniably, I would have to say, for the sheer sake of fun above all,” Swinton said. “As my grandmother would have it—a motto to live and die by—‘dull not to.’” And fun Swinton definitely did have: She even wrote a biography for Ebersdorf on IMDb, identifying him as a retired psychoanalyst from Berlin who planned for Suspiria to be his first and only acting experience, which likely served as a reference for the many extras and crew members who were reportedly looking him up on the site, having no idea whom they were actually working with.
Guadagnino, for his part, said that he’d always conceived of the film as being about female identity. (Its stars are Chloë Grace Moretz, Mia Goth, and Dakota Johnson—the latter of whom recently made a point, in an entirely unrelated interview about her favorite beauty products, to say that the film “no lie, f---ed me up so much that I had to go to therapy.”) To him, having Swinton play the man at the center of the film made perfect sense.
Aside from some rare real answers from Swinton, the Times also got some details about how and she and the rest of the crew managed to pull off the ruse, which included a reunion between Swinton and the Oscar-winning makeup artist Mark Coulier, who had transformed Swinton into an octogenarian for 2014’s The Grand Budapest Hotel. This time around, he worked around her “very feminine bone structure” by spending four hours a day covering it up with prosthetics, which served to build out her jaw and thicken her neck. (Oh, and he also followed through with Swinton’s request for a temporary mustache, worn while she took a faux headshot for her IMDb pet project.)
Coulier didn’t do all of the work; Swinton was just as key to the success of her transformation, calling for a crucial detail the others had somehow managed to neglect. “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.” (Their current whereabouts remain unknown—according to Coulier, “probably in a box somewhere!”—though knowing Swinton and her antics, we may soon see her toting them on the red carpet à la Jaden Smith and his dreads.)
Swinton, in fact, also plays a third, “more monstrous” character in the film, who’s only revealed at the very end. Since that role is a spoiler, however, you’ll just have to wait to see it for yourself when the movie fully rolls out, on November 2.