Tilda Swinton Wore a Fake Penis for Her ‘Secret’ (But Totally Obvious) Role in ‘Suspiria’
Note: While we wouldn’t really consider what follows in this story about Tilda Swinton and the Suspiria remake to be “spoilers,” some super-fans might, so beware!
I’ve remained mum about the Suspiria remake since I saw it two weeks ago, mostly because … well, because I was initially so excited to see it and wanted it to be amazing. And it’s not. While it’s a movie that makes some incredible things happen on-screen, all in all I found it to be downright horrible. Then I caught wind — leading up to the film’s release — of some of the pretentious ridiculousness coming out of Tilda Swinton and I couldn’t stay silent any longer.
I don’t know anyone who didn’t have high hopes for the Suspiria remake, thinking it could add some much-needed, grounded storytelling to the 1977 cult classic helmed by Dario Argento. The original film is a favorite of art film lovers, horror buffs and queer people alike, and I was game for a well-crafted opportunity to re-visit it.
And like many I felt Suspiria was in good hands with Call Me By Your Name director Luca Guadagnino, who had already proved his worth in my eyes with a film that left me contemplating a move to Italy. Moreover, I was thrilled to learn Tilda Swinton had been cast as a witchy instructor at the Berlin dance studio where the bulk of the Suspiria remake takes place.
But Swinton, long lauded for her trademark, artful androgyny and “film as an art form” — barring that time she kinda sorta decided to portray an old Asian guy — has officially reached peak ridiculousness.
First, to appease my rant, it’s important to know that in the film Tilda Swinton plays triple duty. In addition to dance instructor Madame Blanc, she also portrays Dr. Jozef Klemperer, an elderly Jewish psycho-therapist who seeks to uncover the secrets of the ballet school (and a third character I won’t give away). But instead of simply portraying a second character in the film — who, yeah, let’s acknowledge happens to be a different gender, age and nationality, which is amazing — “Tilda Swinton” doesn’t play Dr. Klemperer at all. Lutz Ebersdorf does.
Leading up to the film’s release, Guadagnino and Swinton both insisted Lutz Ebersdorf was an unknown, first-time actor making his debut in the Suspiria remake — and that rumors to the contrary were merely “fake news.” When a press conference was staged at the Venice Film Festival, Swinton read a statement she said was on Ebersdorf’s behalf.
But we officially know that Lutz Ebersdorf is a character created by Tilda Swinton (perhaps with Guadagnino, who’s been complicit in the cheeky charade). It’s been reported that Swinton wrote up a biography for the character on IMDb and even went so far as to insist everyone on set call her “Lutz” while in character.
But the kicker: Since the jig is now officially up (and, truthfully, it couldn’t have been insisted on for long, as the Lutz character appears in the film’s very first scene, wherein I looked at my friend and said, “That old man is Tilda Swinton” — she has since opened up about her decision to wear a “weighty set of genitalia” while portraying the character. (The “character” being not Dr. Klemperer but Lutz Ebersdorf as Dr. Klemperer — keep up!)
Tilda Swinton reportedly had a cock and balls crafted for her just for the Suspiria remake, according to Oscar-winning makeup artist Mark Coulier, “so that she could feel it dangling between her legs.” He also says the fake penis made more than one on-set appearance. (No word yet on the prosthetic’s current whereabouts, though we’d like to imagine it sits proudly on Tilda Swinton’s mantle, right next to her 2008 Michael Clayton Oscar.)
Asked the question you’re all thinking to yourself right now — why?! — Swinton has said, “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.’”
Now, far be it from me to deny Tilda Swinton a bit of fun on the set of the Suspiria remake. More than any other film I’ve seen in years, I have no doubt this film’s set was in desperate need of a little frivolity. The film’s lead, a completely forgettable Dakota Johnson (seriously, she’s Suspiria‘s weakest link), has famously said she needed therapy after shooting the gory, supernatural movie. And if actors like Jim Carrey and Joaquin Phoenix get to have their fun famously living life on set as a character, why shouldn’t Tilda?
But what I find lame is that had the internet — as it loves to do — not uncovered this big “Lutz charade,” Tilda Swinton and Guadagnino had no plans to spill the beans. “Frankly, my long-held dream was that we would never have addressed this question at all,” Swinton has said. “My original idea was that Lutz would die during the edit, and his ‘In Memoriam’ be the final credit in the film.”
This is only a problem because it’s proof that Tilda Swinton — one of my all-time favorite actors, and a cunning chameleon if ever there was one — thinks a bit too highly of her abilities. Her performance as Lutz, while deserving of props to those who crafted the prosthetics, simply doesn’t fool anyone, unseen fake penis or nah.
Then again, had Guadagnino delivered something remarkable with his Suspiria remake, I likely would have forgiven the pretentious trespass. I mean, it’s Tilda Swinton, right?