The news itself, while amusing, wasn't all that shocking. Many had already guessed that Swinton was behind the many layers of makeup and prosthetics, and rumours abounded when Ebersdorf didn't show up to the film's Venice Film Festival premiere in September, the only cast-member to miss the big event. Also, it's Tilda Swinton. She can do anything! Be anyone!
Case-in-point: the interview revealed that Swinton plays three different roles in Suspiria, a remake of Dario Argento’s 1977 horror film about a talented young dancer (Dakota Johnson) whose star is rising at Berlin-based dance company run by the mysterious Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton, credited as herself) in the midst of the German Autumn. But the backdrop of terrorism but one of the many horrors Susie Bannion (Johnson) encounters as it becomes increasingly clear that the company is a front for a coven of witches.
As Ebersdorf, Swinton plays Dr. Josef Klemperer, an 82-year-old German psychoanalyst and the film's only male-presenting lead, who begins to take an interest in the strange happenings of the dance company after treating one of is members, Patricia Hingle (Chloë Grace Moretz).
(To reveal Swinton's third role would be too much of a spoiler, but let me just say it's a lot.)
But what's most interesting about Swinton's transformation into Ebersdorf and then Klemperer is the reasoning behind it. The casting is more than just a fun visual gag, Guadagnino himself explained in the same New York Times interview in which the news was confirmed.
Per the director, Suspiria is a film about women: their pain, their fears, their sensuality, and their identity. It's a study in the many faces of femininity. Having Swinton fill the one prominent male role was a way for the director, who also helmed last year's Call Me By Your Name, to guarantee that "there will always be this element of femininity at its core."
“This is a movie that is very connected to psychoanalysis,” Guadagnino told the Times, “and I like to think that only Tilda could play ego, superego and id.”
Still, while that all seems very theoretically reasoned, making Old Man Tilda Swinton a reality is a whole other matter. The convincing end result is the work of Academy Award-winning makeup artist Mark Coulier, who also worked with the actress on Wes Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel. It took four hours to get her in full makeup every day, no small commitment since Klemperer eventually shares some scenes with Madame Blanc. Coulier also had to use prosthetics to make Swinton's neck appear thicker, and her jaw more square. And the pièce de résistance? A "nice, weighty set of genitalia," which Coulier built so that she could really get into character. Now that's true commitment.