VENICE, Italy: He is a key character in the remake of 1970s horror movie "Suspiria", but no one has heard of the actor playing elderly psychiatrist Jozef Klemperer, and there are rumours he is actually co-star Tilda Swinton in disguise.
Ahead of the film's world premiere on Saturday, Swinton, known for her remarkable physical transformations in films, read out a message from the actor, Lutz Ebersdorf, supposedly a 82-year-old retired performance artist and psychoanalyst, who chose not to attend the Venice Film Festival.
"To the esteemed ladies and gentlemen of the press, I am very sorry not to be able to greet you in person, I am a private individual who prefers to remain private," Swinton read to reporters at a news conference.
"To quote Dr Klemperer: 'the illusion that is the handwork of my colleagues is not mine'," she continued - possibly a clue to Ebersdorf not really existing.
Ebersdorf's only credit on the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) is for "Suspiria", the remake of Dario Argento's bloody classic from 1977, and in the statement read out by Swinton, he says he has no plans to make other movies.
One reporter tried to trick Swinton, 57, into admitting she really did play Klemperer, a frail, grey-haired man haunted by his past who gets drawn into the sinister world of a dance school in Berlin, asking her why she had played two roles.
"What two roles?" she replied.
When the reporter suggested that in additional to her role as Madame Blanc, the dance school's domineering choreographer, Swinton also played Klemperer, she responded:
"As you will see from the credits and on all the posters, Dr Klemperer is played by Lutz Ebersdorf who sent a message that I read just now." Swinton kept a straight face but the news conference erupted in laughter.
The reporter pressed his case: "So there is an Oscar campaign that's going to be for this..."
"For Lutz Ebersdorf? I hope," Swinton replied, with a wink.
"Suspiria", directed by Luca Guadagnino who made the acclaimed "Call Me by Your Name", follows Susie, an ingenue American played by Dakota Johnson, excited but daunted as she arrives to study at the prestigious dance school where strange older women seem to have supernatural control over the girls.
Johnson denied rumours that filming the gory "Suspiria" had sent her into psychoanalysis, but admitted it had had some impact.
"When you are working sometimes with dark subject matter it can stay with you and then to talk to somebody really nice about it afterwards is a really nice way to move on from the project - and my therapist is a really nice woman!"
"It wasn't that this film sent me to a psych ward, I just have a lot of feelings."
Jessica Harper, who played Susie in the original "Suspiria", returns in the remake as the wife of Dr Klemperer. She insisted the actor playing her husband was Lutz Ebersdorf.
"I personally loved working with Lutz Elbersdorf," she told the news conference. "I found him an incredible acting partner."
"Suspiria" is one of 21 films in the main competition at the Venice Film Festival that ends on Sept 8.
(Reporting by Robin Pomeroy; Editing by Alexandra Hudson)