In Dead Ringers, the Prime Video adaptation of David Cronenberg’s 1988 film of the same name, Rachel Weisz plays the double role of Elliot and Beverly Mantle, twin gynaecologists who spiral into destructive codependence. Right from the jump, Beverly and Elliot not only deliver babies at their Manhattan hospital, but also swap places and seduce their unwitting patients. But beyond sharing drugs and sexual partners, the twins also harbour a dream of opening a cutting-edge birthing centre that will allow them to revolutionise maternal healthcare, even as they push the ethical boundaries of medical science. And despite their good intentions, the twins often dive into full-on insanity – portrayed incredibly by Weisz.
With showrunner Alice Birch (Normal People, Lady Macbeth) at the helm, Dead Ringers is a series that, after viewing, won’t leave your mind anytime soon. And while the era of the reboot is in full swing, taking on Cronenberg’s classic was no easy task. But thanks to Weisz, Birch and a plethora of stars, including Britne Oldford, Poppy Liu and Michael Chernus, this retelling more than lives up to expectations. I recently had the pleasure of speaking to Weisz, Oldford and Birch to get the lowdown on the series and its creation.
Rankin: I’m sure a lot of people have asked you about twins, but having watched a couple of interviews this morning, I realised that what was really interesting is how much you must have looked at the science to create this show. Did you consult a lot of experts? What did you learn?
Alice Birch: We had so many experts throughout the process. We would speak to obstetricians, gynaecologists, embryologists and endocrinologists. We even spoke to longevity scientists who treat death as a preventable disease or an age-related disease. These people work on technologies and innovations that use gene editing to help extend life expectancy for how long, exactly?
Rachel Weisz: Indefinitely, he said.
R: I’m gonna be dead by the time they do that.
AB: I reckon it might be more of a benefit to our children and our grandchildren!
R: How did you get into the codependency thing? Because it doesn’t necessarily feel like it’s about twins, it feels like a relationship to me.
AB: That was definitely the hope. It’s so present in Cronenberg’s original twins [played by Jeremy Irons]. It’s a deeply codependent story, and because we had six hours, we wanted to turn the dial up on it. It’s dangerously codependent, in fact. And yes, it’s about this relationship that is not specific to twins.
R: And did making the show mess with your heads at all? Because it’s pretty crazy stuff. Whenever I make anything, I dream about it a lot, and I’m not making anything as extreme as you guys!
AB: I mean, it’s intense, but when it comes to my process, it’s really helpful when that happens. You’ve got to kind of be in it. It’s all or nothing. And if you dream about it, you can work that dream into the story, and then you can dream about that! It sort of feeds into itself. It’s intense.
R: Rachel, did you talk to yourself in your dreams at all, or were you having those moments where you were having two conversations?
RW: No. In my real life I didn’t feel like I was divided into two people. It’s just thanks to the brilliant fiction that Alice had created – they’re such powerfully written characters. But sure, I dreamt about them. I actually got two goldfish that I named Beverly and Elliot, so they were swimming around in my kitchen all the time.
R: The writing and direction are amazing and, along with the acting and casting, it’s like a gang you’ve managed to pull together. Britne, did it feel like that when you were coming into it?
Britne Oldford: Absolutely. In a way, it felt like theatre, and we were creating this symbiotic experience that everyone was on board with.
R: One thing I was really impressed by is how complex the characters are. It felt like every person in the story had their own complexities – what was it like creating those characters?
AB: I think good stories always start with really complicated characters. Whenever I write for plays I always know the whole life story of the characters, even if they only have one line. I think you have to know the characters’ deepest darkest secrets in order to write them. But then you also have brilliant actors who bring their own ideas and the process just becomes more and more complex.
R: And Rachel, this was your first time in the writers’ room – was that unusual for you?
RW: Completely, and I wasn’t expecting it, and it never crossed my mind. But Alice said, “You should be in the writers’ room,” and she just welcomed me in. That was another gang – the gang of writers.
R: The show felt incredibly realistic but also surreal. Was it surreal shooting it or did it just feel normal by the end of it?
AB: There were definitely a couple of moments where I remember saying, “This feels really weird,” or, like, “This is trippy, isn’t it?” But there’s a lot of technical things to manage on the show, like all the medical scenes and the twinning, so you sort of forget how surreal it is.
R: The whole thing feels seamless, and I don’t remember it being that way with the original. You obviously put a lot of work into the technical parts, like the twinning. Did it get easier as the show progressed?
RW: Doing the twinning was sort of like learning to walk – none of us had ever done it before. But by the end of it we were pretty speedy. We could just gallop through it.
R: Some of the filming, particularly in the first episode, feels like it’s never been seen before on TV. How do you think this will land with viewers?
AB: I imagine it will be quite polarising. We wanted it to come with a strong flavour, so hopefully it will create some conversation. You always see birth in a very sanitised way on screen, but we see death and violence all the time.
R: If you were all stuck on an island with Beverly or Elliot, who would you trust to help you survive and why?
RW: I think to survive with practical skills, maybe Beverly, because she might be a little more organised and know the trees to chop down that will have the right fruit on them. Elliot would just eat all the food – if there was any growing on the island, it would be gone the next day.
R: And Britne, what was it like playing Rachel Weisz’s love interest? This is a question from the audience, I might add.
BO: Oh, it was an absolutely gorgeous experience. It was so beautiful to bring to life a romantic, depth-filled relationship with another person. It felt effortless and it was a joy.
RW: I also think there should be a new term for “love interest”. I think a character is so much more than that. I know the person asking the question had really good intentions, but I think we’ve got to think of a new word for that. I’ve been called “the love interest” countless times, but Britne, I feel like you’re so much more than that to the show.
R: Do you think Cronenberg fans will like the series?
RW: Well, I’m a huge admirer of Cronenberg and the original film – it’s so iconic and important. Alice created little Easter eggs and nods to Cronenberg through the tone and the colour red and the fact that [Britne’s character, TV star] Genevieve’s show is called Rabid [the name of another Cronenberg film]. There are homages all the way through, but we’ll leave it up to the Cronenberg fans to decide.