Rachel Weisz and Alice Birch Dig Into ‘Dead Ringers’ and Puzzles

Apr 23, 2023

Editor’s Note: This interview contains spoilers for Dead Ringers.Rachel Weisz has proven her range over the years, from starring in action-packed films like The Mummy and Black Widow to heartwrenching dramas like The Constant Gardener (for which she won an Oscar) and Disobedience. She’s also shown her talent for black comedy, teaming up with Yorgos Lanthimos for The Lobster and The Favourite — experiences that may have prepared her (as much as one could be prepared) for the whirlwind of working with Alice Birch on her newest project: Dead Ringers.

Based on the 1988 David Cronenberg film starring Jeremy Irons, this series puts a modern female twist on the story, starring Weisz as twins Beverly and Elliot Mantle, two highly codependent women who are determined to revolutionalize the birthing industry. As horrific as it is hilarious, Birch, whose resume includes penning everything from the Florence Pugh-led Lady Macbeth to Succession to theatre gems like Anatomy of a Suicide, was a natural fit to adapt such material, striking a unique and exciting tone.
I got a chance to chat with Weisz and Birch about the series. Throughout the interview, the two discuss the importance of messy representation, the deeply dysfunctional (yet efficient) dynamic between Beverly and Elliot, and shedding a light on the dark history of gynecological research.

COLLIDER: Obviously, you gave the show a very female twist, but I love how you also made it more overtly queer. As a queer woman myself, I think it’s so fun to see characters who are flawed and complex and messy. Rachel, you’ve been a real champion of those kinds of stories, from Disobedience to The Favourite. Can you talk a little bit about the importance of “messy representation,” so to speak?

RACHEL WEISZ: I’m interested in how psychologically complex I know people to be and I know all my female friends are. A lot of them are very successful and brilliant, and in one’s private life, one has all sorts of contradictions and flaws. I’m really interested in seeing women being brought to the screen who are complicated and have contradictory characteristics and who are flawed and, therefore, human and that I can have empathy for and relate to. I feel like Alice was interested in the same thing, and I feel like, traditionally, men in on-screen representation have kind of got to have it all in that way, and I think there’s been less of it for women. So yeah, I’ve just been interested in that.

Image via Prime Video

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Alice, I really love those great grief group scenes, and the way that they’re woven in is so interesting because you don’t exactly always know what’s going on. I was curious about the choice to weave those in there the way that you did.

WEISZ: Brilliant idea, isn’t it? So brilliant.

ALICE BIRCH: I never want to say too much with those because I’m so interested in different people’s interpretations of what’s really going on. Because I think, at first, you think it must be a flash-forward, and then maybe you sort of start to think, “Oh no — this is something Beverly is doing as a strange playing out a kind of fantasy.” And then at the end, maybe you feel like, “Oh. Maybe was it something else all along.” It’s always like doing a puzzle. I love doing a puzzle.

WEISZ: But literally, you like doing puzzles. Like on the cardboard.

BIRCH: [Laughs] I do, yes. Very cool.

It’s definitely a very fun puzzle to watch. Rachel, you obviously worked a lot with yourself, but I read that you collaborated a lot with your stand-in Kitty Hawthorne as well. Can you talk a little bit about what that was like and what she brought to things?

WEISZ: Yes, so I worked opposite Kitty Hawthorne, and she worked opposite me, and we became Beverly and Elliot to one another. She was still at drama school when she sent in her audition tape, and then she graduated, and this was her first professional job. She’s just brilliant. I mean, just a brilliant actress and a wonderful scene partner. I couldn’t have done it without her. She’s absolutely fantastic.

I rewatched the show to prepare for this interview, and it’s so fun to pick up on little things the second time around. One thing I couldn’t help but notice is one of those first scenes in the pilot where Elliot takes Beverly’s sunglasses. That feels like such an intentional, foreshadowing moment. I was curious if that was purposeful because it also kind of feels like it has parallels to the hair tie scene a little bit.

BIRCH: [Laughs] I love that you’re asking about that because I’ve always been really tickled by that scene. It just felt like it was all so efficient in terms of how they relate to each other, particularly for Elliot. You know, a woman asks her for change, she doesn’t have any change, so she gives her her sunglasses. But she still needs sunglasses, so she’s going to take them from her sister. And there’s no conversation about it — it just kind of happens. And that was something that came up in the writer’s room as a really early idea, and then it’s lovely to see it on screen.

Image via Prime Video

It almost feels like, in ways, Beverly is trying to grow her family in a healthy way, while we see Elliot kind of forcing herself into these toxic family dynamics with Rebecca and Susan’s families. Rachel, I was curious if that’s kind of how you thought of things as well.

WEISZ: Yes, definitely. I think, you know, Genevieve — this beautiful, psychologically undamaged, professional woman — is not toxic and is offering a family life. To be parents together, to raise children, to have a beautiful home. She’s offering these wonderful things, and I think Beverly really wants that. There’s a large part of her that wants to move towards that. But with the codependency she has with her sister, she just can’t quite manage it. I find that I’m rooting for her, you know? I’m rooting for her to make it with Genevieve. But then, of course, if I’m Elliot, I’m just thinking like, “When do we get rid of this Genevieve?” So I can see it from both their points of view. But in Beverley’s point of view, wouldn’t it be wonderful if they could be together and she could be rescued from Elliott? Yeah. [Pause] But Elliot wants her dead, so…

BIRCH: There’s that.

WEISZ: There’s that, yeah. [Laughs] Maybe not dead. Well… [Makes so-so motion with her hand]

Alice, that long monologue in Episode 5 of the slave girl is so haunting and powerful. Can you talk a little bit about the inclusion of that? It was such an interesting choice, and it truly gave me chills.

BIRCH: Oh, thank you. I think that episode — and the things that are discussed in that episode — was something that we were really searching for for a long time. Like, how will these ideas kind of find their place in the show? I think Beverly is an amazing doctor, and she’s morally kind of totally in the right place, but she’s also earnest and maybe not always— it was a little bit of the kind of white savior narrative within that character. And also, that’s just not talked about in the history of gynecology. And it’s sort of in every decision. The doctor J. Marion Sims carried out a lot of his research on enslaved women — that’s why we have the tools that are used now. They kind of originate from there and from that work. And there’s a birthing position that’s named after him. Within our language, it’s so hard to kind of climb out of that. So it felt like the show needed to contain some of that — some of those ideas — and that particularly Beverly might need to kind of confront that and really think about that. It was a long process, but it felt important and important to find a way to make it kind of dramatic and powerful and really part of that episode.

Dead Ringers is available to stream on Prime Video.

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