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Rachel Weisz is revealing her and creator Alice Birch’s updated take on Dead Ringers.
Prime Video’s modern, gender-swapped reworking of David Cronenberg’s 1988 thriller that starred Jeremy Irons sees Weisz now in the double lead role as identical twins Elliot and Beverly Mantle, who are gynecologists at the top of their field in a near-future setting.
The six-episode psychosexual thriller — which releases all episodes April 21 — describes the pair as “twins who share everything: drugs, lovers and an unapologetic desire to do whatever it takes — including pushing the boundaries on medical ethics — in an effort to challenge antiquated practices and bring women’s health care to the forefront.”
The Oscar-winning star, also an executive producer, and showrunner-writer Birch held a panel Monday for press, including The Hollywood Reporter, to debut the trailer (watch, below) and expand upon the themes and what to expect from their remake series, which has been three and a half years in the making. (The trailer’s release was delayed until Wednesday in light of Monday’s Nashville school shooting that left six dead, including three children.)
When taking on the project, Birch has said the appeal was capturing “the intensity of identical twins, the God-like power that comes with being a doctor, the signature body horror of Cronenberg and the fun the Mantle twins seemed to have (always with a martini glass in hand).” They set out to find a tone that was both twisted and camp, sexy and subversive — complete with an ’80s soundtrack, a nod to the film — and explore birth and maternal health care in a graphic and truthful way.
“It’s quite deliciously mischievous at times. Emotional. Moving. And there is some humor, also — darkly, darkly humorous,” summed up Weisz. Birch described the series as a “twisted, darkly comedic thriller about these two dangerously co-dependent twins who are obsessed with each other. It’s a very intense relationship. They love each other very deeply, but I think they kind of feel everything about each other very deeply, and that takes us to more of a dangerous co-dependent place.”
To drive that point home, Birch explained the twins have never spent a night apart from each other. And yet, the brilliant obstetricians and gynecologists are professionally at the top of their game, and driven to improve the way women give birth. To tackle the latter, the show’s team spoke to experts and scientists, and had experts on sets for medical procedures.
What motivates the doctors, however, depends on the twin. “Beverly is altruistic, thoughtful, careful, kind, has a complicated relationship to pleasure, really wants to change the way that all women birth irrespective of their economic background, their wealth. And Elliot’s very, very different,” said Weisz. “She loves Beverly, so she’ll go along with her dream to change the way that women birth, but she’s not altruistic. She is into science, and she wants to really change the world through scientific research and discovery, and she’s pushing the boundaries of what’s ethical and what isn’t.”
Elliot also has a mischievous sense of humor. “She has a kind of sexual appetite, a career appetite and just a good ole appetite for food. She likes to eat a lot, so I enjoyed that,” added Weisz with a laugh. Birch has previously said that showing female pleasure onscreen “still feels radical to me — watching Elliot ravenously eat burgers, kebabs, seafood platters, seeing both of them having sex that works for them, unapologetically on their terms, was essential for us.”
Playing opposite herself required a learning curve, said the pair, who described the technical process of capturing each twin’s perspective when in a scene together. “This was without a doubt the biggest challenge of my acting life,” said Weisz. “But also the most joyous in many ways. It was hard work. But as Alice mentioned, it was a whole crew kind of moving as one organism. It was the effects, motion control, hair, makeup, the set dresses, props. Everybody was shifting from one character to the next. I didn’t shoot Beverly for one day and then Elliot for another day. It was within one scene.”
But Weisz said the writing for each character was so distinct, so “psychologically layered and profound” that she felt like she was playing “two totally separate people on the page before I even got into hair, makeup, costume, and the way in which they might look different.”
Made by a mostly female creative team, including the all-women writers room (which Weisz was a part of), Birch said that the updated take of the twins being women “changes everything, but it also changes nothing. We wanted it to be as fun and as wild as the film, and let the series go in its own direction.”
Birch previously said she wanted to engage with the “horror of the medical system that many women and birth-givers find themselves in,” citing the high maternal mortality rate, particularly for the BIPOC community. “By the end [of the series], Elliot’s research is pushing at the limits of what we can imagine … that feels almost futuristic, almost both within and beyond reach.”
In clips that were shown from upcoming episodes, the twins swap their identities while seeing patients — which tees up the twisted twin-swapping storyline from the original film — and, at a dinner party with potential investors, Elliot proposes a controversial technique to delay the onset of menopause.
Weisz and Birch explained that the series begins more grounded but ends in a heightened reality. “We wanted each episode to be quite different and we wanted the show to begin in a very grounded place in a place that we really recognize, like it’s two doctors are walking in and out of a hospital in Manhattan. We want it to feel like today and that they’re meeting real women with these real kind of issues. And by the end, we’re in a more heightened, more operatic place,” said Birch.
The ensemble cast also includes Britne Oldford, Poppy Liu, Michael Chernus, Jennifer Ehle and Emily Meade.
Dead Ringers is a co-production between Amazon Studios and Annapurna Television. Weisz also serves as executive producer, along with Birch, who wrote the series, Stacy O’Neil, Sue Naegle, Ali Krug, Sean Durkin, Erica Kay and Anne Carey. James G. Robinson, David Robinson and Barbara Wall from Morgan Creek Entertainment also are executive producers.
All six episodes release April 21 on Prime Video.
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