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[This story contains major spoilers to the finale of Amazon’s Dead Ringers.]
Dead Ringers wants to leave viewers with questions. Big questions, that will make you rethink what you just watched.
Prime Video’s limited series reworking of David Cronenberg’s iconic 1988 thriller that starred Jeremy Irons has released all six of its episodes, taking viewers on a psychosexual thrill ride with the dangerously co-dependent updated Mantle twins, identical world-renowned gynecologists Beverly and Elliot, a double lead role played by Oscar winner Rachel Weisz. Amid the Mantles’ mission to revolutionize childbirth and as the episodes unfold — hopping from one operatic dinner party to the next — the bond between the sisters fractures as their ambitions veer from one another for the first time in their all-too-intertwined lives.
While publicly described in the finale’s exposé headline as “Abusive Negligent Destructive Murderous? and Brilliant,” the ending to Alice Birch’s adaptation sees the twins privately coming back to one another, with Beverly telling her more dominant sister, “I don’t think I’m capable of happiness. I’ve tried so hard, and I’ve got as close as I think I could get.” When Elliot tells Beverly she can’t live without her, Beverly says, “You don’t have to. … I have to climb inside you now. There was only ever supposed to be one of us. You always were a better me.”
What happens next is what Birch describes as the final twin swap, an ending that differs from the film’s and one the series creator says she was marching towards ever since Weisz approached her to write the adaptation, their Dead Ringers rebirth. “I knew that was where it was ending up,” she tells The Hollywood Reporter. “It was quite fundamental to Beverly’s character that she’s trying really hard to be happy and content, but it’s too difficult. But it definitely felt that it needed to be a sacrifice for both of them.”
Then comes an ending open to interpretation. One explanation is that Elliot helps Beverly to end her life by cutting out Beverly’s twin babies, leaves her for dead on the operating table and enlists her lab partner (Michael Chernus) to cover it up. Elliot then assumes her sister’s identity and sets out to live Beverly’s life as a groundbreaking doctor and new mom, with girlfriend Genevieve (Britne Oldford), to identical newborn daughters. But then there’s the reveal in the mid-credits scene — when Elliot, posing as Beverly, is told by a stranger in the park that Beverly had been visiting a grief group to discuss her dead sister for years. And that’s where Birch’s writing and Weisz’s performance begs the question.
“We might have felt confident which twin we were watching but then, did we?” asks Birch, saying the ending searches for something “quite unsettling.” Weisz adds to THR: “Ultimately, the audience is involved in the whole twin swap: Which one do I have here?”
Below, in a recent conversation together with THR, Birch and Weisz discuss why they wanted to tackle the Dead Ringers adaptation with two female gynecologists and the maternal healthcare conversations it raises with horror and dark comedy, while also unpacking the twin swap ending, mid-credits reveal and where “Beverly” Mantle goes after that park bench.
I read that David Cronenberg gave his permission and no notes, paving the way for you to create your own version of Dead Ringers. Has he seen the series?
Rachel Weisz: Yes, Morgan Creek [Entertainment] gave Annapurna and us the rights to make it. I emailed him when it was all finished and said, “Would you be interested to see the show?” He said, “Yes I would, send it to me.” So we’ve sent it to him. I don’t know if he’s had time to watch it because he’s prepping his new film, but I hope he’ll see it.
Rachel, you said this film had a profound effect on you when you first saw it as a teenager. And Alice, in announcing the series you said, “If ever I felt lost during the making of this show — and I did, frequently — I always reminded myself to come back to the twins. … It’s a story about sisters. About twins who love each other deeply, but in a way that is entirely unsustainable. … That was the beginning, and that was the end.” What were some of the biggest debates to figure out when adapting this?
Alice Birch: That’s such a good question. It’s such an iconic film that you just want to find your own story. You want it to be in the same universe, you want it to feel like a grandchild of it or something. But for it to justify itself and have its own story. There were lots of very difficult things, like wrapping your head around the science, all of those were challenges.
Weisz: We didn’t have a plan where we said: These are our checklist things that we need. It was much more free-form. There was an organized writers room [of all women] for six weeks, six or eight hours a day, that Alice invited me into. There were seven of us all together meeting. It became apparent to us what we were interested in as we met experts, endocrinologists, gynecologists, longevity experts, doulas. We just heard stories and all the women in the room shared stories and ideas, and storylines. But, I don’t feel like we had a bullet of things.
Birch: The thing that I felt was most difficult was killing the other stories. The world that they are in and the kind of job that they do and the patients that they meet, there’s a long, long, long list of patients who didn’t make it to this script because six hours is a lot, but it’s also nothing in terms of trying to tell those stories. So that was hard, that was difficult.
Your first episode could have been its own series of patient stories.
Both: Exactly, exactly.
Weisz: There were a lot of stories and patients we had to leave out.
I can’t imagine this story being retold not from the female POV. You said that gender-swapping the story to make the Mantle twins women “changed everything and nothing.” Can you elaborate on that?
Birch: I suppose that we didn’t talk about, “OK, so now that they are women: How should they behave? Should they be softer, should they be stronger, should they be more gentle?” We just sort of started with the characters and developing these, hopefully, very psychologically real characters and then followed them. We wanted them to have as good a time as they do at the film. Those guys are having a great time at the beginning, having lots of fun. And our twins are brilliant, the best at what they do. We were talking about those things and about them in those terms. Of course, it changes everything because when they step into the room with a patient there’s a shared understanding. There’s just a difference. But it wasn’t as articulated as, “OK, well now that they are women, it will be different.”
The show kicks off with some of the most graphic childbirth scenes shown on TV. In another scene, Beverly’s miscarriage is shown. I know you spoke with many experts and had experts on set to authentically show the labor scenes. How transgressive did this all feel when you were doing it?
Birch: It didn’t feel like, “OK, deep breath, we’re going to do something.” It’s just: This is their jobs. I haven’t seen that on screen. The first episode is all about making a case for why things need to be different for them, so that we can go on this quite extreme journey. So we need to be up close and really feel how it is. I understand that it’s graphic and that it’s a lot, and that people will have some feelings while watching it. But it also happens all the time and we don’t see it. We watch a lot of violence and death on screen, we’re used to consuming that. So I felt interested in that, I suppose.
Weisz: You [Alice] mentioned this the other day, and maybe everyone has thought about this a lot, but about how many deaths one has seen on screen. I mean, thousands. All the time. Long death scenes. Bloody and wounds, and legs flying off and even in different genres, kind of comedically so. But strangely, nothing has happened when life begins. I mean, it’s just ordinary now to see people die and gush blood.
What is your pitch to the male audience?
Birch: I mean, it’s the same as it is for everybody, I think. We wanted to make something that’s entertaining, that’s hopefully funny and dark and complicated. And has this great, great central performance at the center of it. So I hope that anybody who wants to watch it will come have a look.
Weisz: I’d say it’s for any human who is interested in the sort of psychosexual thriller with dark humor and a very twisted co-dependent relationship.
In the most basic of terms, you could say this show is about twins who want to change the way women labor. Since you wrapped filming months before the Dobbs decision, how did it feel to know you had this show coming down the pipe that would tackle so many relative reproductive topics?
Birch: It’s definitely a key time here. I think it would honestly feel key any time. We don’t see these kinds of stories onscreen very often. We don’t see women’s bodies on screen in this way. We don’t talk about these things very often. It’s such a complicated situation for so many people globally, that I think it would always feel timely because there’s such an absence of these stories.
Weisz: And because the female body has been politicized, I think it will always be of the moment, no matter whatever is actually happening in the legal ramifications of things.
Rachel, what was the most challenging day of filming for you, and what took you most by surprise in playing these twins?
Weisz: Technically, the scenes where the twins were touching each other were very complicated. We had to look each other in the eyes and get the eyeline right, so those were very technically hard. The dinner party scenes, in which there are a few, were really challenging for the whole group and for the crew, and for Ali [O’Shea], who is the genus props mistress of the set. Every time someone eats a little bit and there’s 12 people around the table, you have to put the food back and I was playing two characters at the table. That was very challenging and extremely, deliciously fun. The dinners start friendly enough and because it’s drama, they evolve into something a little more disruptive and darkly humorous.
So you would film it as one twin and then cut, and then switch seats and film as the other twin?
Weisz: Yes. And the lighting, the set dressing, the script editor. Everybody was involved in the change, not just me. It was a group twin swap. We started with Elliot normally, because Elliot is more assertive and sets the pace, because then Beverly would have to fit into Elliot’s pauses, so I would have an earpiece in my ear with the sound Elliot had laid down.
Did you have the same stand-in for your twin scenes?
Weisz: Yes. I understand why you use the word stand-in, but much more, Kitty Hawthorne was my acting partner. She was Beverly and Elliot as I was Beverly and Elliot. She was still at drama school when she sent in her audition tape, which was brilliant. She did one of the dinner scenes on her audition tape as both twins, and she was just phenomenal. An amazing actress. [Hawthorne also plays the Mantle sisters’ young mother in flashbacks.]
Let’s talk about the ending, which is different from the film.
Birch: I had the idea for the ending quite early on. The idea of the ultimate twin swap felt quite delicious. That felt like that would be fun, and a really interesting place to leave the audience. What’s going to happen next? Is she going to be able to pull it off? But it also quickly felt right for both characters and particularly Beverly, who I think is trying very hard to be content, at peace. And it’s just not possible. It just evades her. Strangely, I think it’s quite a loving thing that they do for one another. They kind of save each other.
Weisz: And it’s sacrifice on both sides. Elliot doesn’t want to live without Beverly, and so she finds a way to always have her close. The twin swaps were also really fun and challenging to do, when Beverly is pretending to be Elliot or Elliot is pretending to be Beverly, because it’s another layer of performance. And, that is there in the ending.
The bereavement group scenes raise questions as you watch the series. It seemed to be Beverly, discussing Elliot’s death which never happened. But the end of the series then makes you wonder. Can you talk about those scenes and why you saved that reveal for the mid-credits ending?
Birch: It’s a tricky one to talk about, because I love the idea that people might have a different feeling about what that is.
Weisz: I might even think something different to you, is that possible?
Birch: Definitely. I wanted the feeling of a snake eating its tail, as a loop at the end. That we might not have known who was who in those bereavement scenes. We might have felt confident which twin we were watching but then, did we? Searching for something quite unsettling, or really unsettling.
Weisz: Ultimately, the audience is involved in the whole twin swap: Who have I got here? Which one do I have here? The audience is part of that.
That’s exactly how I felt. Rachel, do you feel Elliot will change after absorbing Beverly in this way?
Weisz: That’s such a beautiful question. I don’t know if I have an answer. She has Beverly with her, and she’s having to perform a life that’s not technically just hers. But the lab is still there. There’s a key and an access code, and there’s still her successful experiment — there are babies down there. So her life will change in that she’s fully living two lives, will be my answer for right now. But, I don’t know. It’s open to so much interpretation, but she’s got the best of both worlds.
Birch: But, no Bev.
Weisz: But no Bev, yeah. I don’t know if she’s doing great, at the end. (Laughs.) I think with Genevieve and the babies… I can emphatically say that motherhood was not something she was interested in, and now she has twins to look after. So there’s a lot of [angst]. It’s a great question, we haven’t talked about it yet.
Something to tackle for a season two, perhaps?
Weisz: She’s still on that bench.
Birch: She’s been on that bench in my head, and I don’t know how to make her stand up. We left her there.
Weisz: We left her on the bench. She’s on the bench. On a park bench.
Rachel, what were your feelings around the ending and saying goodbye to Beverly?
Weisz: Alice wrote the fuck out of those scenes. That’s the only way I can put it, I’m sorry. The writing of the moment when Beverly propositions Elliot with this plan, the writing is really completely extraordinary. I’m sort of drifting off back into the scene, and being at that lab with my sister. They’re both saying goodbye to each other, and it’s news to Elliot. But I think for Beverly, it’s sort of an old idea: How is she going to get away? Because there’s a part of Beverly who wants to go towards, well Genevieve, but she wants to get away. It’s never crossed Elliot’s mind that she would live without Beverly for a second and when she has for these past months, she’s been not well. She’s been living in the lab and not well. It’s as high the stakes have ever been in any drama I’ve been in. It’s a very emotional scene. Once Elliot has realized that this is the plan and that she’s on board, they both say goodbye to each other with such grace, in a way. It’s so intense, the physical manifestation of the end of Beverly’s life. But they both do it with grace. That’s the best way I can describe it.
Birch: Elliot wouldn’t be able to be Elliot anymore, because of the things she’s done. She’s done terrible things, and she’s about to be found out for those things. The bodies found on the roof and things like that. She’d go to jail. Beverly can give her the gift of life again. Elliot would not survive in jail without her sister while her sister is off having babies with another woman. That would just be the end of her. So I think when Beverly says, “I feel something close to happiness again.” I think that’s this: I can give this gift to my sister, and I can leave.
On Genevieve’s part, is there a layer of denial there? Once you see “Beverly” eating on the park bench in the end scene, you see the flash of Elliot.
Weisz: (Laughing.) She’s always going to be hungry.
Birch: I think what both Britne and Rachel are doing in those final frames with their faces is just extraordinary. Because that’s exactly what you’re doing, you’re sort of leaning in as a viewer saying: Does she know? What’s unspoken? What do they both know? What’s going to happen? It’s all done with such a light touch. It’s such a great kind of thriller ending, in terms of their performances. That would be a great question for Britne as well.
Weisz: Yeah, we didn’t talk about it.
Weisz: No. Everyone had their inner lives, every character. When we were in the writers room, we talked about absolutely everything. But once the acting started, we were directed by Alice and the directors, but we didn’t pick it apart.
Birch: You might want to try different things on different takes, but you want to give a lot of space to actors who are that good to do what they’re doing. It was so good. We didn’t need to go in and have a clearer ending. That didn’t feel right for the tone of the show or for the actors.
Is this so clearly to you guys a wrapped season or is there anything you could see exploring more with Elliot as Beverly?
Weisz: We haven’t thought about it.
Birch: They really are still on that bench in my head. It was an amazing job and wonderful to write. But yeah, they’re still on the bench.
Interesting you say “they.”
Weisz: All three of them, and the babies. Five of them!
You ended the park shot on the twins. What did you want to leave the audience with as these identical newborns hold hands?
Birch: That’s a beautiful moment when you’re filming, that you have these gorgeous babies. And, it’s all of the feelings that you want. It’s moving, it’s emotional, it’s hopeful. There’s something a little unsettling about that, because of course, it makes us think of our twins that we’ve been with.
Weisz: So it’s ending narratively on this park bench. But there’s a new beginning with two female identical twins beginning their lives. It’s an ending and a beginning. And I don’t know what their lives are going to be like being brought up by Elliot.
Interview edited for length and clarity.
Dead Ringers is now streaming on Prime Video.
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