Rachel Weisz Says She Formed a ‘Brilliant Partnership’ With ‘Dead Ringers’ Twin Stand-In Kitty Hawthorne

TheWrap magazine: Weisz and Hawthorne unpack the mind-boggling process of shooting complicated scenes featuring the twin characters

Rachel Weisz and Kitty Hawthorne on the "Dead Ringers" set (Credit: Prime Video)

This interview with Rachel Weisz and Kitty Hawthorne from “Dead Ringers” first appeared in the Limited Series / TV Movies issue of TheWrap’s awards magazine.

Rachel Weisz appears in nearly every scene of “Dead Ringers,” Amazon Prime’s six-episode reimagining of David Cronenberg’s seminal 1988 film about codependent twin gynecologists. Jeremy Irons played both brothers in the original, and in the new limited series exec-produced by acclaimed British playwright Alice Birch, Weisz takes on double duty, starring as Beverly and Elliot Mantle, brilliant obstetricians whose symbiotic relationship proves untenable when one of them falls in love.

So Weisz not only appears in nearly every scene, she appears in nearly every scene twice.

“It was the biggest acting challenge I’ve ever done,” Weisz said.

To shoot scenes in which both twins appear, Weisz acted opposite Kitty Hawthorne, usually playing Elliot first while Hawthorne played Beverly. They’d shoot, swap roles and shoot the scene all over again. And for Weisz, Hawthorne (who also plays the twin babies’ struggling mother in flashbacks) was much more than a stand-in. “I had a brilliant partnership with Kitty,” Weisz said. “We were really partners.” 

We spoke to both actors about their experience.

Rachel Weisz in both “Dead Ringers” roles (Prime Video)

Rachel, you had to choose your scene partner carefully for “Dead Ringers” to work. What made Kitty right for the job? 
Rachel Weisz: Kitty hadn’t graduated from Guildhall drama school yet. So she sent in an audition tape, and she did the scene in the diner which opens the show. She did Beverly and Elliot, and she just was a phenomenal actress. She made bold, fabulous, interesting choices. And I couldn’t see the acting. And then she and I Zoomed. She’s just full of life and energy and highly intelligent. 

Kitty Hawthorne You’re making me blush, Rachel.

Kitty, this is quite a first job for a recent drama school graduate. 
Hawthorne: I was so excited. I had my final show on a Friday and then I flew on Saturday to New York. It was like a daydream. It was insane. The writing’s so amazing, everyone involved is so amazing. At drama school, we didn’t do much screen work, so this felt like a screen-work boot camp every day, just getting to learn how to do it in the best way from the best directors and the best actors. I also learned about the importance of tea on set. We drank a lot of tea.

Weisz: Yeah, yeah, tea. That’s my acting crutch. I need PG Tips nearby just to feel everything’s at peace in the world.

Rachel, you not only play two very different twins, but you play twins who impersonate each other to throw other characters off. How did you wrap your head around inhabiting both sisters?
Weisz: I’d worked with Alice for quite a long time before I was in the writers room and before the writers went to script, so I had a sense of their differences. It was many weeks of sitting in my office with the door closed, getting into the characters and psychologically bending myself to find them because they are distinctly different human beings whose whole lives revolve around one another, but they’re radically different. So I just prepared them separately.

Hawthorne: It was all about the script, right, Rachel? Even just the way the characters punctuated [their speech], that changes the breath. I didn’t have that long to prepare. I think I had about a week before we got started, so I was just learning the lines as quickly as I could. That was my main concern. 

Going back and forth in scenes with lots of other actors, for instance, did you ever get confused about which twin you were playing? 

Weisz: Never, never. No. I mean, they’re just chalk and cheese. Right, Kitty?

Hawthorne: Never, never. They’re so different.

Kitty Hawthorne and Brandon Bassir in “Dead Ringers” (Prime Video)

There is a scene in an elevator when Elliot keeps swiping at Beverly’s phone and she just calmly brushes her off, over and over. Was it difficult shooting that, synchronizing the timing?

Weisz: Did we have, like, a beep in our ear? 

Hawthorne: Oh yeah, we did. I forgot about that. All I remember is that we were wearing really big rings, and that hurt when we hit each other. [Laughs]

Weisz: In general, we learned to start with Elliot in any scene when they were both there because Elliot sets the pace. She moves around more, she’s more volatile, while Beverly is more still and quiet and will fit into what Elliot does. So I guess we started with Elliot. It was technically really challenging because we were going over the boundary of the split screen. So we did one side and then — oh, gosh, my brain’s hurting thinking about it. [Laughs] It’s mind-boggling, isn’t it? Then when I was being Beverly, I had to imagine being hit because her hand wasn’t really coming in. So I would flinch at the beep.

Hawthorne: I also think about those massive dinner scenes. Technically, they were hard because there was so much overlapping [dialogue], and I wasn’t allowed to be on the audio track, but I’d still have to somehow, like, suggest the lines with my body because they were cues for other actors. And that makes a massive puzzle.

Weisz: Yeah, 12 people around a dinner table and then a twin swap.

Kitty, you also play the twins’ mother in flashbacks, when she’s suffering from postpartum depression. At what point did you learn you’d be playing that role as well? 

Hawthorne: It was always part of the deal, I think, that Alice would write a part for whoever did [the scene-partner] job. And then Alice had the really smart idea of having me play the mother because I knew the twins so well. It felt right that I was playing their mum. And they cast my real-life boyfriend to play my husband, without realizing it. So that was, like, the coolest thing in the whole world. 

Weisz: Nobody knew. He got the job and Kitty was like, that’s Brandon [Bassir)], that’s my boyfriend.

Hawthorne: We trained at drama school together, so it felt like a real full-circle moment. It was lovely.

Read more from the Limited Series / TV Movies issue here.

Photo by Jeff Vespa for TheWrap