Any Canadian cinephile worth their salt has seen the original Dead Ringers, David Cronenberg’s 1988 body horror film about unhinged twin gynecologists played by Jeremy Irons. A new Amazon Prime adaptation gender-swaps the premise: Rachel Weisz stars as Beverly and Elliot Mantel, identical OBGYNs who dream of upending the patriarchal women’s reproductive health-care system (when they’re not switching identities to pick up lovers). The plot follows the opening of the Mantel-Parking Birthing Centre, run by the twins and financed by a morally bankrupt opioid heiress. Then everything goes off the rails when Beverly gets pregnant and Elliot gets jealous. Canadian actress Britne Oldford plays Genevieve Cotard, who begins a romantic relationship with Beverly and winds up in a sister-sister love triangle. “When I got the first two scripts, I just devoured them,” she says. We talked to Oldford about what it was like to remake a classic piece of CanCon and to act alongside Weisz, who was at the “tippity-top” of her dream co-star bucket list.
The new Dead Ringers has aspects of horror, but it’s also a love story and mystery. Is there a genre description that best fits?
I would describe it as a provocative psychosexual thriller. Everything is very intense, but when you get past all of the chaos, the show is about love and the birthing process, which is where we all come from. And then you have these brilliant characters: twin gynecologists and obstetricians who are trying to change how the health-care system functions for women. But they are also obsessed with each other, so their personal lives are quite wrought with chaos.
Are you a fan of the genre?
I can do gore, but I wouldn’t say it’s my go-to. I’m a fantasy nut. As a kid, I was obsessed with the Lord of the Rings movies. I love sci-fi. I love grounded drama, and I watch a lot of foreign films. I actually made a conscious decision to re-sensitize myself to all of the violence that is on screen in entertainment and on the news. There has been so much of that over the past couple of years, and I’m someone who believes that everything you consume has an impact on mind, body and soul.
Your character, Genevieve, meets Beverly as a patient, then gets wooed by Elliot (who is pretending to be Beverly), then starts a relationship with Beverly and drives Elliot to actual insanity. Talk about a twisted love triangle—
Right. And you have this conflict because both Genevieve and Elliot love Beverly, and they both think that they have her best interests in mind. It’s funny because on one hand, my character is grounded in this loving, adult relationship with Beverly. I haven’t had a chance to play a lot of mature characters, so that was fun. But on the other hand, Genevieve has put herself in the middle of so much chaos, she can’t be entirely psychologically healthy. That’s something I’ve been reflecting on as I watch the show and think about how audiences are seeing my character. Maybe they think Genevieve is the bad guy?
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Had you ever met Rachel Weisz before you booked this role?
I’d never met her, but I was a fan of her work and have tracked her career. She was on the tippity-top of the short list of actors I’d like to work with. It’s hard to name a favourite performance. I really loved her in The Brothers Bloom with Mark Ruffalo and Adrien Brody. I guess it’s one that a lot of people aren’t familiar with because I was talking with Rachel during a press trip to London, and she was like, “You’ve seen that?”
A real Rachel Weisz deep cut.
Yeah, exactly. The character she plays is just so quirky and wholesome and weird and beautiful. I guess all of her characters are beautiful, but this was such a great performance. I highly recommend it.
Did you audition with Weisz?
I sent in a self-made audition tape. I was in Toronto at the time, wrapping up a stint on the Netflix show The Umbrella Academy. This was early May of 2021, and they sent me the plot breakdown along with the first two scripts. I made a tape in the living room slash kitchen of my sublet. Time passed, and by July, I assumed that it wasn’t happening. I was back in New York, and then they asked if I would do a Zoom call with Rachel, Sean Durkin, who is the executive producer and director, and Alice Birch, the showrunner. We didn’t read the scenes; we just talked. It was a chance for them to get to know me and see if they would want to work with me—sort of an energy check. I remember they asked me, “What does love mean to you?” I got pretty emotional and used my hands, which I tend to do when I get passionate. My voice was doing the very Canadian, East Coast melodic thing, and Rachel said, “I could listen to you talk forever.” As soon as we got off the call, I ran to my spouse and shrieked.
Your character, Genevieve, is also an actor. Did that help you relate to her?
There are scenes where she has to sit through a junket. Or she comes in and Beverly’s family is watching her show, and she feels embarrassed. I know what that’s like. I would say that I put a lot of myself into the character. I’m a very romantic person and deeply protective of the people I love—I suppose, fiercely protective—but there are these moments of deep tenderness. You see the same contrasting traits in Genevieve: the tenderness in her relationship with Beverly and then on the flip side, when she is putting her foot down with Elliot. It’s nothing over the top—just a flicker that says, “I’m not going to put up with this.”
Part of Genevieve’s story includes her role in a slasher show. Is that an homage to David Cronenberg, a.k.a. “The Baron of Blood”?
Yes, and it’s actually an Easter egg for fans of the original movie. Genevieve plays a character named Claire in a show called Rabbit, which is the name of one of Cronenberg’s early films. Claire was also the name of my character in the original Dead Ringers movie, played by Geneviève Bujold. So there is a lot of hat-tipping going on.
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What was it like to film scenes with both twin characters from a technical perspective?
We have Katie Hawthorne, who was Rachel’s scene partner and body double. So any time both twins were in a scene, you had two physical bodies in the room playing both characters while multiple cameras were rolling.
That sounds complicated. Did you ever confuse one twin for the other?
The dynamics that Genevieve has with Beverly versus Elliot were so different. The hard part was remembering where the camera was and where you needed to be for the shot to work.
Rachel Weisz saw the original Dead Ringers in theatres in 1988. You were negative four years old, so I’m guessing your story is different.
I was one of those kids who wanted to watch the things I wasn’t allowed. I was always trying to figure out the code for the parental lock. The first time I saw Dead Ringers, I was too young to appreciate most of it. I rewatched it a couple of years ago, after I knew about the project but before I had booked the role, and I was pretty blown away by the body horror of it all.
Dead Ringers doesn’t shy away from violence, especially when showing the bloody realities of women’s reproductive health.
I think the difference is that what we see in the show is natural and part of the process of existence. Yes, it can be violent at times, but it doesn’t feel gratuitous. I think it’s really important for people to see these depictions of birth and what happens to bodies. It’s definitely not something the popular media tends to portray.