In February, I Weisz spoke to Zoom from her upstate New York home. She was wearing a plain white shirt with thick, crystal-clear glasses that gave her the appearance of the stylishest professor in a comp lit dissertation committee. Weisz is impassive and radiates poise, which was her trademark in her early career. She smiles warmly when something unexpected catches her attention. Her bearing caused me to constantly search for something nice to say as we talked. Dark-haired, heavy-browed and possessed of an intent gaze, she still has the features of the fresh-faced English rose who stepped into the spotlight in Bernardo Bertolucci’s “Stealing Beauty.” The face holds more emotion now, and has a greater capacity to convey softness or threat or an ambiguous sort of danger lying beneath its placid surface.
As Weisz’s career has evolved, she has revealed moments of vulnerability, and sometimes even ugliness, that have a profound impact on the viewer. These characters — like the power-obsessed Lady Sarah of Yorgos Lanthimos’s “The Favourite,” or the willful and transgressive Ronit Krushka of “Disobedience” — are women of appetite who evoke curiosity rather than simple admiration. You get the impression that Weisz has brought something instinctive, utterly convincing to life through her performances. Her performance as the driven, obsessive Mantle twins is an extension of this movement toward playing women who don’t represent some ideal, but are instead embodied, desirous beings struggling to negotiate the weight of that desire.
We’re used to a certain sleight of hand, carefully placed cuts and scenes where fresh-looking mothers in hospital gowns hold clean, swaddled infants in their arms. The real birthing process is more radical.
When Weisz proposed a gender-flipped version of “Dead Ringers” to a producer at Annapurna Pictures, she was intrigued by the intricately enmeshed personalities of the twins, the way they negotiated their fraught obsession with each other. “It just seemed a very fertile ground,” Weisz explained. “A twisted, codependent relationship between identical twins, whatever their gender, who are brilliant in their careers.” Unlike Jeremy Irons’s diametrically opposed siblings in the Cronenberg film, whose complementary personalities could seem to form a single person, Weisz’s are intricately enmeshed: Though Beverly is introverted, she’s hardly passive, and pursues both her love affairs and the mission of creating a more humane, women-directed way of birthing with quiet focus. Elliot curbs her own scientific imagination, her appetite for grander interventions like eliminating menopause or aging, in service of what she perceives to be Beverly’s needs. Weisz fills the dual roles of Beverly and Elliot with her own raw, organic power, guiding patients through labor with quick, steady hands and a tone that’s firm almost to the point of coldness.
But some of the most affecting moments in the series come when she’s tapping into maternal vulnerability, as when she portrays Beverly’s discovering that she’s had another miscarriage, the latest in a gutting series. In a shot almost in first person, the camera hovers above her hand as she holds a bloody toilet paper. The effect for me, as a viewer, was the opposite of an out-of-body experience: It was a sight that I had only experienced in my own life, and for a moment my mind raced through the consequences that it implied — was I menstruating, had I forgotten to take my pill, was there something deeply wrong inside of me? You could say that the series normalizes these physiological processes by showing them onscreen, but they are already normal — they’re just the unseen part of the iceberg that is having a body.
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