finale thoughts

Jennifer Ehle Based Her Dead Ringers Investor on Ayn Rand

Photo: Niko Tavernise/Prime Video

Spoilers for Dead Ringers follow.

Rebecca Parker is not a woman to be crossed. You can tell that from her power glasses, the number of fucks she uses when talking, and also because she has tons and tons of money. On Dead Ringers, she takes a shine to Rachel Weisz’s twin gynecologists — especially the grandiose visions of edgier sister Elliot — and decides to fund their fancy new birthing center and iterate it across the country. Once Elliot’s behavior starts to threaten her investment, however, Rebecca decides she has to cut her out by forcing Beverly to turn on her sister. All that scheming comes naturally to Rebecca, a Sackler-esque heir who’s a true believer in capitalism, which, as Jennifer Ehle points out, makes her a fascinatingly freeing character to play.

Rebecca Parker’s got these big statement frames that really define the character. How did you land on them?
My favorite glasses are a pair of hexagonals and I have worn them for a few years and I wore them at the costume fitting. Then on the first day of shooting, our incredible props person came up and said, “They loved the glasses that you wore in the fitting, and so we’ve got you these.” I can’t remember what it’s called, but it’s this amazing brand that is super, super expensive and they are pieces of art, really. They hadn’t had them made into my prescription and so I couldn’t see a hundred percent. I learned from Rachel about wearing contacts, so I hadn’t ever yet done contacts. I was right on the cusp of needing to have something all the time. Things were a little blurry. They work really well for Rebecca and I can’t believe I didn’t take them with me at the end.

How familiar were you with Alice Birch’s work before this show?
I knew her plays. I knew Anatomy of a Suicide. I nearly was in it actually, but then a life thing came up and I needed to attend to that. She’s just extraordinary. Her brain and her wit and the craft in her lines, how each character has such a specific way of expressing themselves and their own rhythm. It’s like she’s a composer.

Rebecca, for instance, communicates with a lot of fucks, swearing a lot to really establish her power.

It was interesting to think of how somebody would express themselves if they don’t care at all what anybody thinks. But yet, she cares about what she thinks and she enjoys giving herself pleasure. Sometimes what gives her pleasure is how she’s fucking with other people, which presumably is something about how they’re thinking about her. She sometimes gets off, ego-wise, on being shocking. She says such audacious, shocking things that are also sometimes right. It’s not like Rebecca’s an insane villain or something. She has a point of view that, thankfully, is not one that anybody I’ve ever met has. It’s like she was raised as a monarch or something.

Did you think of any real-life models for her? The Parker family feels very similar to the Sackers. 

I thought more about an Ayn Rand hero. I thought she would think of herself as a John Galt — she has a mandate to create wealth and enjoy doing it. I didn’t think so much about real people but I did think about some objectivism, to take the whole trickle-down theory to make it into almost a religion. I remember when I first read Ayn Rand as a teenager and I was like, “I’m not sure if this is super, super conservative or super, super liberal.” Obviously it’s super conservative, but as a teenager, I just found them addictive for a while. Rebecca has that. She has that voracious appetite to entertain herself. I don’t think she wants other people to entertain her particularly — they’re probably not good enough at it for her — but she wants to entertain herself. The world is full of her play things. It must be extraordinary to have guilt be impossible, to have any idea of empathy or altruism be impossible.

I don’t think you see it in the show, but the set designers had put on the tennis court a blue neon sign.

I think I saw that you posted about it on Instagram!

It said, “Live, laugh, and fuck the poor,” and I was like, “Oh, that’s who I am … Okay.” She’s somebody who has the shamelessness to put it up but also the understanding that it would be entertaining to be shocking like that.

In that second episode, Rebecca invites the twins to her estate and holds court with her collection of family members and friends. What was it like to film those scenes?
I have never worked in L.A. and I’m sure it’s fabulous, but one of the gorgeous things about working in New York is you have these extraordinary theater actors. It’s really fun to stuff us all in a room together and give us extraordinary things to say, often all at the same time — and a really wonderful director, Sean Durkin, did that one. It was really, really fun. Also, we were just at the end of COVID, so it was the heaven of being in a room with people all rubbing up against each other with your masks off.

What is it like logistically to film scenes with Rachel playing both Beverly and Elliot?
Kitty Hawthorne, Rachel’s double, who was always there as the other twin opposite Rachel, was brilliant. It was her first job right out of drama school. You would never do your coverage with Rachel as both twins — your coverage for one of the twins would be with Kitty being that twin. I don’t know what criteria they used to decide which Rachel was going to do first, but they would shoot Rachel and all of our coverage with Rachel as that twin, and then Rachel and Kitty would go away and swap and come back and we would all be given an earwig. Then she would be the only one who would speak and the rest of us would just mime it while we’re all listening to a previous take. You wouldn’t be on camera when you were miming. It would just be Rachel speaking. But for her, I mean, she played half of her part to people who were just miming their dialogue, which makes what she did even more … I mean, it’s already extraordinary.

Had you ever worked with Rachel before?
We were in the same thing but our characters didn’t meet. We filmed an Istvan Szabo film called Sunshine in 1998; my mother, Rosemary Harris, and I both played the character Valerie at different ages. Rachel was Ralph’s wife in the part of the film when my mother played Valerie. When I went out to do some more shooting in Budapest, my mother said, “Oh, I’ve met this extraordinary young actress and she has such warmth. You don’t realize how rare it is until you meet somebody with such intelligence and warmth.” That’s true. She does. She has it all.

Did you meet her then?

No, I’m not sure when I first met her. It might have been when mom and I went to see a play she did called The Shape of Things with Paul Rudd in New York City. I had worked with the director and writer Neil LaBute and Mom wanted to see Rachel and so we went to see it. We went backstage afterwards and Mom introduced me to her then. Rachel had just discovered yoga and was talking about how amazing it was. That was 2001.

In the back half of the season, what did you think about the way Rebecca decides that she needs to consolidate power and force Elliot out?
If you have a $16 million investment, even if that’s not that much money to you, and they’ve been navigating the scandal, I think she’s a liability. Elliot’s the reason Rebecca gets involved and she is what is interesting about the project — there’s a moment where Elliot says she could feasibly cheat death when she’s talking about indefinitely delaying menopause at the dinner table. I think that’s one of the main things Rebecca’s most intrigued by.

But they’re going to lose everything. And I do think at the end — to me it’s obvious, but I’ve realized that some people don’t have that takeaway — that Rebecca knows what’s happened, that Elliot has traded places with Beverly after Beverly’s death, and that’s why she says, “Oh, well, you can be examined later.” We don’t need anybody to see that you haven’t just given birth because this is the best result of all.

Why? Because Rebecca thinks she could more easily control an Elliot pretending to be Beverly?
Yeah. I mean, it wouldn’t have been much fun if it was Beverly left.

It was interesting to see Dead Ringers after your performance in She Said, where you played a victim of Weinstein’s abuse. These are womens on completely opposite ends of institutional power. Did you think about the roles in relation to each other?

I didn’t, but I did film them at the same time. I was very grateful that Dead Ringers let me do She Said because at the time, because of COVID restrictions, actors were usually not able to be shared on productions. But they found a way. I played both parts in the same month. I think we did everything at Rebecca’s house with the dinner party and the beach scene and the hospital stuff for She Said within three weeks of each other. Those two sections are arguably the most extreme of those two characters. She Said was very special for me and I was so grateful that I was trusted with getting to tell Laura’s story.

They’re such different pieces and the writing is extraordinary in both. The stories and predicaments are pretty clear, but I don’t think they would have anything to offer each other.

I’m impressed by the ability to film those scenes as Laura and then go back to Rebecca. It’s a lot at once.
Well, one of the fun things about playing Rebecca is that she’s outside of normal society. The normal rules don’t apply to her. It’s funny, earlier today I was thinking about my 20-year-old child and I was thinking I should get him the “Desiderata.” Do you know the “Desiderata“?

I don’t.
Max Ehrmann wrote it in the ’20s. It’s very beautiful. I had it on my wall when I was a teenager. It’s lovely and it’s probably clichéd now, but I’ve always loved it. For somebody like Rebecca, there’s not one thing in the “Desiderata” that would make any sense. It’s not relevant to her in any way, shape, or form. And even more so, she would feel like she’s letting down her function, letting down the world and the economy and society if she were to take on the luxury of caring about other people or doing anything graciously.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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Jennifer Ehle Based Her Dead Ringers Investor on Ayn Rand