Things have not always been smooth for twins Matthew and Russell Dennis Lewis, but with perseverance and hard work, here they are, starring in one of the most successful series of the year: “The Queen’s Gambit.”
Viewers of Netfix’s hit show “The Queen’s Gambit” must have recognized these two by now. The world basically became fixated on the series—which is based on Walter Tevi’s 1983 novel of the same name—overnight. Joining the impressive cast are Matthew and Russell Dennis Lewis, who play as Matt and Mike, the twins who Anna Taylor-Joy’s character, Beth Harmon, met on her first ever chess tournament. The duo then continued to support Harmon with the occasional pep talk or fun nights away from chess prep. Interestingly, they are playing original characters for the TV series—the original “The Queen’s Gambit” novel didn’t have twins—which creator Scott Franks created with these two Binghamton, New York-born boys in mind.
DA MAN: Hi guys, thank you for having us. How are you?
Russell & Matthew Dennis Lewis: We’re doing great, the pleasure is ours!
DA: So, which one is the older one? Russell or Matthew?
R & M: Matthew is older by seven minutes … we think. Mom says she figured it out.
DA: How was childhood and growing up for you guys?
R & M: Growing up was fun and competitive. There are four boys in our house, so it was never a dull time. We don’t know how our Mom handled it. She deserves many accolades. We grew up in a very rural part of New York state. So, most of the time we would just be off in the countryside running around and managing not to kill ourselves with all the shenanigans we did.
DA: And, of course, congratulations on the success of “The Queen’s Gambit”! All in all, how does it feel to be part of the cast of this hit series? Have you ever imagined that it would be as successful as it is right now?
R & M: We are beyond excited with the immediate and overnight success of “The Queen’s Gambit.” We had a feeling it was going to be special, because we were already familiar with Scott Frank and many of the crew and actors that he brought back to work with, but we had no idea it would instantly become a smash hit like this.
DA: How was the casting process for the “The Queen’s Gambit”?
R & M: We were blessed in the casting process and actually didn’t have to audition. Scott Frank mentioned that he wanted to work with us again after we worked on his previous series “Godless.” When he adapted the screenplay for “The Queen’s Gambit” from the novel, he created the roles with us in mind. The twins didn’t exist in the book. We are truly grateful for him.
DA: How long did it take for the rest of the cast and crew to be able to easily tell you guys apart? And did you ever take advantage of their confusion?
R & M: The cast and crew were stellar and they were all pretty good at figuring it out. We’re both horrible with remembering names, so they all probably did better than we did. There are always funny moments on set and behind the scenes when people get confused, but we don’t go out of our way to play tricks on people because a live set is hectic enough as it is.
DA: What was your first reaction when finding out that “The Queen’s Gambit’s” reception was exceptional?
R & M: Just like “woooooooooooooow” then, like, a dozen star eyes emojis. [Laughs]
DA: Looking back, what was the most memorable moment during filming of “The Queen’s Gambit”?
R & M: Besides being reunited with “Godless” alum, the most memorable would be filming in the Friedrichstadt-Palast where we shot the Mexico City tournament. The architecture of the building was breathtaking. Being able to live abroad in Germany while filming for three months also made the entire experience something we’ll never forget.
DA: Did you guys have to do any special preparations for your roles in the show? And also, do you guys play chess regularly in real life before the series or against each other?
R & M: We know how to play chess, but we definitely aren’t the greatest at it! We did practice some, but knowing that our characters were never actually seen playing took a lot of pressure off of us. Playing against each other as two amateurs wouldn’t be very exciting. So, maybe in the future we’ll play more against each other.
DA: What did you learn from the tactics and strategies of playing chess?
R & M: Patience and understanding the long game. Sometimes things take time, and certain losses are needed to win.
DA: We learned that Russell was already in NYC before Matthew moved there as well. Can you tell us about that moment, Russell? And what made you decided to move to NYC too, Matthew?
RDL: I was in a rut living in upstate New York. I had a passion for acting, but didn’t know where to go or what to do. There aren’t many artistic outlets in the rural countryside. A good friend of ours was attending an acting conservatory in NYC and convinced me to audition. I auditioned, was accepted and hastily made the decision to drop everything and move to NYC. I packed a couple bags and made the leap of faith.
MDL: I had been thinking about moving to NYC for a while. I was interested in acting and modeling, but there weren’t many opportunities for it in our hometown. Randomly, one day Russ called and said that his roommate was moving and asked if I would ever consider moving there. Four days later I was packed up and on to my adventures in NYC.
DA: Matthew, you actually trained in Muay Thai competitively. How is that part of your life going?
MDL: Yes, I did train and compete in Muay Thai. I trained out of Evolution Muay Thai in NYC and made some amazing friends. I always wanted a background in martial arts and I fell in love with the style of Muay Thai. I still like to train and do pad work to this day and, who knows, maybe I’ll jump back into the ring at some point. My background with fighting really helped me book some of my first roles as an actor, because they were physical roles that required fight choreography.
DA: Tell us about your first jobs in the acting industry…
MDL: My first few jobs were indie short films and re-enactment shows on ID Discovery. The ID Discovery shows are kind of crazy, because as an actor sometimes you get to see files and information on the real people and you’re just like “Whaaaaat? This is real?! They actually did … that?”
RDL: So, one of my first auditions was for a workshopped piece for “Pac-Man: the Musical.” I didn’t get it, but another director was watching the auditions and asked me if I’d be in his show, “The Loose Ladies.” I quickly accepted. I was so excited to book something! I didn’t ask any questions. Cut to the first rehearsal, I found out I was playing one of the loose ladies! It was a drag revue and I was one of the drag queens! [Laughs] I had so much fun! And that’s why I love acting. You get to live lives that you never thought you would.
DA: What were some of your biggest struggles or challenges you had to overcome up until today?
R & M: The biggest struggle would be keeping the faith in ourselves. It’s easy to beat yourself down when there are lulls in your career and you’re losing sight of the endgame while working your survival job.
DA: You’re also set to appear together again in “Sins Unveiled.” Can you give us a brief intro on this one?
R & M: Yes, we do appear together in “Sins Unveiled,” written by Matthew. It is currently running in the film festival circuit and has already won several awards. “Sins Unveiled” portrays a primal fear that comes with some small towns and the misunderstanding of people outside of their bubble of comfort.
DA: Having worked together on set for “The Queen’s Gambit” and “Sins Unveiled” as well as “Godless,” how would you describe the best team-up movie featuring the two of you?
R & M: It’s hard to choose because each project allows us to tap into a different world and genre. We could find reasons to argue the best team for each one. I think given that on “Godless” we got to play with horses and revolvers every day may give it a slight advantage though.
DA: And what is it like seeing a character on TV that looks so much like yourself but in a role you don’t think you’d ever consider taking on?
R & M: As twins, we’ve learned not to compare ourselves to someone who looks like you. There is someone who always does. As far as playing characters that we don’t see ourselves as, we don’t really think there are any. The only time we’d turn down a role would be if it was so crude and offensive for no reason. Obviously, there will always be bad guys. But if the character is using language and doing things in ways that don’t truly serve the story then it’s not an energy we want to take on.
DA: Russell, what’s the one thing you most admire about your brother?
RDL: His work ethic. He never backs down from a challenge. I swear, sometimes the harder things get or the more challenging they are, the stronger and more resilient he becomes. And he’s a lot smarter than me with technology. I’m often the old man asking: “How does this stupid phone work?”
DA: Same question for Matthew: What’s the one thing you most admire about your brother?
MDL: His dedication to his craft. This isn’t just a job for him; it’s a lifestyle. He’s always been my biggest mentor and has an understanding of characters and breaking down scenes that is incredible. If I’m ever stuck on a choice or idea, I know that he will have the answer for it.
DA: Do you guys have any exciting projects coming up?
R & M: The pandemic has had a huge impact on the industry, but things are looking up. We have “Sins Unveiled?” still running festivals and Matthew has a feature film he’s written that is in the early stages of pre-production. There is some interest and projects on the back burner that are on hold until everything gets sorted out and Hollywood finds a way to navigate through these new challenges.
DA: Speaking about the pandemic, how are you guys holding up so far?
R & M: We have been navigating it well and have stayed positive by using all the down time on honing ourselves. We’ve been writing, taking online classes and staying A-game-ready. Preparing for the release of “The Queen’s Gambit” definitely kept us in a good mindset.
DA: What is one talent that the other brother can’t do?
R & M: Off the top of our heads, nothing really. We’re really competitive. So, if one learns something the other does too. Our strengths and weaknesses definitely balance each other.
PHOTOGRAPHY (COLOR IMAGES) Mitchell Nguyen McCormack
PHOTOGRAPHY (BLACK & WHITE IMAGES) Ian Phillips
STYLING Kimberly Goodnight
GROOMING Dylan Michael using Color WOW, Kate Sommerville
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