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Tamara Lawrance on playing Jennifer Gibbons in the real-life story 'The Silent Twins'


Imagine a world where the only person you talk to is your twin.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As June Gibbons) I can't bear life without my sister. It's brought a new awakening in me...

RASCOE: That was the reality for two girls who grew up in Wales in the 1960s and '70s, June and Jennifer Gibbons, the children of immigrants from Barbados. They became known as the Silent Twins, and that's the name of a new feature film based on their story. We have one of the co-stars with us, Tamara Lawrance, joining us from London.

Welcome to the program.

TAMARA LAWRANCE: Thank you. Thank you for having me.

RASCOE: Can you tell us a bit about Jennifer, which is the twin that you played? And how was she sort of different from her other twin, June?

LAWRANCE: It's hard to talk about one without talking about both of them because they shared DNA. But, you know, they share a life span. And so, you know, Jennifer was the more insecure twin at times. And I think that's what caused her to be more dominant, because she was intimidated by any difference between herself and her sister. And in the younger years at school, you know, a lot of the tests that they were put through - and teachers were trying to understand why they wouldn't speak. Like, June fared a little bit better than Jennifer all the time in terms of kind of showing social skills or maths and English. Jennifer always did a little bit worse, and so she was aware from a young age that people saw June as sort of, quote, "better than her." I think that fueled a lot of what was a very toxic and co-dependent relationship and this idea they had to be a similar as possible to remove the opportunity for comparison.

RASCOE: These two girls were very, very creative. They wrote a lot of diaries. They even wrote books. The opening scene, they're creating their own radio show.


EVA-ARIANNA BAXTER AND LEAH MONDESIR-SIMMONS: (As June Gibbons and Jennifer Gibbons) Welcome to Radio Gibbons, Gibbons. Gib, Gib, Gibbons, Gibbons, Gibbons. Gib, Gib, Gibbons. It's 5 p.m. We're your hosts, June and Jennifer. And you're joining us for the living facts of life. Today, we'll be discussing how to handle a divorce. Yes, separations are very tough.

RASCOE: Your younger selves were played by Eva-Arianna Baxter and Leah Mondesir-Simmons (ph). How did they feed each other's creativity?

LAWRANCE: They were very well-studied. They read dictionaries, and they would write kind of words and the definitions on the wall. They studied grammar. Part of also what made them want to be writers was to make their family proud. And so, yeah, they were always inspiring each other with new ideas.

RASCOE: They are clearly each other's - not only just their best friends. They're each other's world. But they do fight.


EVA-ARIANNA BAXTER: (As Jennifer Gibbons) I hate you. You are nobody. You are Jennifer. You are me.

RASCOE: What was going on there?

LAWRANCE: Well, yeah, I guess what they were experiencing was not the healthiest love because there was a lack of separation. And, you know, like space is important. There needs to be distance in order to kind of - to miss people, to understand people. People need to still be individuals. Part of what made it difficult for them to have space from one another is that they weren't able to be vulnerable and their full selves away from one another because the broader society did not understand them.

RASCOE: Do you think that because they were Black, you know, in Wales, they were picked on at school and stuff? Like, was it the racism?

LAWRANCE: Yeah, I think racism was a major contributing factor to their experience, ostracization and isolation growing up as Black girls in these kind of predominantly white environments. They moved around a lot when they were young, as well, so they didn't have a sense of consistent community. And then on top of that, they had a speech impediment, which meant that they couldn't communicate in ways in which other kids could. And they were already shy. And so that kind of social anxiety grew, and it meant that they withdrew into a sort of, like, safety of their sisterhood as a means of protecting one another and also as like a, you know, a protest. They would both rebel quite a lot.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) Jennifer Loraine Gibbons, you are charged with the following counts. You did jointly, with another, enter a certain building as a trespasser, steal therein drink and food items.

RASCOE: Eventually, the two girls end up in the U.K.'s infamous psychiatric facility, Broadmoor Hospital. They do begin talking to other people and become more confident. What do you think was, like, the switch for them that gave them the ability to begin opening up?

LAWRANCE: Potentially age. And they understanding that they were in a cycle of being at war, being enamored with one another, being separated. They spent most of their time apart, actually, in Broadmoor being separated. And so I think it was a process of time and, like, recognizing that something has to give. They were the youngest people to ever be in Broadmoor, which is a place where serial killers and people who've committed a lot - you know, very unwell people who've committed very heinous crimes have ended up there. A lot - oftentimes, people who've been very lucky, extremely traumatized end up in Broadmoor. And they were there literally because they didn't speak. So I think that speaks for itself how this, like - really what was happening at the core. The core of it was it was a huge scandal. It was a gross injustice of the criminal justice system that should never have happened.

RASCOE: The real June Gibbons, who's still alive, gave her stamp of approval for the movie. But what do you hope the viewers will come away after having seen this film understanding about Jennifer and June's story?

LAWRANCE: More than anything, I hope that people will be enlightened and surprised by the reality of their story as opposed to how they've been portrayed thus far in the press that exists about them already. And I hope that they're moved by their resilience. I really want people to feel that they've been humanized.

RASCOE: Tamara Lawrance, co-star of the new movie "The Silent Twins," in theaters now.

Thank you so much for joining us.

LAWRANCE: Thank you. Thank you for having me. **** Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.