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‘I Know This Much Is True’ Director on the Twins’ Biological Father – and Why He Was Kept Secret

”It changes everything for him,“ Derek Cianfrance says of Mark Ruffalo’s Dominick Birdsey

Warning: This post contains spoilers about the series finale of HBO’s “I Know This Much Is True.”

The sixth and final episode of HBO’s limited series “I Know This Much Is True” aired Sunday, and with it came the surprising reveal of the identity of Dominick and Thomas Birdsey’s biological father.

TheWrap spoke with writer and director Derek Cianfrance, who adapted the screenplay from Wally Lamb’s novel, to learn more about Henry Drinkwater — and why their stepfather, Ray, continued to keep him a secret from them, even years after their mother had died.

“I think he understands that he’s not going to lose Dominick, and that he loves Dominick and Dominick deserves to know. It just comes a time when, I think later in life when people are entering their final chapters, I think a lot of their secrets can come out.”

Ray finally opens up during the nursing home scene, telling Dominick that his father was a Korean War veteran named Henry Drinkwater.

That rules out his biggest fear — that he and his brother might have been born of incest between his abusive grandfather and his mother, Concettina — and also makes Dominick realizes that he’s been cousins with fellow twins Ralph and Penny Ann Drinkwater this entire time.

The big pay-off comes too late for Thomas, whose unexpected death by drowning at the Falls is ruled accidental. However, viewers are given a quick visual cue that the truth, like so much of this story, may not be so innocent — thanks to a brief shot of his socks and shoes neatly folded on a nearby rock.

But despite having just learned the answer to the one question he’s been asking his entire life, by the time Dominick learns the truth,  “he doesn’t need it anymore,” Cianfrance said.

“At that point in the story, I think Dominick has resigned himself that he’s never going to know who his father is,” he said. “For all Ray’s faults… I think Dominick also sees the human there, and he comes to accept Ray for who he is. So when he finally gets the knowledge of his father, he doesn’t need it anymore — but when he gets it, it changes everything for him. I think its a gift. It represents a lot of rage-redemption.”

He opened up about why Ray felt compelled to keep their mother’s secret for so long.

“One of the reasons he probably held that secret for so many years was, one, because the mother never wanted the kids to know — because she thought they would hate her for it,” he said. “She was raised with this idea by her father that what she was doing was terrible and a sin, and yet she loved this guy Henry and she kept it a secret from her father and from everyone, and she made Ray promise not to tell.”

Cianfrance clarified that the Birdsey twins and the Drinkwater twins are cousins because they share a grandfather — Nabby Drinkwater, who worked at the same mill where their maternal grandfather, Domenico Tempesta, was the foreman.

Before I shot this, I cast Michael Greyeyes as Ralph [Drinkwater], and really asked him about representation in cinema. We sat down and laid out this family tree, and I asked him about the truth of it,” Cianfrance said. “He said something to the effect that… native people have been ignored and overlooked and not recognized for so long, and that from Ralph’s perspective, he knew the truth about who Dominick was, and he always assumed that Dominick knew too, and Dominick would never talk to him about it, and Dominick always felt better than him. Ralph didn’t feel seen by Dominick. From Ralph’s point of view, there was no shame in being connected to this white person, but from [Dominick and Thomas’] mothers and grandfather’s point of view, there was great shame in it. And that’s why it was a secret.”

All six episodes of “I Know This Much Is True” are now streaming on HBO.

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