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Mark Ruffalo Talks Playing Twins on ‘I Know This Much Is True,’ Taking 6 Weeks Off to Gain 30 Pounds Between Parts

TCA 2020: ”We didn’t want it to be like, I run and put a wig on and then do the same scene I just did,“ Ruffalo says

Mark Ruffalo takes on the part of twin brothers on HBO’s limited series adaptation of “I Know This Much Is True,” often appearing more than once in the same scene, but for Ruffalo it played out much like two separate jobs.

“We didn’t want it to be like, I run and put a wig on and then do the same scene I just did,” Ruffalo said, explaining that he and director Derek Cianfrance took a six-week break between shooting the two characters’ parts. Ruffalo used the hiatus to put on 30 pounds and get into the mindset of a character living with mental illness.

Based on the 1998 novel by Wally Lamb, “I Know This Much Is True” centers on twin brothers Dominick and Thomas Birdsey, one of whom suffers from paranoid schizophrenia.

“Thomas was on a lot of medication,” Ruffalo said. “These medications, these mood stabilizers and anti-psychotics, a lot of people put on weight … It was important for us to have these guys really, really be two different people.”

But Ruffalo wasn’t the only one playing both parts. Gabe Fazio, an actor who also appeared on Cianfrance’s 2012 film “The Place Beyond the Pines,” served as Ruffalo’s stand-in on both sides. During the hiatus, while Ruffalo was putting on weight to play Thomas, Fazio was losing 30 pounds and growing facial hair to play Dominick.

“Derek had the wisdom and the insight to make sure we had a fantastic actor for me to play the scenes with,” Ruffalo said.

“He doesn’t necessarily look like Mark, but he’s a great actor and he’s a friend of mine,” Cianfrance added.  We just set up those scenes and told Mark, ‘He’s your brother’ … and Gabe completely played that role.”

“What I didn’t want to do is have the technical challenges overwhelm the story and the characters that we were trying to create,” Cianfrance continued, “so we shot it very very simply. A lot of it is shot-countershot … so all these months later all we had to do was match certain things like the lighting.”

An unlikely source of inspiration: Michael Mann’s “Heat,” starring Robert De Niro and Al Pacino.

“There’s that great scene where Robert De Niro and Al Pacino have dinner,” Cianfrance said. “In that scene they’re never on screen together. And I thought to myself, What a stroke of confidence from a filmmaker and for the two great actors on screen.”

“It’s like the flipsides of a coin. You can’t see heads and tails at the same time. It’s impossible,” he continued. “That really became an aesthetic north star for me as we were shooting.”