HBO’s I Know This Much is True is a haunting six-part adaptation of Wally Lamb’s beloved book of the same name.
The show follows the heartbreaking lives of Dominick and Thomas Birdsey, twin brothers bonded together by love, and torn apart by their very different paths.
While Dominick has to confront the trauma of losing his infant daughter to SIDS, Thomas struggles with paranoid schizophrenia.
Thomas’s mental health issues have weighed on Dominic’s psyche like an anchor for all of the brothers’ lives, and the pain comes to a tumultuous boil in I Know This Much is True, with the first episode now available to stream on Foxtel after premiering today.
Although Dominic and Thomas are very different men — both in terms of outlook and appearance – they are played by the same man: Mark Ruffalo.
I Know This Much is True’s writer and director Derek Cianfrance used carefully constructed angles and CGI to make it seamlessly appear like Ruffalo was acting opposite himself, even in the same frame.
However, Ruffalo and Cianfrance had a secret weapon in the process. Actor Gabe Fazio played Thomas and Dominic opposite Ruffalo, giving the actor another great performance to play off on set.
“I didn’t want to resort to the technical tricks of twinning,” Derek Cianfrance told Decider in a Zoom interview last week.
“I said early on to the crew and to the producers that this was a story that was going to be told through performances. As it is about humanity.
“In its purest form, actors have to perform this. If Mark is going to have to play off a brother he can’t have a stand-in be the brother. He can’t have a tennis ball be the brother. He actually has to have someone who is gonna affect him in a way.”
Stream Mark Ruffalo’s new series I Know This Music Is True. Trial Foxtel Now
Cianfrance went to his circle of friends to find the right actor for the lofty challenge of acting opposite Ruffalo in this particular project and found The Place Beyond the Pines alum Gabe Fazio.
As it happens, Fazio only entered Cianfrance’s orbit thanks to his close friendship with another star.
“I cast (Fazio) in The Place Beyond The Pines because I needed to find a cop partner for Bradley Cooper and I was having trouble finding that role. I said, ‘Bradley, do you have any friends who are really good actors?’ and he said, ‘Gabe Fazio, best actor you’ll ever find’,” Cianfrance said.
“So I met with Gabe and Gabe did this incredible audition for me and came in on Pines and was just an amazing actor. He’s an Actor’s Studio actor and I’ve stayed friends with him all these years.
“And he happened to be the exact same height as Mark (Ruffalo).”
Of course, Cianfrance had to convince Fazio to take on the unusual job in the first place.
“I said, ‘Gabe, I have a role I wanna offer you. But here’s the thing: You’re gonna play Mark Ruffalo’s brother. You have to gain 30 pounds. You get to be a schizophrenic. You gotta shave your head, and here’s the catch: no one will ever see your performance. It’ll be erased from film history.’ And Gabe said, ‘I’d love to do that,’” Cianfrance said.
For the first part of production, Ruffalo played Dominick and Fazio played Thomas.
Then production broke for six weeks while Ruffalo gained the weight for Thomas and shed the character of Dominick. In tandem, Fazio transformed his body to switch roles the other way.
Of course, Cianfrance predicted that it might be unsettling for both actors to act opposite someone doing the role they were going to play later.
“I told Mark, I said, ‘Look, if Gabe is doing a scene and you, you know you’re gonna eventually be this guy. If he’s doing a scene and it’s not the way you imagine you’re gonna do it, that is fine. That’s a good thing because Thomas isn’t behaving the way Dominick wants him to either,’” Cianfrance said.
The result is that we get to see two absolutely brilliant Ruffalo performances, both buoyed by the fact that he was able to perform opposite someone else in each and every scene.
Cianfrance even joked that he wished there was a way for audiences to see the work that Gabe Fazio was doing in the footage that wound up on the editing room floor.
“If it was 15 years ago and Kim’s Video Store was still around, I always imagined there would be a bootleg copy that had Gabe playing Dominick and Thomas that’s floating around out there somewhere. Maybe one of the system editors will build it,” Cianfrance said hopefully.
This article originally appeared on Decider and was reproduced with permission