Mark Ruffalo went to literal extremes to play two very different identical twins.
Three-time Oscar nominee Mark Ruffalo (Spotlight, The Avengers) has just picked up a 2020 Emmy nomination for Best Actor in A Limited Series or Movie for his dual performance in I Know This Much is True, now available to binge on Showmax.
Based on the Wally Lamb bestseller about how you don’t just give up on the people you love, I Know this Much is True follows the parallel lives of identical twin brothers Dominick Birdsey and his brother Thomas, a paranoid schizophrenic – both played by Mark, with Gabe Fazio (The Place Beyond The Pines) serving as his unseen acting double for both roles.
“Not looking for the seams”
“I was fascinated with the opportunity that one actor could play multiple roles,” says multi-award-winning director Derek Cianfrance (Blue Valentine, The Place Beyond The Pines). “But I didn’t want it to be just a trick. The question became, ‘How do we do it in a way where when you’re watching the show, you’re not looking for the seams?’”
Neither Derek nor Mark liked the traditional techniques for shooting twins played by a single actor. “Every time you see a movie about twins, it feels like they shoot one part in the morning and the guy goes back to the makeup trailer and comes back with a moustache and a fake mullet or something and does the other side,” Derek says. “I felt like, ‘Why can’t we create a process in the making of this film that enables Mark to actually transform and become two different people?’”
The solution they found was method acting to the extreme. For Mark, the process was set to be a challenge, physically and mentally. Not only are the two brothers very different people, but there’s a difference of 18kgs between them.
“I lost 20 pounds to play Dominick,” says Mark, “then I gained that back and put another 20 pounds on to play Thomas.”
As Dominick, Derek says, Mark “was always hungry – I guess you could say hangry – and he was full of angst. It was like working with a bear. He was a very alpha character, off set too – he was just a different kind of guy. He was a bro’, you know? One thing I had him do before shooting was do push ups before a scene, so he was always out of breath a little bit. He had these amazing pectoral muscles and his veins were always engorged. He was this image of masculinity – very much like the Italian image of masculinity that Mark and I grew up with.”
A transformation to Thomas
But then came the six-week hiatus from shooting, in which Mark was to gain weight for the role of Thomas.
“I’m talking to him every couple of days, just to see how the weight gain is going,” Derek says of those weeks, “and Mark is telling me how miserable he is. He thought it would be exciting to put on weight. For all those 16 weeks when he was shooting Dominick, he was literally starving. Now he can eat every doughnut he wants, every bowl of pasta, he can have 4000 calories a day. But it’s making him miserable… he was in bad shape,” Derek laughs.
Derek helped Mark through by encouraging him to trust the process. “If you can put on this weight,” he reminded Mark, “‘you are going to come in and Thomas is going to feel different. You are going to breathe differently. You are going to move differently. Your demeanour is going to change. You’re going to change.”
“And sure enough, when he showed up as Thomas, I couldn’t get him out of the trailer. He hid in that trailer and wouldn’t come out and when he finally did come out here was a guy who couldn’t look anyone in the eye, who was so vulnerable. He was completely different.”
“The most amazing thing I’ve ever done”
For Mark, the process was hard on the body, and the soul, but the results on screen suggest it was worth it. “Listen,” he told The New York Times in a recent interview, “in one sense it’s been the most amazing thing I’ve ever done. But it’s 600 pages of dialogue. I was on every page. I mean, I can retire now. My feeling of, ‘Did I push myself? Did I leave it all there?’ I’ve never felt that. I’ve always held back something. With this thing, I made a decision: I’m 52 years old; I’m not going to leave anything behind.”
I Know This Much Is True, which has an 8.2/10 rating on IMDb, also stars Oscar winner Melissa Leo (The Fighter), Emmy winner Rosie O’Donnell (SMILF), Emmy nominees Kathryn Hahn (Mrs Fletcher, Transparent) and Rob Huebel (Transparent), Golden Globe nominee Archie Panjabi (Run, The Good Wife), and Oscar nominee Juliette Lewis (Natural Born Killers).
At the Emmys, Mark is competing for Best Actor in A Limited Series or Movie against the likes of Jeremy Irons in Watchmen and Hugh Jackman in Bad Education, both available on Showmax. Winners will be announced on Sunday, 20 September 2020.