The finale of HBO’s celebrated mini-series “I Know This Much Is True” starring Mark Ruffalo airs tomorrow night at 9pm ET. The series, directed by indie filmmaker Derek Cianfrance (“Blue Valentine,” “The Place Beyond The Pines”), features Mark Ruffalo in a dual role playing twins, Derek and Thomas Birdsey. Based on the bestselling novel by Wally Lamb, this limited series follows Dominick as he struggles to care for his schizophrenic twin Thomas, while discovering the truth about his own family history.
The terrific series also features tremendous supporting performances by Melissa Leo, Kathryn Hahn, Rosie O’Donnell, Imogen Poots, Archie Panjabi, and Juliette Lewis. I had a lengthy interview with Cianfrance and wanted to preserve as much of it as possible. In part one—which you can read in full here—Cianfrance talked a lot about the genesis of the project, working with Mark Ruffalo in this dual role, including shutting down production for weeks to he could pack on weight for the role of the psychologically damaged twin, and much more.
In this second half, Cianfrance and I spoke a lot about the greater themes in the series—its ideas of the sins of America and how war often torments the psyche—but also lots of conversation about the past films, moving into television and the many projects he still has brewing including the epic “Empire Of The Summer Moon” which he hopes to make next. Tune in to the “I Know This Much Is True” finale tomorrow.
Ideas of lineage, sin, class, and fate have surfaced in your work before, obviously: in “The Place Beyond The Pines,” lineage and class dictate the tragedy of the character’s fate. In, “I Know This Much Is True,” it takes on a greater expansion with the ideas of America and the sins of the nation. There’s also this ‘Godfather’-esque prequel dimension to it with ideas of immigration and American dreams. Can you talk about how you threaded these ideas through the series?
Well, when I was setting up to make “The Light Between Oceans,” I was thinking, the thing that made me most nervous about it was that I was not going to be making it in America. I feel very much like an American filmmaker. I’m making stories about my country. That’s what I really know.
I’m a third-generation Italian and German immigrant and I’ve been trying to make stories about America. There’s not an American flag in ‘Oceans’ and it was always a little odd for me not to see it. I never quite knew where that place was ‘Light Between Oceans,’ so that place became kind of unmoored, just cinematic scape. Whereas, ‘INTMIT,’ ‘Pines,’ and “Blue Valentine” were always so much about the backdrop of America and how that affected characters.
Yeah, ‘Oceans’ does feel like an outlier in that sense.
Look, one thing I’m always thinking about is consequence and choices. Every one of my characters has a choice and every choice as a consequence. That may be my Catholic upbringing coming out, but here we were able to look at choices against this backdrop of these American choices and this American landscape that these characters were living in. In this case, it’s Italian immigrants coming to American. My family came to America around the same time and were treated as third class, fourth class citizens.
Right, there’s this whole shit-rolls-down hierarchy
Yeah, that class always has to be on top of another. So, I wanted to tell that story of what happens amongst that immigrant class fighting each other—they had a deep-seated prejudice against the Native Americans really that were here before them. So there’s kind of war or wars everywhere whether literal or figurative. [Mark Ruffalo’s character] Thomas, he grew up with TV. Whether it’s duck-and-cover Cold War movies of the ‘50s or when he’s coming of age, having his psychotic break and the Vietnam draft is an impending thread. So, one of the things we thought about were these messages of war always around Thomas, this living war, and how that sinks into him.
And, so when the show starts, he’s 40, having a full-blown psychotic episode, he decides he’s going to put an end to it, which for him is this twisted, bloody sacrifice. But he makes this choice and in the end, no one pays attention to it. It doesn’t have his desired effect to stop the war, and that’s part of his burden is that people don’t really listen to him.
He’s one of the many invisible people. The day Mark gave me the ‘IKTMIT’ book, a friend of mine—her brother had lit himself on fire to try to protest the Afghanistan War.