One of the best things I’ve watched this year is director Derek Cianfrance’s (The Place Beyond the Pines, Blue Valentine) limited series adaptation of Wally Lamb’s novel I Know This Much Is True for HBO. The series stars Mark Ruffalo in dual roles as identical twin brothers, one of whom suffers from mental illness. Over the course of the six-episodes that span different stages of their lives, Cianfrance pulls back the curtain on how mental illness affects everyone – not just the person afflicted with the disease. Featuring two brilliant performances by Ruffalo (one of which had him add thirty pounds for the role), brilliant filmmaking, and incredible contributions from the entire cast and crew, I Know This Much is True is one of those special series that I can’t recommend enough. I Know This Much Is True also stars Melissa Leo, Rosie O’Donnell, Archie Panjabi, Imogen Poots, John Procaccino, Rob Huebel, Philip Ettinger, Aisling Franciosi, Bruce Greenwood, Juliette Lewis, and Kathryn Hahn.
With the entire series now available on HBO, I recently did an extended interview with Derek Cianfrance where we went deep into the making of the series and his past works. During the ninety-minute conversation, Cianfrance went into great detail on how the series was made, why he loves to shoot close-ups, why the motto on set was “let’s keep Kodak in business,” why he wanted the series to be raw, dirty and sweaty, how Ingmar Bergman’s Fanny and Alexander influenced the series, why shooting on film adds a sense of urgency on set, and so much more. In addition, he talked about his obsession with Creepshow, what happened to A Cotton Candy Autopsy, how his Metalhead movie morphed into Sound of Metal, future projects, the way Phil Solomon changed his trajectory in film school, and more.
Trust me, if you’re a fan of Derek Cianfrance you’ll learn a lot watching this interview.
Since this conversation is so long, we’re offering it two ways: you can either watch the interview in the player below or further down the page is the audio so you can download the conversation.
Editor’s note: The following contains spoilers for I Know This Much Is True.
- Does he remember his first movie or TV show crush?
- What TV series would he like to guest write and direct?
- What movie has he seen the most?
- Has he thought about making a horror movie?
- When he discovered Scorsese…
- Why episode four is a bit of a horror movie.
- How Phil Solomon changed his trajectory in film school.
- How other filmmakers have tried to tackle the material as a feature film.
- The long history and challenge of trying to adapt the material.
- What he had to do to get The Place Beyond the Pines
- Why the TV series was able to include so much story that could never be in a movie.
- Did he have a preference in the way people watched the series?
- How Ingmar Bergman’s Fanny and Alexander was an influence on this series.
- When did they figure out it would be six episodes? He actually pitched HBO on doing 13 episodes.
- Why he didn’t want to do the same ending as the book.
- How long were his first cuts of every episode?
- How they shot 600 hours of footage.
- How they had a very tight turnaround in post to make the release date.
- The editing of The Place Beyond the Pines took six months before he showed the financers the first cut of the film.
- How Michael Mann’s Heat was an inspiration for the series and the restaurant scene with De Niro and Pacino.
- Did they ever discuss shooting on digital cameras and was it a lot of money to shoot on film?
- Why shooting on film adds a sense of urgency on set.
- How they shot a test on both film and digital cameras and showed HBO the finished results and had them decide what they would use.
- How did they pull off episode five and going back in time?
- Casting Marcello Fonte as Domenico Tempesta.
- Why he went to Rome to cast Italians to play Italians.
- Why he wanted to make a movie about the primal human experience.
- Why he made them shut off the air conditioning when they were filming inside the house for a scene taking place in 1915.
- When does he decide on his visual style? Is it during the writing process?
- His obsession with close-ups.
- How does he use cameras on set?
- How he directed a scene with Rosie O’Donnell and Mark Ruffalo in her office.
What was it like working with Ruffalo when he had to be extremely thin and very overweight?
- Why he always had Ruffalo do pushups on set.
- Why the crew was so shocked when Ruffalo started working as Thomas Birdsey.
- How he found Philip Ettinger for the series and what he brought to the series.
- What happened to A Cotton Candy Autopsy?
- What does he think happened to Dane Dehaan’s character in The Place Beyond the Pines?
- How his Metalhead movie morphed into Sound of Metal.
- Have Gosling and Mendes ever thanked him for introducing them?
- When will people be able to watch his first feature Brother Tied?
- Would he be willing to direct an episode of Parasite if they asked?
- Does he have a lot of scripts sitting in his desk ready to go?