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Mark Ruffalo Reveals How He Prepared to Play Man With Schizophrenia in New HBO Series

A TV version Wally Lamb’s bestselling novel “I Know This Much Is True,” which centers on the story of twin brothers, one of whom has schizophrenia, will hit HBO in April, the network announced today. Mark Ruffalo, who will play both twins in the show, also opened up about how he approached playing both characters.

During the show’s appearance at the Television Critics Association press tour on Wednesday, Ruffalo said he shot scenes for Dominick, the twin without schizophrenia, first. Then he took five weeks to gain weight and “study” schizophrenia in order to play Dominick’s twin, Thomas.

“Those five weeks were kind of lonely,” Ruffalo said, according to Variety. “I’d been away from my family and [Thomas] hears voices, and I was imaging that life and there was a couple weeks where I was just staying by myself, going down into the heart of this mental illness and studying it.”

Ruffalo explained that the decision to gain weight in order to play Thomas was based on the fact that medications used to treat schizophrenia can often cause weight gain. Ruffalo said he hoped to tell Thomas’ story as honestly as possible.

“There’s an element of mental illness in this project,” Ruffalo said. “It means a lot to me to be honest to that, which means going into that world and getting to know it and getting comfortable with it. I was really afraid to play it. I think it’s really an important issue and I want to tell it as honestly as possible. The responsibility of playing it was really apparent to me.”

It remains to be seen if the series will accurately portray schizophrenia. Media portrayals of schizophrenia are often sensationalized, with people depicted as either violent or a genius, and live permanently in psychiatric facilities. Nicola Hynds explained in an essay for The Mighty that these stereotypes can lead to more stigma and misunderstanding about the reality of schizophrenia.

When the entertainment industry continuously promotes myths that are associated with schizophrenia, it encourages the use of language that may be hurtful to those who have it,” Hynds wrote.

Writer and director Derek Cianfrance adapted “I Know This Much Is True” for TV. In addition to Ruffalo in the lead roles, the series will star Rosie O’Donnell, Kathryn Hahn, Melissa Leo and Archie Panjabi, among others. HBO has yet to reveal a specific air date in April.