Wally Lamb's 'I Know This Much is True' to get miniseries treatment

Wally Lamb (Photo submitted)
Wally Lamb (Photo submitted)

What a difference a miniseries can make.

This is true on many levels of enjoyment, but certainly if you're a writer and, despite much interest from actors and directors and film producers, no one has been able to adapt your brilliant and complex novel for the big screen.

"One Hundred Years of Solitude." "A Confederacy of Dunces." "The Secret History." "Invisible Man." "Blood Meridian" ... The list is long, impressive and daunting, and bestselling and literarily acclaimed author Wally Lamb can relate.

His second novel, 1998's "I Know This Much is True," an Oprah's Book Club selection, was optioned for film by 20th Century Fox shortly after publication. However, at 900-plus pages, and with a complex, multi-layered but riveting narrative about twin brothers that fused issues such as mental illness, dysfunctional families and domestic abuse, the movie was never made.

A few years back, film rights reverted back to Lamb and, by that point, he wasn't even aware of it. In a recent phone conversation from his home in Storrs, Lamb says, "My agent called me and explained that the option had expired. Did I know that?" He laughs. "No, but I know I have a good agent. And he pointed out that we've entered into what has become the golden age of miniseries television. We essentially had a fresh opportunity with the book in a whole new format."

As of October, it's official. HBO has authorized an eight-episode series of "I Know This Much is True" starring Mark Ruffalo in the dual lead roles of twins Dominick and Thomas Birdsley, and with writer/director Derek Cianfrance ("Blue Valentine," "The Place Beyond the Pines") at the helm. Lamb says it's realistic to think production could start as soon as summer 2018.

As for how three-time Oscar-nominee Ruffalo got involved, well, it's as simple as it is remarkable. Again, Lamb's agent was integral. "He asked who would be my choice to play (the twins), and I said I thought Mark would do a great job," Lamb says. "He sent a copy of the book to Mark, who at the time was in Europe filming ('Thor: Ragnarok'). He wrote the greatest letter saying that, yes, he was a slow reader but ('I Know This Much') is a wonderful story."

When Ruffalo finished filming "Thor" and returned to the States, he and Lamb got together a few times to discuss the book and a possible film or miniseries. "He told me he was onboard with the project from the start," Lamb recalls, "and that he related to the story because he had a troubled brother in his own life who'd died prematurely."

Over the past two years, Lamb and Ruffalo would meet and sketch out ideas for a television version of the book. Lamb says, "The problem with the Fox film project was that there were so many writers and directors and probably too much story for a movie. But even though this is a door-stop of a novel, I think the story can be told in eight episodes."

Lamb, Ruffalo and Cianfrance are executive producers on the project, along with Ben Browning and Glen Basner of indie film company FilmNation, though it's important to note this won't be the first time a Lamb novel has ended up on screen. "Wishin' and Hopin," a nostalgic and comical Christmas novella, produced by Rocky Hill's Synthetic Cinema International, was made into a film in 2014. And while "Wishin' and Hopin'" is a distinctly different work than "I Know This Much is True," the experience of turning the book into a film provided the author with perspective.

"Like a lot of writers, my feeling is that a film script and a novel are two separate art forms," he says. "My stuff is far from perfect anyway, and given the difference between the two genres, well, as long as it's a good film, I don't care what they cut out or leave in."

It's also worth noting Lamb is one of those authors who DIDN'T start out knowing he was destined to write. In fact, he says, "My interest growing up was in drawing, not reading. I was going to be an art major in college, and my creative impulses tend to go in a cinematic direction naturally. I watched way too many television shows and movies when I was young, and I still do."

Cianfrance has asked Lamb to serve a script consultant, an offer that gratifies the novelist.

"Derek and I have met a few times, too, which was very nice," Lamb says. "Sometimes in this situation, some folks like collaborations, and some don't. Derek has sent me a couple of episodes, and I've given feedback like I would in any writing workshop. He's been far more respectful than I could have asked for."

Speaking of writing workshops, Lamb has been very busy for the last several months polishing the final draft of what will be the third volume of essays he's edited by students at York Correctional Facility. He's been a volunteer facilitator at the East Lyme women's penitentiary for several years, and the first two critically acclaimed titles in the series are "Couldn't Keep It to Myself" (2003) and "I'll Fly Away" (2008).  

"I regard this as my nonpaying job, and I'm really proud of all of them (the writers)," Lamb says. "It's been a while since I had a stockpile of really good stuff. We've been getting it in a form that works, and I think this is going to be the strongest of the three — which is saying a lot."

And, kicking off the new year, Lamb plans to sit down and start work on his next novel — whatever that might be.

"Basically I'm scared to death," he says. "It's always this way, and it always makes me nervous. I've got to sit down and get going with a character who grabs me, and that's really hard for me. But I've got a few ideas, and we'll see how that works out. Ultimately, it'll be good to be writing a novel again."

Mark Ruffalo, who will star in “I Know This Much is True,” has been nominated three times for an Oscar, most recently for his performance in “Spotlight.” (Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)
Mark Ruffalo, who will star in “I Know This Much is True,” has been nominated three times for an Oscar, most recently for his performance in “Spotlight.” (Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)

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