Tour de force performance by Rosie O’Donnell in ‘I Know This Much Is True’

Rosie O’Donnell has some serious acting mileage behind her.

She may be foul-mouthed on stage, but the comedian, who is also a producer, author, and former talk show host, never fails to impress in every role.

Cast as Lisa Sheffer, a social worker at the Hatch Forensic Institute, she holds her own against Mark Ruffalo, who plays identical twin brothers, Dominic and Thomas Birdsey.

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Rosie O’Donnell with Mark Ruffalo as Thomas Birdsey, who is the paranoid schizophrenic twin of Dominic, in “I Know This Much Is True”. Picture: HBO

On breathing life into the character, she shared: “I felt completely free as an artist. Derek (Cianfrance) is such an amazing director and he says things like, ‘I can’t tell you how to act, but I can tell you that he shouldn’t be so bossy to you. It’s up to you.’ (laughs).

“Those are the kinds of notes he would give you.

On the first day, I was really anxious, it was my first scene, and it’s a long scene and we did that on day one.

“I was so worried because I had never had a scene that long as an actress.

“And I said, ‘line?’ And he said, ‘oh we don’t do that here if you can’t think of anything make something up.’

“And he said, ‘we just want to find an authentic moment.’ So the freedom that he gives you is just incredible.

“And you know everyone on that set had worked with Derek before – everyone, the guy who was the extra in the jail scene worked on The Place Beyond the Pines, everybody had worked with him before so what he created on the set was a real family experience and a kind of comfortable, casualness.

“Everyone is equal on his set, everyone’s voice carries as much weight as the next person and it was kind of magical to see. He’s a Zen kind of guy.”

Having read the book when it first came out, she sang the praises of the small-screen adaptation.

The 50-something actress added: “ I always thought it would be a tremendous undertaking.

“And when I heard that Mark was going to play both twins with no green screen, I thought, ‘Well, this is a whole new way of filming’.

“Mark does his performance with an actor (Gabe Fazio) standing in (as the other twin) to help with the reaction and then Mark comes back and does the other twin.

“And it was magical to see it all put together.

“There were a couple of scenes where I was like, ‘I have no idea how they did that’.”

O’Donnell says this was a dream role for her and she didn’t hesitate to chop her tresses to get into character.

She added: “Well, this was any actress’s dream role – they don’t come along a lot.

“And it’s not like there is a shortage of women – and then some – who could have done justice to this role.

“I was lucky that I was trusted with it and I felt so grateful.

“With my career I don’t regret or resent anything but you know, I played the funny girl – of course, I’m a stand-up comic.

“I played the best friend and that’s a great thing to do, and it’s a lovely tradition of women who have done it and I feel honoured to be part of it. But to get to play that kind of Geraldine Page role is something else.

“And I knew it would take until I was in my sixties to get a chance and I’m 58 so it happened two years earlier but these are the kind of roles that I hope to do in the future, that I hope to get offered and get to play again with people like this. I told Derek, ‘Any movie you want to do I’m in’ – we have a deal (laughs).”

*“I Know This Much Is True” airs on M-Net (DStv Channel 101) on Thursday at 10pm.

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