People In Film | Mark Ruffalo

A Classic Sensibility

Ten years ago, The Kids Are All Right star Mark Ruffalo exploded onto the American independent movie scene with his remarkable performance as Laura Linney’s damaged brother Terry in writer-director Kenneth Lonergan’s poignant drama You Can Count on Me (2000). Critics were immediately placed Ruffalo in a great tradition of American screen actors. Variety’s Emanuel Levy said that “Ruffalo's part brings to mind the outsiders played by Marlon Brando, Burt Lancaster and William Holden,” while Stephen Holden of the New York Times said that “Mr. Ruffalo's star-making performance deserves to be added to the list of charismatic, grownup lost boys that includes the Marlon Brando of A Streetcar Named Desire and the Jack Nicholson of Easy Rider.” Rolling Stone’s Peter Travers also drew lofty comparisons, writing that “stage actor Ruffalo scores a breakthrough, giving his role an intimate intensity that bears comparison to early Brando and the late James Dean.”

Theater Thespian

You Can Count on Me made Ruffalo an overnight star, but like most breakthrough actors he had been slaving away for many years. Apparently, Ruffalo had 800 auditions before getting the role of Terry in Kenneth Lonergan’s movie, and had to supplement his acting income by bartending just to keep afloat. However Ruffalo, a graduate of the Stella Adler Conservatory (where he was classmates with Benicio Del Toro), had a passion for acting that kept him going and also led him to co-found the Orpheus Theatre Company, where he acted, directed, wrote as well as even building sets and did lighting. His active presence in the theater led him to meet and befriend playwright Lonergan in the late 1990s, which led to an acclaimed performance in the off-Broadway production of the writer’s This Is Our Youth and, shortly after, his role in You Can Count on Me. Ruffalo returned to the New York stage in 2006, giving a Tony-nominated turn in Clifford Odets's Awake and Sing!, and earlier this year declared, “If I could take five years right now and just sink it into theater, that really would turn me on.”

A Star with Range

Since his emergence in 2000, Ruffalo has played a diverse range of characters in everything from low key indie dramas like XX/XY (2002), My Life Without Me (2003) and We Don’t Live Here Anymore (2004) to action movies and thrillers such as The Last Castle (2001), Windtalkers (2002) and What Doesn’t Kill You (2008). As Ruffalo sees it, it’s very important to not be seen as solely one kind of actor, explaining that “there's a tendency to get pigeonholed in Hollywood. A lot of what I do is just trying to keep that off of me. I don't want to feel like I'm stuck doing one-stock performances.” Accordingly, he’s also done his fair share of feelgood romantic comedies, like View From the Top (2002), 13 Going on 30 (2004) and Just Like Heaven (2005), Rumor Has It (2005). In an interview for Just Like Heaven, he said, “I was hearing people say, ‘Mark Ruffalo can't do comedy’ or ‘He can't be a leading man.’ And I come from the theatre, and there are no boundaries like that. You could do whatever you want. Whatever you say you could do, you could do if you put your mind to it. So I kind of wanted to prove to myself and the rest of the world that I could do this sort of thing. I'd like to have a career that is able to span any genre.”

A Director's Actor, An Actor's Director

Speaking of Mark Ruffalo’s involvement in The Kids Are All Right, writer-director Lisa Cholodenko said, “He was somebody I thought of for the part from the outset. He had other offers, for bigger films, but I think that some of the great actors feel that the pleasure of acting is being able to do smaller films that you can get fully into.” Over the course of his career, Ruffalo has been very focused on pairing with talented helmers like Cholodenko, and has worked with some of the most respected auteurs in the business: Ang Lee (Ride with the Devil), Jane Campion (In the Cut), Michael Mann (Collateral), Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), David Fincher (Zodiac), Fernando Meirelles (Blindness) and Spike Jonze (Where the Wild Things Are). Ruffalo also acted in Martin Scorsese’s latest movie, Shutter Island, an experience he describes as “the greatest film school that a man could ask for!” That cinematic education was particularly pertinent to Ruffalo as he recently directed (and also acted in) Sympathy for Delicious, which premiered alongside The Kids Are All Right at Sundance 2010. “Acting and directing are kind of at odds with each other,” says Ruffalo. “With directing you need to have a full view of what’s going on. With acting, you’re in the life of the character, with their needs and wants and desires. I would love to keep doing directing right now—I’m excited by the challenge of learning about it.”

Good With Kids

One of the most memorable aspects of Mark Ruffalo’s performance in You Can Count on Me was his interaction with the young actor Rory Culkin, who was 10 at the time. And, fittingly enough for an actor appearing in The Kids Are Are All Right, Ruffalo has always loved working alongside younger performers. "I love acting with kids, cause they're great acting partners,” he said in a 2005 interview. “They're totally present.  Even when they're acting, they're still available and you can crack them up or something weird will happen and they'll go with it.  You can throw them little curve-balls and they'll go with it.  I always like having kid energy around." Ruffalo maybe can relate so well to young thesps because he himself caught the acting bug when he was still very young. It was, however, not a play that got him excited, but an incident in which 9-year-old Ruffalo was taken by his grandmother to Jimmy Swaggart’s megachurch to be “saved” by the televangelist. “When Jimmy Swaggart touched me and all the other kids around me were falling on the ground, I had my first acting experience,” recalls Ruffalo. “When I had his hand on my head and I wasn't feeling anything, I (thought to myself) ‘Dude, you're going straight to hell! Jesus doesn't want you, dude! You're the Antichrist! You're that babe they keep talking about!’ So I'm on my knees waiting to be struck down by the spirit of the Lord, as everyone before me has, and finally I just took a dive! That was really my first acting gig.”

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