Mark Ruffalo has got to be the most inspired casting in the superhero movie genre. Hollywood’s most underrated actor thinks his turn as Bruce Banner/The Hulk in The Avengers will finally give him some much-needed visibility – to do more of the quirky, indie films he loves
Mark Ruffalo has flown under the radar for most of his career. Appearing in indie films and playing character roles for most of his working life, Ruffalo appeared in box-office duds like In the Cut and a bunch of rom-coms before underlining his potential as an actor in films like Zodiac and Reservation Road.
In 2011, he received a much-deserved Oscar nomination for his role in The Kids are Alright. And now at 44, he’s got a starring role in the biggest superhero ensemble ever, The Avengers. Ruffalo plays Bruce Banner/The Hulk in a movie that also stars Robert Downey Jr, Samuel L Jackson, Chris Evans, Jeremy Renner and Scarlett Johansson. Here are some insights from an exclusive interview.
The Hulk captures a part of us
I don’t know what it is about The Hulk. He captures that part of us that wants to jump and scream. We are all so well behaved and we finally get to see the explosion of all of our feelings in all of their green glory.
My son relates to the character
My ten-year-old son has all of this power and force of nature rolling through his body, but at the same time, he’s expected to not let it get the best of him. He is at the cutting edge of the most horrible part of a young person’s life, when they have all of that going on but they are expected to have some control over it. I think that’s why young people love this character so much, that’s why they relate to it. I bought the box set of The Incredible Hulk TV show, to watch it again, because we talked a lot about it. After the third episode, my son turned to me and was like, ‘Papa. He’s so misunderstood!’. And I’m like, ‘That’s it buddy, that’s it.’
Robert Downey Jr is a generous man
It could have been the Iron Man show and he [Robert Downey Jr] always was conscious of that, and always making sure that each actor’s character was taken care of and had their place, and that’s big. That’s really thoughtful for somebody who is in the position he’s in. He doesn’t have to do that.
There’s life after The Kids Are Alright
If you are doing challenging material, challenged material is good too; not everyone liking it. Although I joke about it, it isn’t bad either, it’s just not as fun. And I’ve been really blessed. The Kids Are Alright was a different thing for me that has opened up the doors to a lot of other opportunities, and this I hope will too. That’s good; it’s nice to be around right now, at 44.
The challenge of playing The Hulk
The hardest part was making The Hulk come to life, really trying to get that right. I had to walk around in a motion-capture suit, and it does look very silly. I’m yelling and trying to do the other physical life of The Hulk and all that, it was embarrassing. The other guys all are beautiful and strapping and get to wear really cool clothes, and I’m in a frumpy suit. And the character of Bruce Banner is so demure. Also, everyone gets to do all this great stuff, but Banner’s got to be cool and a brain and precise. I used to wonder, ‘Is anybody interested in this guy? Is he just going to bland out? Is he going to disappear in this group of incredibly cool, compelling charismatic, beautiful people?’ And so that was my struggle during the whole course of shooting it.
Do the pants still fit after the transformation?
I asked that… do I have a little Speedo maybe? A little Avengers Speedo that Bruce Banner wears underneath his pants? How are we going to do it when he turns into The Hulk? But they were like, ‘No, we are going to keep his pants up.’ They talked about it a lot. It was one of the things that everyone had an opinion about.
Following on from Eric Bana and Edward Norton
I like both movies [Hulk and The Incredible Hulk]. I like what both of them did, they are great actors. I think that this is just the next generation building up what they had already done. He’s just a more mature Bruce Banner now, who has been on the run for most of his adult life, and I think at this point, he’s come to accept his fate. This is probably the difference between him and the previous Bruce Banners. He’s turning to face himself and accept this beast inside of him. And I think there’s a wry kind of humour about where he finds himself, and a world-weariness; those are the differences. I get to play The Hulk that no one else has gotten to do before. We haven’t had the technology, so I get the edge because of this incredible technology that allows me to play both those characters that actors in the past didn’t get a chance to do. It’s also a testament to what we can do now. People look at the Hulk and they see me and they see all this nuance and they can laugh at him and be tickled by him and be afraid of him. It’s so much more nuanced.
My first superhero film
I think what Robert Downey Jr did in the first Iron Man, was open up this genre, and with The Dark Knight, they’ve opened up this genre to real characters and character actors being in it. So when it came to me, I was thrilled. I didn’t think I could do it, I was nervous. I had a lot of reservations about it, I had never done anything like this. Talking to Joss Whedon and Robert Downey helped. Both of them together really made me think that I could do this. It’s a lot to step into Ed Norton’s shoes. I love that guy, and it’s a tough act to follow and I didn’t want to do it unless I thought that I could bring something else that we hadn’t seen in the character.
I got to do indie films and a big movie
I’ve been lucky to do a lot of different things in the course of these 20 years. This is exposing me in a way that I am not used to at all. But it’s also giving me a chance to do a lot of little things that I couldn’t get done before. It’s given me greater visibility, and it’s given my name a value that I just haven’t been able to get up until now. And so, all these little quirky movies that I love to do, all of a sudden are becoming much easier to get made. I don’t feel that I had to trade off anything. I got to do exactly what I do, act in all these little indie films and then a big movie.
I was an angry young man
If you saw my apartment in my early 20s, you would see pictures hung in very odd places, mostly about where a fist would fit on the wall. I was definitely a fiery young man, I had a persecution complex because I couldn’t get work as an actor. And so I walked around as an angry young man for a long time. I’ve had that beaten out of me. Life tends to do that, but I definitely understand now. I have kids and I keep saying this, but this is a homage to my ten-year-old boy.