Ruffalo was born in the industrial town of Kenosha, Wisconsin, the son of second-generation Italian American parents Marie Rose, a hairdresser and stylist, and Frank Lawrence Ruffalo, Jr., a construction painter. He has two sisters, Tania and Nicole, and a brother, Scott. Ruffalo has described himself as a “happy kid” and his upbringing as taking place in a “very big Italian family with lots of love”. He attended a progressive school and was raised around the local Bahá’í community, of which his father was a member. Ruffalo spent his teen years in Virginia Beach, Virginia, where his father worked, graduating from First Colonial High School. He then moved with his family to San Diego, California and later to Los Angeles, California, where he took classes at the Stella Adler Conservatory and co-founded the Orpheus Theatre Company. With the OTC, he wrote, directed, and starred in a number of plays and spent the next nine years earning his living as a bartender.
Ruffalo had minor roles in films like The Dentist (1996), the low-key crime comedy Safe Men (1998) and Ang Lee’s acclaimed Civil War Western Ride With the Devil (1999). Through a chance meeting with writer Kenneth Lonergan, Ruffalo began collaborating with Lonergan and appeared in several of his plays, including the original cast of This is Our Youth (1998), which led to Ruffalo’s role as Laura Linney’s troubled, aimless drifter brother Terry in Longeran’s acclaimed, Academy Award-nominated 2000 film You Can Count on Me. He received favorable reviews for his performance in this film, often earning comparisons to the young Marlon Brando, and won awards from the Los Angeles Film Critics Association and Montreal World Film Festival.
This led to other significant roles, including the films XX/XY (2002), Isabel Coixet’s My Life Without Me alongside Sarah Polley (2003), Jane Campion’s In the Cut alongside Meg Ryan (2003), Michel Gondry’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004), and We Don’t Live Here Anymore (2004), which is based upon two short stories written by Andre Dubus. He appeared opposite Tom Cruise as a homicide detective in Michael Mann’s acclaimed crime-thriller Collateral (2004). More recently, Ruffalo has appeared as a romantic lead in “chick flicks” such as View From the Top (2002), 13 Going on 30 (2004), Just Like Heaven (2005) and Rumor Has It (2005). In 2006, Ruffalo starred in Clifford Odets’s Awake and Sing! at the Belasco Theater in New York, for which he was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Featured Actor in a Play. In March, 2007, he appeared in Zodiac as SFPD homicide inspector Dave Toschi, who ran the investigation to find and apprehend the Zodiac killer from 1969 through most of the 1970s. October 2007 saw Ruffalo play divorced lawyer Dwight Arno, who accidentally kills a child and speeds away, in Terry George’s film Reservation Road based on the same titled novel by John Burnham Schwartz.
In 2002, Ruffalo was diagnosed with a brain tumor and had surgery, which resulted in a period of partial facial paralysis, even though the tumor was found to be benign. He fully recovered from the paralysis and returned to good health as well as an active life and movie career. He has been married to French-American actress Sunrise Coigney (born Christina Sunrise Coigney on September 17, 1972 in San Francisco) since June of 2000, and they have three children: a son Keen born in 2001, a daughter Bella born in 2005 and their third child, daughter Odette, was born on October 20, 2007 in Los Angeles, California.
On October 4, 2006, he appeared on daily news program Democracy Now! to speak against the war on Iraq, the Military Commissions Act, torture, and the Bush administration in general. He also announced his speaking engagement at the The World Can’t Wait protest in New York City on October 5, 2006.
Ruffalo contributed to Mike Gravel in his 2008 Presidential Bid.
In October 2007, Ruffalo criticized the 9/11 Commission Report as “completely illegitimate” and called for re-opening the investigation. He said: “I saw the way they all came down, and I, and I, and I am baffled. My first reaction is that buildings don’t fall down like that.” He also criticized the 9/11 truth movement, saying “There’s so much information that’s been put out there by truth for 9/11 and it’s, so much of it has been kind of stretched that a lot of people are grabbing a hold of the more kind of sensational parts of what doesn’t jibe with the story to discredit the movement.”