John Byrne meets Avengers Assemble star Mark Ruffalo to talk about Marvel comics, movie-making and money.
Mark Ruffalo is one of the good guys. Actually, scratch that – he’s one of the great guys. He’s also one of the most noteworthy actors of his generation, having starred in films such as Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Zodiac, Shutter Island, Just Like Heaven, You Can Count on Me and The Kids Are All Right. For the latter he received a richly-deserved Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor.
And in a small room in a suite at swish London hotel Claridge’s he’s doing an excellent impression of a warm, intelligent human being. He’s also treating this star thing he’s on – he plays Bruce Banner/The Hulk in the mega movie Avengers Assemble – with the air of someone who realises how important being a film star is: he's just not interested.
Get him talking about making movies, though, and he gets very excited...
What part did Marvel comics play in your youth and which characters, if any, did you enjoy more than others?
I read a bunch of different comics when I was a kid. Me and my cousins would - I wasn’t a fanatic - but that was our form of entertainment on the weekends and we’d pass them around and trade them up. So it was DC, it was Batman, it was the Justice League, it was The Avengers, it was Captain America and invariably I was a big fan of the Hulk. And watched the TV show. And we played, we goofed around, we played those parts but I wasn’t an insane fan of the Hulk. And then later Wolverine and the X-men were cool to me. It’s been a part of my culture but not in a big way.
Initially you said and were you a little bit reluctant to play Hulk because of the fans?
I didn’t really take into account how intensely opinionated the fans are even before you shoot a single frame of the film. And I did get my arse handed to me when it was announced that I was going to be taking over the part. It made a lot of people angry and they couldn’t possibly see why they would pick me for it. I never had a part so scrutinised before I even shot it. But I understood. There’s been great Bruce Banners. I respect those actors and admire them and I just see this as a continuation of the great work they did. And hope that it satisfies the veracious appetite of the people who love this character so much.
Given your body of work you could never imagine that you were going to be starring in a film where you’d be playing this scientific genius and his green alter ego?
No. I hadn’t imagined that... Yes it was a big surprise. I was happy to be asked to do it. And I hope they ask me to that dance again.
Is it a bit like returning to the ancient art of mime?
Our big fight scene I was doing in a green room... and so I was by myself doing the whole movie, doing all the Hulk stuff in a little green screen cube. So it was, you know, you had to use your imagination a lot. Oddly enough it matched very well with that ancient acting medium called theatre. And all the years that I’d spent doing that really kind of prepared my imagination in a way that I hadn’t expected to be beneficial doing the green screen stuff.
Green screen sounds fun in your case.
It was really challenging. Like it takes a lot of concentration because you had to put these things outside of you. It’s your imagination. So it was kind of fun. It got fun after I got used to looking like a total tool in the most unflattering suit they could possibly concoct for a vain, glorious creature like myself. After I got used to that I actually started to have some fun.
One would never imagine you playing the Hulk so what do you think Joss Whedon saw in you and offered you the role?
Well he knew my work. I’ve done some things that have a little bit edgier, harsher, darker qualities to them. I asked him, I was like, why me Joss? And he said, because I think you bring a sense of humour to this that I would really like to see even though there’s this world weariness about you and he’s like, I really want him to be an everyman, a common man. Even though he’s this brilliant scientist I really see him as an everyman. And I don’t know why. I tried to talk him out of it believe me.
As a person already involved in the independent film industry what’s your view on the so-called idea crisis in American films?
They found a way to make a lot of money and America is deeply enamoured of the idea of making a lot of money. No matter how you make it. But I don’t think there’s a crisis of ideas. I just think that for some reason the public wants more readily accessible material that is... sentimental to their youth in some way. It’s easier to market. People are much more forgiving just because they already have an understanding of the material they’re coming to see.
What we’re seeing also happening at the same time is this explosion of independent films that are really being reviewed much better and actually having financial successes although not as big. And so you see what I’ve seen since I started doing independent movies over the past 20 years now, is this kind of moving towards the middle.
The bigger movies are getting smaller; well, looking more like indie movies, and indie movies are looking more like big movies. And I hope there’s still a place for the independent picture. Every ten years they say independent movies are dead. And then of course some great independent comes and we have a whole renaissance.
Do you plan on directing another movie?
I am developing something. I would like to keep doing it, yes.
Can you tell us about it?
Quickly, it’s about an ex-porn star who is raising his 13-year-old son on his own after his ex-wife and his son are in a car accident and his wife dies. And it’s a very kind of, The Kids are Alright type of sensibility... And the kid’s very precocious and they’re living in a one room apartment in Beachwood looking for a home.