Mark Ruffalo stars as the Incredible Hulk in Marvel's all-star superhero extravaganza The Avengers
When one thinks of veteran character actor Mark Ruffalo, one might think of his 2000 breakout film, Kenneth Lonergan’s You Can Count on Me. Or perhaps of all the directors he’s worked with, from Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) to David Fincher (Zodiac) to Martin Scorsese (Shutter Island). Most probably remember his Oscar-nominated supporting turn in Lisa Cholodenko’s The Kids Are All Right. I think it’s fair to say, though, that a giant franchise superhero movie would be the last place people would expect to see him. Well, that’s all about to change.
"My first reaction was to try to talk Joss out of casting me," Ruffalo recalls of the moment director Joss Whedon told him he wanted him to replace Edward Norton as the Hulk in this summer’s mammoth comic book movie, The Avengers. "Then I started to think, if I can get past all of the baggage of the part, I could maybe do something different and cool with it."
Still, Ruffalo’s time on set was a challenge at first. "I was really nervous. My overall feeling on the set was probably not so dissimilar to Banner’s in the film. What am I doing here? Do I belong here? Look at how cool all these guys are!"
Ruffalo may now be one of the cool kids, which also includes Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man, Chris Hemsworth as Thor and Chris Evans as Captain America, but the Hulk has always been hit or miss, mostly miss, with film audiences. Ruffalo’s take, though, is resonating so much with fans that Marvel is now considering another standalone Hulk movie in the future.
The success of the character is something Ruffalo attributes to working with Whedon. "My first rehearsal with Joss was literally an hour in a room just wrestling," Ruffalo explains of Whedon’s unorthodox approach to bringing out the beast in the man. "Joss and I definitely felt that this was a continuation of the last Hulk movie, with this idea that he might have some control over it. This next version of Banner has been on the run for another three or four years, is getting into his 40s, getting tired, longing for a life, maybe a family, and has a sense of humour about himself and a level of acceptance for this side of himself. Maybe he can finally face himself."
That’s an awful lot of depth for a character who is most famous for smashing things.
Ruffalo has signed a six-picture deal with Marvel to appear as the Hulk on screen. While thrilled at the possibilities, Ruffalo, who used to read Marvel comics as a boy, is also a realist. "I mean, how much longer can I play the Hulk? If it takes three years to make the next Avengers and then another three years to make a Hulk, I’ll be in my 50s," Ruffalo, now 44, admits. "At some point, there is an obsolescence to a six-picture deal. I’ll be happy if I end up just doing three."
In the meantime, Ruffalo finally has a movie he can watch with the three kids he has with his wife of 12 years, Sunrise Coigney. "I do realize that most of the movies I’ve made, my kids won’t be able to see until they’re in their teens," Ruffalo quips. "This is something I felt like they could see. It interests me; it isn’t dumb; it doesn’t glorify violence just for the thrill of it. And at the same time, I don’t feel like I’ve compromised my artistic integrity. So it kind of just fit all the right boxes."
Perhaps Ruffalo’s integrity is intact because The Avengers is not just mindless popcorn fluff, but rather a genuine smash of a film. "Everything was grounded in character and in a reality that you really wouldn’t expect from this movie," Ruffalo states with evident pride and satisfaction in the project. "If you can bring something real and naturalistic to this totally fantastical, unnatural world, then you stand out from the rest."