Catching Up With Mark Ruffalo
By Barry Walters
Like Annette Bening and Julianne Moore, who also star in the milestone lesbian family dramedy The Kids Are All Right, Mark Ruffalo ventures between Hollywood blockbusters (like Martin Scorsese's Shutter Island) and acclaimed indie smashes (such as Michel Gondry's Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.) Equally adept at leading-man and character actor roles, the 42-year-old Los Angeleno puts his versatile talents to particularly good use in lesbian director/cowriter Lisa Cholodenko's Kids. Ruffalo plays Paul, a freewheeling restaurateur who gets an unexpected call from Joni (Mia Wasikowska), the 18-year-old daughter of Jules (Moore) and Nic (Bening). She's his biological daughter and her younger brother Laser (Josh Hutcherson) is his biological son -- shared products of Paul's anonymous and nearly forgotten sperm donation. The siblings' blood bond with Paul complicates their relationship with their moms, who are drawn to (Jules) and repulsed by (Nic) Paul's easy-going charm. As you'll see below, that's a quality Ruffalo himself possesses.
Out: I'll start off by saying that you kinda look like a much sexier version of me in this movie.
Mark Ruffalo: [Laughs] I'll take that as the highest compliment. Thank you!
This movie seems designed to appeal to every gender and sexual orientation, and you seem to be in it to satisfy straight women as well as bohemian gay men. Even the teenage girl in the trailer looks at your photo and calls you a 'stone-cold fox.'
That's the magic of movie-making!
I'd interviewed Lisa Cholodenko [for a profile in the August issue of Out] and told her that one of the things I like about this film is that it has something for everyone, and yet it doesn't come across calculated, even if it might've been.
I read the script and I laughed and saw my relationship [laughs nervously] in it. I saw people I knew. I saw myself as a teenager trying to express my independence and individuality away from my family. I missed the little-bit-for-everybody angle of it. I just saw it as an honest telling of that story.
Lisa told me that the longer she's worked with great actors, the more she's learned to step out of the way and let you guys do your job.
It takes a lot of discipline and comfort for a director to allow an actor to inhabit their space in a movie and trust them. But at the same time, she knew when to ask for what she wanted and how to guide, and that's a very fine balance -- to allow people to be the best they can be and at the same time direct them.
What did you bring to the character that's uniquely yours?
There are things I relate to with him as far as his openness and taking life as it's presented to him. What I also saw is that there's something slightly tragic about him. Even in his complete abandon and enjoyment of life, there's some part of him that's broken and lost. Those things together -- joie de vivre and a certain sadness -- will let you go a long way with the character. In some sense, it's walking the edge of a razor; feeling dangerous to a degree, and yet benevolent. He has to be openly sexually mischievous but not kinky or dirty, and be open to those kids but at the same time not be so totally liberal that they screw themselves up.
You had a difficult part to play because you had to be seductive to the Julianne Moore character and threatening to the Annette Bening character and yet appealing enough that she's momentarily won over by you, but not so entirely sympathetic to the audience that you undermine its rooting for the primary family relationship.
It was like taking a flying fuck at a rolling donut. I wasn't sure I could pull it off, but I knew what my job was -- to serve that story and that script, which at its essence is about the sanctity of marriage, whether it's between a man and a woman or a woman and a woman or a man and a man. When two people commit themselves to each other, there's a universal truth that transcends gender politics.
Did you know that this would be a landmark film in terms of being true to gay experience and yet at the same time reaching out to a straight audience?
Well, goddamn, I hope so. What I love about the movie and why it worked for me is that in no way was it political. Any politics tend to polarize people. Just the word politics has 'pol' in it, which is to separate, to exclude, to pull apart from. And I think if anyone tried to tell this story as a political movie, that's exactly what it would've done. Because it came from such a personal place in Lisa, and because it was told with such honesty and frankness and without any pretense of having an answer, and really embraced the difficulties of a relationship with somebody in the context of a marriage or even just a longtime commitment, I think that this film gets at what's universal. Instead of being political, it's actually true, and will do more to bring people together on this issue than to separate them.