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 Scorseses Shutter Island) and acclaimed indie smashes (such as Michel Gondrys 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 Cholodenkos 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). Shes his biological daughter and her younger brother Laser (Josh Hutcherson) is his biological son -- shared products of Pauls 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) Pauls easy-going charm. As youll see below, thats a quality Ruffalo himself possesses.
Out: Ill start off by saying that you kinda look like a much sexier version of me in this movie.
Mark Ruffalo: [Laughs] Ill 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.
Thats the magic of movie-making!
Id 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 doesnt come across calculated, even if it mightve 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 shes worked with great actors, the more shes 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 thats 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 thats uniquely yours?
There are things I relate to with him as far as his openness and taking life as its presented to him. What I also saw is that theres something slightly tragic about him. Even in his complete abandon and enjoyment of life, theres some part of him thats 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, its 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 shes 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 wasnt 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 its 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, theres 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, thats exactly what it wouldve 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 whats universal. Instead of being political, its actually true, and will do more to bring people together on this issue than to separate them.
Did you think it was going to be controversial?
I did know that this would come out right in the center of the debate about gay marriage, and was excited to [read a script] dealing with these issues in a sober, mature, and balanced way. My belief is that deeply embedded in the human heart is the need for family, and well create family whether we can put a name on it or not. Im quite unabashedly progay marriage, but I had no idea how this film would pan out.
One of the things about the marketing of this film is that its revealed right there in the trailer that the Julianne Moore character goes to bed with your character. And while that may be appealing to a straight audience, its a red flag for a lesbian audience that may feel burnt by films like Chasing Amy where the lesbian ends up with the guy.
The people who have taken umbrage with this movie have not been the straights; its been lesbians. I had some discussions with friends of mine who are lesbians. I dont like that script. Well, why? Because shes with a man. To me, it seems that they would understand that sexuality is something that couldnt be judged or easily explained or put in the context of normal or abnormal. Im not saying that they understand sexuality any better than anyone else because theyre gay but because of the way homosexuality has been judged in our culture. There must be a huge query that must go on in the soul of someone who is told their sexuality is abnormal.
[Spoiler alert: Those who havent seen the movie but plan to should consider skipping the following paragraph.]
Ultimately, what happens in the movie is that she ends up with the woman she loves. And yes, she had a transgression, but why is that transgression any different than a man having an affair with a woman outside of the relationship or a man having an affair with another man outside of the relationship? When you see the way Lisa handles the sex in the film, shes using my character as a sex object. In one scene, Jules is literally using my face as a riding pommel. [Laughs] Shes saddled the horse. And to me, that says so much.
Well, there is this history of films that at worst have exploited lesbians and at the very least failed to deliver something that reflects their lives.
Maybe this movie is trading on that syntax people have come to know. This reminds me of a little poem that my father told me when I was young:
Birdie, birdie on the sill
Yellow beak and yellow bill
Lure it in with bits of bread
Then smash in its fucking head
Which leads me to a more refined quote from George Bernard Shaw: "You need them laughing long enough to shove the medicine down their throats." This movie is not made for a lesbian audience. It encompasses that, but this movie is made for the human audience. Its made to transcend the sexual preference question and anyone can take the film to task on that particular issue if they want, but to me theyre getting caught in the shoestrings and missing the sky. I like that people are seeing the film, and that to me is more important than it being a battering ram against the opposition.
The Kids Are All Right is now playing in theaters.