Mark Ruffalo on Hulk Sequels, Avengers Fame, and Dance Dance Revolution
Given Mark Ruffalo’s reported six-picture deal with Marvel Studios to portray mild-mannered scientist Bruce Banner and his rage monster alter ego The Hulk in multiple movies after this week’s The Avengers – and considering how well his take on the iconic comic book character plays, both as Banner and the beast — it seems safe to say that the indie veteran’s first superhero outing won’t be his last. But before The Avengers director Joss Whedon came calling, Ruffalo admits he wasn’t so sure he could pull off such a task. “I didn’t have the confidence to do it,” he told Movieline, “and no one was coming to me with those kinds of parts.”
Making Ruffalo’s task even more Herculean in the superhero super-team up The Avengers is the fact that two entirely different recent attempts at a Hulk movie precede his (Ang Lee’s 2003 Hulk and Louis Leterrier’s The Incredible Hulk). But Ruffalo’s approach was two-fold: First, he saw his Hulk as a progression from predecessors Eric Bana and Edward Norton, one who’s recruited into Nick Fury’s Avengers Initiative (alongside Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, Black Widow, and Hawkeye) after years spent harnessing the monster within. And second: Thanks to motion capture technology, he got to actually play The Hulk.
Ruffalo spoke with Movieline about the potentially life-changing decision to take on The Avengers, how far his Banner has come in accepting his gift/curse, why he coined the phrase “boy soup” in relation to co-star Scarlett Johansson, and which of his superhero co-stars possess the greatest skills… in Dance Dance Revolution.
It’s neat to see you all together, and it seems like whenever any of the cast is asked to name their favorite moment from shooting, it’s one of the group scenes when everyone was together.
I totally agree. My favorite scenes are when we were all together, and then I have to say working with [Robert] Downey in those scenes was really a joy and a pleasure. He’s one of my heroes and it was just very satisfying to be doing Banner to his Stark, it was very cool.
Most of your castmates had already experienced what it’s like to don the superhero suit, but this was your first. What do you feel a role like this offered you in contrast to the kinds of films you’d previously done? What does a movie like The Avengers do for your career?
You know, I think it opens up another audience to me that I haven’t ever played to before, and I think it’s going to give me a visibility that I probably haven’t had before, which is a little scary to me. But also it’s going to help me make other movies, little movies that I like to make, as well.
What part of the experience do you find scary?
I move pretty freely throughout the world without being recognized…
I can go around pretty freely – I get recognized but for the most part I can disappear, and I’m afraid that’s going to get a lot harder after this. And that’s fine; that’s part of what I do. But I’m also excited to just be kind of in another realm that’s new to me, that’s challenging to me. And that’s been pretty cool to crack.
Did you have any desire to make this sort of mainstream move earlier in your career, and for whatever reasons you didn’t?
No, I didn’t really have any interest. And I didn’t really have the confidence to do it, I don’t think. I just didn’t see myself in that, and no one was coming to me with those kinds of parts. No one thought of that for whatever reason.
So somewhere along the way, you got more confident and someone had the brilliant idea to cast you in a role like this.
Yes, thank you Joss Whedon! [Laughs] I was surprised when it came but I feel like I’m a little like Banner. I’m like, OK – that sounds appealing to me, but can I pull it off? Will I destroy things? I spent a lot of time talking with Joss about how to make it work and why he thought I would be the right person for it. That all made sense to me.
Even within this expansive swath of comic book lore and this group of characters, The Hulk has an especially interesting history with movie audiences given the two previous standalone Hulk movies, for starters, not to mention the T.V. show…
Which was a big, important part of this one.
What was your approach to the role, even just knowing that audiences had not so long ago seen Eric Bana and Ed Norton take a crack at it?
I had a lot of reservations about it because of that, obviously, and I’m a big fan of both of those actors and respect the hell out of them, and really admire what they did with those parts – each of them. But I also liked the idea that this is kind of the progression of those movies – it’s Banner, who’s been on the run for a long time. At the end of the last movie we see him almost able to control this thing; at least he can control not turning into it. He spent two years on the road not turning into The Hulk. He’s older now, he went to India where there’s such intense suffering that his problems are all of a sudden dwarfed in the face of the real human misery happening in those slums.
And this is not an origin story. He's a bit farther along from the start.
Right. He’s older, and at some point I think you get tired of running from yourself. I think he’s at that moment where he’s like, ‘This is who I am, this is who I’m going to be, I’m going to die one day’ – maybe he won’t [Laughs] – but am I going to keep running from the inevitable, or am I going to turn and face it? And that’s kind of where we are, and I think that’s a nice progression from the other Hulks and the other Banners. There’s an idea that maybe Banner can impress his will onto the monster and get him to do stuff for good instead of just destroy. He goes back and this becomes his family, the thing he’s never been able to have. So I was reticent about it but at the same time I saw an enormous opportunity with the technology as well, because my problem with the Hulks was that once you got into the Hulk, it just felt like a different movie. It just didn’t feel like that same creature, you know?
So it was really important for me to do the motion capture and to play the Hulk as well as Banner. I probably wouldn’t have done it if I couldn’t do both of them, and as an actor that was the really exciting thing for me and the thing that made me say, well, this is how I’ll be different – I’ll actually get to play The Hulk as well. So all of my fear and trepidation about moving forward was quelled by actually getting to do Hulk.
In recent years, motion capture acting has emerged much more prominently into the conversation – the acting element, the idea that it’s as much an art and not merely the work of animators.
Totally. And it’s a collaboration. It’s like playing in a band, it’s like a whole group of people and you’re all working together and the final outcome is greater than the parts on their own. I loved working with the guys at ILM. I think we’re all rejoicing in the way The Hulk turned out. All of a sudden I started realizing, God, what you can do! The imagination’s the limit. Now we’re no longer, as actors, fighting against prosthetics to have a performance come through. Now every facial expression can be manifested without being blocked by a prosthetic or by make-up, so once you get over being in a little ridiculous leotard and looking like this [points to photo of himself during shoot, clad in skin-tight motion capture suit]you can actually have a really great time and do some really cool, totally out-there things.
To listen to the audience in my screening, Hulk went over so well in Avengers that it seems that a Hulk spin-off movie would do quite well…
I would hope so! But they have a lot of other movies that they’re making. [Laughs] They have three already in the works. I’d be totally open to it, but I think that’s a long way away.
Earlier today you mentioned it, so please explain the story behind Scarlett Johansson’s “boy soup.”
[Laughs] We all walked into a party and all the stunt men were in a hot tub together, trying to get Scarlett to jump in with them, and I looked over at her and I thought it looked like she was making boy soup, standing over them laughing! And that was where the boy soup came from.
Jeremy Renner also outed the cast as having had a Dance Dance Revolution party together.
I was there!
I almost can’t believe that’s real, it sounds so surreal.
It was hilarious!
So settle this for me: Which Avenger was the best at Dance Dance Revolution?
[Giggling, Ruffalo pauses.] It’s a tie between [Chris] Evans and [Jeremy] Renner, I would say.
And there you have it, folks! Enjoy that mental image.
The Avengers hits theaters May 4. Read Stephanie Zacharek's review here.