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April 2004
13 Going on 30: AMark Ruffalo

By Todd Gilchrist

13 Going on 30: An Interview with Mark Ruffalo

Mark Ruffalo has enjoyed a busy couple of months: after a starring role in last fall's erotic thriller "In the Cut" opposite Meg Ryan, he played a supporting role in Michel Gondry's brain-twister "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" and now finds himself featuring in a prominent role in the upcoming "13 Going on 30" opposite "Alias" star Jennifer Garner. The actor, whose ability to transform himself into almost any character producers or directors throw his way, recently spoke to Blackfilm about shifting gears from dramatic roles to the relative simplicity of a leading man in a romantic comedy.

You're working everywhere, man.

Mark: Yeah. I've had a little run. You take it where you can get it in this business.

You have the best line in the movie.. "Spin the rapist". How do you deliver that line and still keep it appropriate for the audience?

Mark: That's a great line. My belief about acting in one foot on a banana peel and the other one in the grave. People say funny things all the time during really serious moments in life. It happens a lot. So, I think just play it as truthfully as possible and hope people get it, are with you enough to drop into the humor of it for a moment. The line was in the script.

How hard was it to develop the idea that she comes back into your life and doesn't have any recollection of you are?

Mark: It was impossible. It's so outrageous and they really didn't give me a lot to work with there writing-wise so hopefully, we get through it fast enough that we don't lose the audience. I was just keeping him in shock to we didn't have to go into it too much.

What did you and Jennifer do to develop that?

Mark: We did a lot of rehearsals which you don't get to do a lot in this type of movie and we were always talking, finding different ways to modulate it. The drug thing came out of a rehearsal. Some of that was improvised and so that was one way that we found to get into it, to make it kind of plausible.

Do you have an alternate path you wish you'd taken when you were a teen?

Mark: I lit up a huge field on fire when I was a kid. I was throwing a lit match at my brother and missed him and hit the grass. It burnt down this marshland. I almost burned my neighbor's house down.

You were a teen pyro?

Mark: (laughing) Yeah.. No but I was the pariah of the neighborhood. They wanted to crucify me basically. But I felt really badly about it. I went and turned myself in, actually. This was in Wisconsin. I probably would have done that a little differently.

Are you still friends with anyone you knew at thirteen or fourteen?

Mark: Yeah, a small handful of people. We moved away when I was fifteen. I started a whole new life. I see people in Wisconsin. I have a couple of friends still from Virginia Beach. My sister was living there so I see my friends but we don't keep a tight correspondence.

Were you one of those kids whose older sister brought her friends over?

Mark: No. I was the oldest. But, she brought her younger friends over.

Were you in sports?

Mark: I was on the wresting team at FC. I was the freestyle champion of Virginia at one point. I did okay in wrestling. I was pretty good.

What's the meanest thing a girl ever did to you?

Mark: One girl looked at me.. I thought I was getting somewhere with her and she was just like 'you're a geek'.

She said that?

Mark: Yeah. She didn't know she'd said it. It was a thought that came over her and she just blurted it out. Then another time when I was a little bit older I was working with this girl and I had a crush on her and one night after work we were all hanging out and having drinks and stuff and she's like, 'hey, you wanna come over?" I was like "oh yeah'. I'm following her. We're driving (in separate cars) and she keeps driving faster and faster and the next thing I know she's running red lights. I followed her for like forty-five minutes. I don't know where the hell I am and she just left me. At some point I was like 'oh, this is a game. She's testing me'. Then I realized she was just ditching me. It was horrible and I was in the middle of nowhere. I guess I was about 18.

Where is home now?

Mark: I'm between here and New York. Half the year here (in L.A.) and half the year there.

Has your wife left acting?

Mark: Yeah. She's done. She has a store here. She has a jewelry store, Caviar and Kind here on Sunset. It's across the street from the Tiffany Theater so we're both represented. It's a cute little store so go buy things.

Did you ever play that "Seven Minutes in Heaven" blindfolded in a closet game like they do in this film?

Mark: Yeah. The equivalent. Hospital, doctor, spin the bottle, yeah, yeah. We did all that stuff. If I was in the closet with anybody it was with mutual consent. You had your eyes open.

What was your first stage role?

Mark: It was a musical called "The Runaways" and I played the detective who is looking for some runaway kids. I was doing Peter Falk as "Colombo". It was like (in Peter Falk Colombo voice) 'Can I ask you a question?' I thought that was great acting.

What did you think about the kid (Sean Marquette) who plays your younger self in the film?

Mark: I didn't meet him until after. They shot (his part) after I did all my stuff. But, I got to see the movie the other night and I thought he did a great job. He really makes my job a lot easier for the later part of the film because you care about him. He's a sweet kid.

Were you a nerd as a kid?

Mark: I was worse than him (Matt character). I mean I didn't have his self-confidence. That character has a really great possession of himself; great self-confidence. He doesn't care that they're making fun of him dancing. I really admire him. I didn't have that kind of self-confidence.

What is your knack for vanishing into a character? It never seems to be the same person.

Mark: Great! I think probably my training. I come from a traditional theater background. Stella Adler was one of my teachers and that training was you didn't drag the material down to yourself. You lifted yourself up. You were in service to the material. You were trying to get rid of yourself. We were doing a lot of character work. Right now most actors are personalities and acting is not what they were talking about when I was being taught by these old masters. I became an actor so I didn't have to be myself. I like to disappear in the parts I play.

What was the biggest stretch for you?

Mark: Probably "In the Cut". Who he is, his profession, where he comes from, his experience of the world is just so far away from anything I've ever done or been or seen.

Is this nice guy in "13 Going on 30" closer to the real you?

Mark: I live a bourgeois life. I have a kid and I don't like parties and I did all my drinking and drug use very early on when I was in Virginia Beach. I get my kicks from my work. The ease of his life is probably closer to mine.

We hear you weren't thrilled having to dance in this film.

Mark: The dancing was horrible! I almost didn't want to do this movie. I literally read it and I'm like 'I can't do this movie. I can't get up and do those scenes'. I'm like 'white boy don't dance'. When she (Jennifer) dragged me out (onto the dance floor) she was literally dragging me out and I had hours of rehearsal with a dance coach who taught me how to do all the moves and stuff and still, when we got into actually shooting it and there were three hundred extras around, I did not want to do that scene.

Was the dancing more of an ordeal that the bedroom scenes in "In the Cut"?

Mark: Yeah. (laughing) I don't dance ever.. but.

Do you ever have sleepless night worrying about an upcoming scene?

Mark: Sure. Usually, the first night before I start working on a picture, I can't sleep. If it's a particularly difficult scene I have a hard time sleeping. I'm worried about it. But, always, the night before I start something, I can't sleep very well.

How do you keep in touch with how you felt as a teen?

Mark: I look at what kids have as input these days and man, that's intense stuff. They're ironic little kids. I enjoyed growing up part of my life in Virginia Beach. We had the ocean and the beach and a beautiful landscape. We were outdoors all the time and we played outside. There was a lot to do. I really cherish that time. I remember riding my bike down the boardwalk with nowhere to go and looking at the girls. It was really innocent. As we're bombarded with the imagery that we are and now, post 9-11, it's hard not to get hardened by the world and the amount of violence that's allowed to be shown to kids these days. I don't think I have a problem with kids seeing sex. They're introducing heavy artillery to our kids in cartoons and that's not a problem.

So do you disagree with the FCC trying to clamp down on.

Mark: I'm baffled by the amount of violence. If we're going to go after something, let's bring that into the loop too. That kind of stuff, it's so shocking, I don't see how it can't imprint on a young person's mind. Crack down on the right things. Sex doesn't seem to be the problem to me. We're all gonna do it. It's how we procreate. That's not the problem. The problem to me in violence. It's not cool to kill somebody or hurt people.

Why do you think we're more worried about sex than violence?

Mark: Because we're a really puritanical culture. We're warriors this culture and we're very puritanical about sex and very embracing about violence and I don't know why that is. It seems odd to me. One embraces life and one destroys life. I don't understand it. This country consumes more pornography than any other country in the world. Let's grow up. There's some 'not facing reality' going on.

How do you live every day with this problem?

Mark: In my life and the people I know this doesn't exist. There's the illusion of pop culture and then real people's lives. I've come to realize that they are two different things.

You're becoming more famous. It that a threat to your life?

Mark: I'm sacrificing part of my anonymity which I enjoy to have more options as far as what I can get off the ground. It's a give and take sort of thing.

How much of a tragedy was that year of illness you had?

Mark: It was like the best time of my life; the best time and the worst time because, fortunately I didn't die. I don't have any permanent damage and it's turned out okay. I got my career back but, at the time, it looked like I was gonna lose everything. But I got to spend a year with my son. I got to put the brakes on on a career that was starting to feel out of control for me. I wasn't enjoying acting anymore. I was looking more toward the acquisitions, doing studio pictures. I got involved in the business side of it and was forgetting the reason why I started doing this in the first place. It just made me more aware of what I want. It changed my priorities and changed my values in a strange way. It made me realize how fragile this is and, in the end, they're gonna throw dirt on you and I want to look at my life when I'm 70 and say 'that was my life. I lived my life. I didn't live my agent's life. I didn't live my mom's life. I lived a life that is totally authentic to me.

Are you still interested in doing live theater

Mark: Yeah. I really miss it and I've had some opportunities to go back to it. I haven't because I do feel like I've had a chance to. I've just been more interested in doing film right now and I don't want to go away from my family for six months which was what I would have had to have done if I did the play on Broadway. It's something that I miss desperately. I do readings at the public library. I just did a benefit scene night for my old acting teacher. I did a benefit of "Waiting for Godot" about four months ago. I've been able to do these things that aren't big public openings but still keep my foot in the theater because I do love it so much. I will be returning to it. I just am feeling like I'm squaring some things away. You do feel like you had better take it when you can.

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