When you look at the line-up of heroes that Marvel have corralled into The Avengers, this week’s super-powered blockbuster offering, you can spot an odd-one-out among the ensemble. While, indeed, Bruce Banner and his green, ultra-peeved manifestation The Hulk have appeared in multiple films beforehand, this marks our introduction to Mark Ruffalo in the role.
Ruffalo, a seasoned veteran of quite fantastic films of all shapes and sizes (The Kids Are All Right, Zodiac, Shutter Island), proves to be a perfect choice, and brings a wounded, nervous vulnerability to Banner’s simmering, submerged superpower. However, as revealed at last week’s Avengers press conference in London, he was initially moved by the ‘brutal’ fan reactions to his casting.
Afterwards, we had the chance to sit down with Ruffalo at the Avengers press junket, and this curiosity-killed-the-cast-member story was an unavoidable talking point. His answers, candid and free of press-managed polish, were extremely enlightening, as Ruffalo covered not only his relationship with Marvel Studios moving forward, but how he has come to terms with being a player in the often intimidating Hollywood machine.
What makes you angry?
Selfishness… Sometimes my kids. If you’re not yelling at your kids, you’re not spending enough time with them. I try not to let that get the better of me. Greedy, selfish people. Corrupt institutions make me very angry.
But isn’t Hollywood a greedy institution?
Oh, yes. And that makes me angry. And I even tried to run away from it at one point, but I realise that Hollywood isn’t exactly what I do, although it can be confused for it sometimes.
Has there been much talk of a sequel to The Avengers yet? Or any other Marvel movies?
Depending on how well the movie does, I think. I signed up for six. I think in any order they want. If they want me to do six Hulks, sure. But they’d probably put a Hulk out every three years, and I’d be well into my 60s by then!
So you’re locked in?
Yeah. Things would have to go pretty darn well for them to do six Hulks. It has an obsolescence built into it. I have a feeling they’re going to get sick of me before I end up doing six pictures. If I do do all six pictures, then it’ll be like my day job. It’ll be a way to know that I have a consistent income for the next six years. They have a pretty good track record, so I’m not too worried about doing something that’s too crappy. [knocks on coffee table] That’s me knocking on wood!
But isn’t signing six movie contracts an aspect of that big, greedy Hollywood institution? You said you’ve come to terms with that. What was the point of realisation for you?
There’s the business side of things, then there’s the artistic side. And they’re not the same. But you can easily mistake them. My realisation is that I’m an actor, I’m not really a business man, and I pay people to be the business people. But just because I pay them to do it… I’m still running the show. I’m still the one who has to go to work every day, and I have to be happy with what I’m doing. And that attitude adjustment plays itself out subtly, or not so subtly. But since then I have been much happier with acting and the business side. I got rid of some toxic people who were a part of my life, and things got marginally better after that.
I dropped out for two years. I spent that time with my little children, their really formative years. And moved away from Hollywood and totally restructured my life. I’d found myself having to take every job that was coming along, because I bought a house and had the cars and the kids were in private school. [So] I just simplified everything, and made it so, if I want, I could do one movie a year. And the fact of just having that freedom all of a sudden reminded me of how happy I was just being an actor, and how simple a life we could have and still be very happy together.
What was it like taking over the role of the Hulk, and stepping into the role after Edward Norton and Eric Bana?
Those are two really great actors, and great Banners. And people love them. And the fans have a lot of expectations from that role, and they love the Hulk. And I’ve never had a performance so badly reviewed even before I shot a single frame. I didn’t realise quite how scrutinised it was going to be until I was already in, otherwise I’m not sure I would have done it! But, at the end of the day, you can only do the best you can do.
What I was excited about, and what I knew would be different, was that the technology had advanced to such a place that, you know, with motion capture, I could actually impress a performance. I’d be the first actor playing both the Hulk and Banner. And so that alone was like, ‘okay, that’ll be mine’. And it’s really a continuation of those other Banners. We’re just picking up where Ed left off. He’s an older Banner now, he’s been on the run longer. He’s got to the point where he’s tired of running, and he has a certain sense of humour about himself, and he’s turning to face the monster within him which he’s been running away from.
You said at the press conference yesterday that you gave into curiosity and read some of these online reactions to your casting. What sort of comments stuck out for you?
‘Ruffalo’s a tool’. ‘He sounds retarded.’ ‘That guy is barely awake, how’s he going to be pissed off as the Hulk?’ [laughs] ‘Norton Norton Norton What The Fuck Ruffalo.’ It was pretty brutal, I have to say. It definitely hurt my feelings. [laughs]
Did that spur you on? Or encourage you to prove them wrong?
It scared me! It actually scared me. It made me really insecure. And the funny thing is, I walked on set with these amazing actors – they all have their own movies, they all have been in movies in this world. I felt totally out of place. But, I realised that everything that I was feeling was pretty much really good for Banner. [laughs] And so, I just took all of my insecurity, and all of that, and just shoved it into the performance, basically. So I want to thank those fans for being so hard on me!