This weekend Marvel Studio’s five-movie master plan finally comes to fruition with the multi-million dollar superhero mash-up The Avengers. Considering that the studio took a big risk in launching their own production company with plans of developing their entire universe for big screen consumption, things have gone remarkably well. They’ve managed to successfully nurture along all of the major players in the team in separate blockbusters building up to this series climax. Well, almost. The big green guy has been troublesome. Despite the fact that he was the member of The Avengers who was the most recognizable to non-comic book fans going into this process, no one could ever seem to make the Hulk smash just right. Well…until now anyways.
Geek filmmaking specialist Joss Whedon (Buffy, Firefly, Cabin In The Woods, all that good stuff) raised a few angry fanboy eyebrows when he cast indie film stalwart Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner. Though he certainly churned out strong character work for years in films like Zodiac, You Can Count On Me, and Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, nothing about the roles suggested like Ruffalo was right to play the bad guy bashing Hulk. But much like the furor surrounding the casting of Michael Keaton as Batman in the 80s, the fears will be instantly dismissed once The Avengers is released. The somewhat introverted, sweet natured Ruffalo is a perfect Banner, which is the key to the role. His motion-capture performance as The Hulk is obviously a blast as well and there’s a nice continuity between Jekyll and Hyde. Yet, without an appropriately witty and heartfelt Banner, the character wouldn’t be nearly as compelling. It’s by far the best cinematic incarnation the Hulk has even received in a rare tent pole blockbuster that is actually worthy of the hype.
We got a chance to speak with Ruffalo about his time wearing the purple shorts, chatting about everything from the humiliating motion capture leotards he wore to his thoughts of playing The Hulk deep into old age. You know, all the important issues.
C&G Magazine: Since you’re coming into The Avengers as the third person to play this role on the big screen in the last ten years, what did you do to differentiate your take on Hulk and Banner from Eric Bana and Edward Norton?
Mark Ruffalo: Well, the only advantage that I had, really, was that the technology brought us to a place where the actor could actually play The Hulk. The other actors didn’t get to play The Hulk even though we all got to play Banner. We all worked really hard on this movie to make The Hulk feel real and make him seem like an actual human being getting pissed off. He’s tender. He’s funny. We worked really hard to make him human and that’s ILM as much as it is me or anything else…and Joss Whedon of course.
Joss and I talked a lot about that. I signed on before there was even a script, but we talked about what we both wanted to see. Whedon was incredibly sensitive to the fact that me and Cobie [Smulders] are really the only new additions that he brings to this game. So, he was like, “Buddy, I really want you to score. You’re the only thing I’m really adding to the mix here.” But we definitely saw this as a continuation of the past movies. I loved those movies and I loved those actors. I thought they were great Banners. This is just an older version of him, a more mature version. He’s been on the run longer. He’s gotten to a place where he’s ready to deal with this and face it. And he has an almost ironic sense of humor about the situation he finds himself in. All of those things were just a continuation of where we last saw him and the idea that maybe I could control this thing. Maybe I finally have some sense of control over it.
But you know, we were really going back to Bill Bixby’s Hulk with a Banner who really had this kind of world-weary charm about him and was trying to live his life even though he’s on the run. We really wanted to engage in that life and that’s what we were always going for.
CGM: Since you got to play The Hulk, how did you find the experience of watching yourself in those skintight motion capture suits? Any footage that you hope never gets out?
MR: My closest moment to turning into The Hulk in the whole movie was when they were rolling B-Camera on me and I was in that thing and I was hot and sweaty and totally embarrassed. All the places that you want to look big look small and all of the places you want to look small look big, and I was just, like, “TURN THAT FUCKING THING OFF!” (Laughs) “I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I don’t want to be rude. I don’t usually get angry, but there IS something called movie magic that has to be maintained here! Let’s keep the mystery alive!” So yeah, that not my favorite part of the movie.
CGM: Throughout the film we actually get to see a lot of Bruce Banner, which was nice. Did you have any favorite scenes with your other cast members as Bruce?
MR: My favorite scenes were generally the ones where I get to talk to people. (Laughs) Or, you know, where I get to do some acting. It was just thrilling to see all those people assembled together. But for me that introductory scene with Bruce is so cool. It’s such a cool bridge from the past to here. And I really loved the scenes with Robert Downey Jr. As far as acting, those are exciting and fun and you never know what you’re going to get with him. Their relationship is really a cool one. But then, you know, The Hulk stuff was just dope, getting to do all that stuff. I had a little rubber version of Loki that I got to smash around. But the one improvised moment that I had was my first day on set in my Chinese Checkerboard, man-canceling leotard, and it’s when I grab Downey while he’s falling and I have to throw him off. So we’re shooting the moment where I’m just standing over his body and I just get up and I just roared, Which wasn’t scripted, (Laughs) and Downey just opens his eyes and was like, “Really?” That was my first day on set and my sphincter muscle just clamped up.
CGM: You’ve done a lot of ensemble films, but this is the biggest by far. Does the dynamic change when you are working on something on this sort of scale and with so much riding on it?
MR: I think it depends on your director and Joss is really a small movie director. With him it’s all about character and writing. It’s having everything sort of add up and not making too many big leaps from here to there. It’s all very well realized and because of that it’s like a little indie movie, but with much bigger craft service and huge special effects. (Laughs) But the stuff that he’s working with, all the dramatic stuff, it’s really easy. It’s all really relatable and very human, oddly enough. He really does humanize the characters. And he’s an actor’s director. You know, people wouldn’t necessarily think about him that way, but I’ve worked with a lot of actor’s directors and he rates at the top with me, as far as that goes. And also what I loved about working with him was how much he had to say about Banner, and how he really understood his backstory and some really cool places to go with him dramatically.
CGM: The movies is already getting great reviews so far.
MR: Yeah, it’s crazy.
CGM: I wondered if that’s still as important to you on a film of this scale as it was with your smaller indie films.
MR: Some of which weren’t so well reviewed (Laughs). You know, for a long time that sort of thing was more important to me. But that was just heartbreaking and it almost made me lose sight of why I love doing this. A few years ago, I kind of promised myself that for me the experience of making the movie was how I was would judge the final product. I have so little control over the final product, but that being said, when someone read Peter Travers’ review of this movie to me out loud, I was like, “Okay. That’s dope.” (Laughs) That feels nice, you know. I’ll tell you, it makes this process a hell of a lot easier. Doing press for a movie where you come into a room and everyone likes it is much better than trying to convince them for 20 minutes to like a movie that they hate. Sometimes you just can’t do it no matter how hard you try. So it’s the icing on the cake when you have a good experience, but I’ve long given up on hanging too much importance on it.
CGM: Since this is your first foray into large scale action movie, do you think you’ll stay in this world or is it something you would prefer to come back to every once in a while?
MR: Honestly, I don’t have a plan. The big misconception about actors is that we actually get to choose the things we do. This was fun and I really enjoyed it. And I just got done doing a movie with Louis Leterrier, who did the last Hulk movie, which had a lot of action in it and was a lot of fun for me. I’m getting to the place in life where I’m almost too old for it, but I still have a lot of fun doing it. I don’t know, it’s just kind of about going along with the program a little bit. If something interests me and I decide to go there, I do. I don’t really know why some things interest me. Sometimes it’s only in the moment that it does, but that’s been the deciding factor in what I do so far.
CGM: When you signed on, it was for something like six movies, right?
MR: Yeah, and they wanted nine.
CGM: Was there any trepidation about that long of a commitment
MR: Yeah, but once I sat down and I did the math, I knew that they had another Thor, then another Captain America, and another Iron Man, and they’ll probably do another Avengers at some point. It takes two years to make a movie and I signed on for six. It will probably take three years for each one that I’m in. Are they really going to want a 70-year old Hulk? (Laughs) So they’ll probably get three out of me before they get tired of me. I’m down with that ride. That will be fun.
CGM: If you had to trade places with any other character or actor in the movie to play a different hero, who would it be?
MR: Um… Black Widow. (Laughs) Can I be a woman? Seriously, everything that Scarlett (Johansson) did, all the physical stuff and all the hand to hand combat. That was just awesome. I would have loved to do that. Other that that? Loki, because really, that’s just SUCH a great fucking character.