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netribution > features > interview with mark ruffalo > page two
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You’ve got lots of movies in the pipeline and when you were making Windtalkers you were directing a play, Margaret. Where does this drive come from?
Maybe it’s a fear that I don’t have much time to fill up and I have to put as much in as I can. Maybe there’s not enough time to do everything I want to do.

You really feel like that?
Well I do feel like I’m driven, you know? Also, I feel creatively quickened at the moment, really creatively alive. Artists have spurts of very creative times in their career and I know better now that when you’re on that wave, you should just take it and ride it.
But for me, all these things were coming together at the same time. I could have said, ‘No, I don’t want to do that’ but they were opportunities and they were there. They weren’t something that I had to work and create. Margaret, the play, kind of just popped up. I was shooting Windtalkers and I thought I was going to have time off after a week, but they ended up adding me into the film more. Consequently, I was directing the play at night.
But I felt these opportunities were there and, with the play, it felt like going home. I had had this success with You Can Count on Me, I was launched into the public arena for the first time, and I was feeling a little naked and a little over-exposed. I wanted to connect to what grounds me and my work, which is the theatre. So that was like a blessing that came up. I thought, ‘I will go back to these actors that I’ve been working in the theatre with for 12 years now, and I’m going to use whatever notoriety I have to let the world see how fantastic they are as well’. Also, I love the theatre; it re-charges my batteries.

I’ve read that at 24 a friend of yours committed suicide and it had a profound impact on your life. How much do you think that contributes to your not feeling like you have enough time?
I think that that probably has a lot to do with it. Certainly when that happened I had a different understanding of time and of how short one’s time on the planet is. I was struggling with the same problems as he was, and when that happened it made me really want to live. I can definitely see that as possibly being a part of this need to keep creating.

Were those problems you refer to career-related? I know that you struggled for a long time and at several points were going to give up acting.
Yes, I had a very difficult time. I actually quit at least 4 or 5 times. I couldn’t get a job. I had done 30 plays in Los Angeles and I couldn’t get a job. I was getting little jobs here and there, but no one was really recognising what I thought I had. I thought, ‘I’ve done all this work, why isn’t it paying off?’ That really starts to hurt your self-image; and I already had a questionable self-image coming into the game. I wasn’t like the best candidate to become an actor. I was really insecure and I didn’t particularly like myself very much.

Were you an outsider at school?
I was voted Most Fun to Be Around, but it was tears of a clown. I was always really miserable inside but no one would’ve ever known that. I was always putting on an act. I don’t know, I wanted to be an artist and acting was what drew me. It was the art form that I felt most connected to.

What did your mother say to make you not give up? It’s down to her, I believe, that you carried on.
She’d never told me to do anything before and she said, ‘I’ve let you do everything. I’ve tried to let you make all your own choices in your life but goddamit, Mark, I’m not going to let you do it.’ I wanted to go back to Wisconsin and work with my father doing construction painting. She said, ‘Goddamit, I won’t let you do it. If you give up, you’ll never forgive yourself.’ She called my dad and she basically said she’d never talk to him again if he let me come up there. It was a pretty powerful moment for me. I woke up.

Your career really started to take off when you did ‘This is our Youth’, with Kenneth Lonergan, in New York.
Yes. That period of time was like Cinderella. It was very exciting because I had come from Los Angeles theatre, and I went to New York to do a play and nobody knew who the hell I was. After our opening night we’re standing in a restaurant, having a party, and someone comes running in around 12:15, with the New York Times, and yells, ‘It’s a hit! It’s a hit!’ That was a dream! I owe New York a huge, huge debt.”

It must have been a huge boost to your confidence.
Oh my God! It was the beginning of me taking myself seriously as an actor. I had always taken myself seriously, but you have to have confidence to really express yourself, and that was the beginning of it. Then the agents came, the casting directors came, the celebrities came … suddenly I was known in a very small but very elite circle, and was respected by my peers.

Did more stage or film parts come your way after that?
I wasn’t really getting offered anything, I was getting the chances. I was getting auditions that I would never have got before.

Has the success of You Can Count on Me done the same thing only in the film world?
Absolutely. It’s blown the doors off. I got offers without auditioning, which I never thought would happen. It’s completely opened up my professional film career. It’s put me on the map. It turns out that all that needed to happen with these people was they needed to be told. I’m not sure that anyone’s making decisions alone; there comes a point where the press tell producers who to hire. It’s hype.
You can be the best actor in the world but unless something like what’s happened for me happens, you’re not going to get the job. Certainly there are actors out there who should be working their asses off because they are a hundred times better than 90% of the movie stars out there. But they haven’t had that break that made them known to the public world on a big scale like You Can Count on Me did.

You recently completed work on John Woo’s new film, Windtalkers. Tell me something about that experience. It sounds completely different to anything you’ve done before.
I ended up doing a lot of action. I don’t know how my body stayed in any athletic form in the debauched theatre scene, but I’m pretty athletic and I immediately could do the things that he was asking. He constantly pushed things for me. He asked me to do more running and jumping and throwing grenades, getting blown up, rolling and fighting, hand-to-hand combat. It was fun for me. Basically, it was what I did when I was a kid. It was great fun.
You don’t really have to act when there’s a bomb going off next to you. After a five-gallon gasoline explosion went off behind me, I just went flying to the ground, scared shitless. I realised then that I’d wasted all that money and all that time on acting classes. It was very different to the kind of acting which is much quieter and where you really have to be living inside the world of the play or film. That’s a very interior kind of world. Windtalkers is much more exterior and about reacting to the other character, which is the war. It’s a very powerful, palpable kind of force. I really got a little bit of the feeling of what it was like to be in World War 2.

The Castle, I assume, is going in the other direction. It’s much more psychological.
Yeah, that’s going back into the interior. It’s much more of a drama and less of an action piece. But as far as John Woo’s concerned, Windtalkers is probably the most character- and story-driven piece he’s done in America.

Will this change people’s perceptions of what a John Woo film is?
Certainly people’s American idea. I think Bullet in the Head and some of his other Hong Kong films are probably more what John Woo is about. When I started work on the film, I said, ‘John, how do you want this to go?’ and he said, ‘This is my American Bullet in the Head.’

Did you talk to him about violence? I have interviewed him a few times and on each occasion he told me how much he hates violence.
I don’t know if anyone knows this about John but his dream is to make a musical. It’s his dream. He just happens to be a fantastic choreographer and really the only way to do it if you’re not doing it with dance is to do it with action. That’s what he does, so beautifully. The way he moves the camera with the actors on Windtalkers, it’s like a huge musical production, very choreographed. He’s the most gentle, soulful, non-violent man I think I’ve ever met yet he makes these incredibly violent films.”

Windtalkers takes you nearer to the core of Hollywood. Would you like to work in Hollywood and make your home in LA.
I live in New York. I have been away for six months and I am so glad to be back here. In Hollywood I feel like a balloon that is just floating away. I have my friends who are like my only grounding thing there, and all the years of theatre that I did there. But other than that, that place is shiftless; it’s like a desert. It’s constantly moving and I never really know where to orient myself. I feel absolutely lost there. So it’s not my choice of place to live.
But I know, to be realistic, that I am probably going to have to be out there a lot more than I have been. New York for me, as an artist, is just so much richer. Not everyone’s in the film business. You have people who are struggling with their lives sitting across from you on the subway and in the streets. Everywhere you look there’s people doing their lives. As an actor, that’s where we have to go – that’s where I have to go – to find the people I play. It’s just very rich for me. Los Angeles doesn’t have the same artistic community or nourishing heart.

Have you noticed a difference in attitude between the people you worked with on stage or in the indie sector and the people in Hollywood?
The producers and the money people are much harsher. In Hollywood they don’t seem to have the same respect. It really is just about the dollar. That’s where I feel the most difference. As for the other people -- the directors, the actors, the grip, and so on -- they all seem the same. There’s a little bit more experience, maybe, but I’m sure they all started in indie films like all of us have.
But I’ve got to work with dream people. John Woo, although he is in a strange way Hollywood, he is the least Hollywood person you could imagine. He’s family oriented, he’s a loving, gentle human being; he respects the hell out of actors. He’s very different than you would think Hollywood is. Now I’ve not had to work with Michael Bay, but I get the feeling that Michael Bay and the Jerry Bruckheimer machine is much more harsh and impersonal. That makes me nervous a little bit. Ultimately, though, unless someone is outrageously horrible to me when I meet them, it will be the material that will decide whether or not I do the work.

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