Up Close and Personal
With Mark Ruffalo
Thoughts on Acting, Directing,
Family Life, & Stella Adler
By Beverly Cohn
ark Ruffalo is a compelling actor who rivets your eyes to the screen no
matter what character he is playing. His quiet, but intense on-screen
persona has been demonstrated in all his films, including Shutter
Island, Windtalkers, Date Night, Collateral,
All The Kings Men, Reservation Road, Eternal
Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, In the Cut, Just
Like Heaven, and most recently in the highly acclaimed, awarding-winning
The Kids Are All Right. Ruffalos sensitivity as an actor,
and perhaps his outlook on life, may have been profoundly affected by
his challenging health issue.
Mark Ruffalo makes his directing
"Sympathy for Delicious." Courtesy Photo.
At a recent press conference, Ruffalo sat down with
a group of journalists to discuss his directorial debut in Sympathy
for Delicious, written by his best friend, wheelchair-bound Christopher
Thornton. The film took ten years to make and co-stars Orlando Bloom,
Laura Linney, and Juliette Lewis and features Ruffalo as the Skid Row
priest, Father Joe Roselli. The story centers around Thorntons
character of Dean ODwyer, Delicious D, who, like the
screenwriter, is paralyzed. He eventually discovers he has the power
to heal people but cannot heal himself and both he and Father Joe have
to deal with the ensuing moral and ethical complications of this gift.
(L) Christopher Thornton as "Delicious D"
and Mark Ruffalo as Father Joe.Photo By: Sam Urdank,
Courtesy of Maya Entertainment.
What was it like shooting on Skid Row?
Ruffalo: At one time I lived near Skid Row on 6th and
Alvarado and it was pretty hairy. I use to feed the homeless so I spent
a lot of time there. Its an intense place because anything can
happen at any moment. One minute you could have beautiful graciousness
with people helping each other and the very next moment a fight could
break out. Its both a beautiful and terrifying place.
Did your own personal health challenge influence
you in wanting to get this film made?
Ruffalo: Actually it happened right in the middle of
trying to get the movie made. The first person I called was my best
friend, Chris. I told him I had a brain tumor and was terrified. I had
to go through my own healing process and came to know, on a much smaller
scale, what he went through. I really knew what fallibility felt like
and came to the understanding that there is an end to this journey and
turning to faith can sometimes help in trying to cope when terrible
"Delicious D" and Father Joe discuss healing
powers. Photo By: Sam Urdank, Courtesy of Maya Entertainment.
Would you characterize Sympathy For Delicious
as a religious movie?
Ruffalo: I dont think this is a religious movie,
but it has religious people in it and I think theres a big distinction
with that. Chris didnt want to write a religious movie because
it would limit the audience to one belief system, but at the same time,
he wanted it to be as truthful as it could. So, if you put a priest
in your film, you have to go there. We talked to Jesuits so we could
try to do justice to the characters.
What would you say is more daunting, directing your
first film or directing your best friends screenplay?
Ruffalo: (laughs) Well I got both things out
of the way in one shot. Weve been working closely for so long
that we knew what we wanted. You have to jump in at some point and take
the reins as the director. I told Chris that it was time to make the
movie and that each of us had our jobs to do his was to act and
mine was to direct, and that I needed his blessings and trust.
Ruffalo's character of Father Joe.
Photo By: Sam Urdank, Courtesy of Maya Entertainment.
There was a good chance this film might not work.
Did you see the possible pitfalls?
Ruffalo: The story and the people are fantastical and
I did think the film could go off the rails. First of all, you have
a band with real music which 95% of the time ruins a movie because its
hard to capture that. Then you have all this fantastic healing stuff
and we could have done the lights flickering, but I felt I should strip
it back. I wanted to make it as honest as possible. But it was walking
the razors edge and it could have gone one way or another.
What do you want the audience to take away with them?
Writer Christopher Thornton's character of
"Delicious D" ultimately portrays the possibility of
hope. Photo By: Sam Urdank, Courtesy of Maya Entertainment.
Ruffalo: I would like them to find something hopeful
out of a dark journey. The story goes to a very bleak place, but something
very redemptive comes out of that and the Delicious D and
my character of Father Joe are better for it.
Did shooting on a tight budget change how you look
at big budget films like The Avengers?
Ruffalo: Sometimes Id see a crane sitting on a
set and I think to myself that I could make a movie for what it costs
to have that crane parked there. It also makes me very grateful that
I can do a movie like The Avengers and grateful that I can
get enough money together to make this kind of movie. Im a lot
happier when I more grateful than thinking what the f
. I can make
ten movies on their lunch budget, but theres not a lot of grace
in that and it just makes you miserable.
Do you use a different acting approach when youre
developing a fantastical character?
Ruffalo: The way I work is that I have to always find
those places where it intersects with real life. Working on Bruce Banner
(The Avengers) and thinking that I could tear the
roof off this place like that, (snaps fingers) does something
to you. I try to bring those elements to whatever I do.
Did your training with Stella Adler impact on your
directing as well as your acting?
Ruffalo: Absolutely. Stella use to quote George Bernard
Shaw saying, (imitating her voice) Dahlings, you should have
to pay to go to church and theatre should be free. It was
her deep belief that stories are tools to make us reflect upon what
is human in us, and those are the kinds of stories I like. I learned
how to see the truth through her eyes and through her teaching. I know
when someones lying or when something feels right or doesnt
feel right. I also know how to look at material and find out what is
bigger than you and to lift the ideas of that material.
Was she tough on the actors?
Ruffalo: Stella loved actors and she expected great
things from them. She considered actors to be the last American aristocracy
and saw them as true and important artists, which is how I look at my
actors. But boy, if she didnt like your scene, she would eat your
alive and scream, you should leave the theatre and never come
back. And that was mild. I was doing a scene from The
Lion in Winter and she hated my costume and literally swept the
stage with me. The only thing that saved me was that I was kind of a
wise ass. She used to tell everyone that they must have a costume and
didnt care whether they bought it or stole it. She yelled,
Where did you get that costume. I said, I stole
it Stella. It brought the house down. But she did tell me to leave
the theatre and never come back.
Now that you have your directing legs, do you have
Ruffalo: Thats all I want to do but I wont
stop acting. But I dont think I want to do both at the same time
Youve been very outspoken politically. Do you
want to incorporate your views into your films?
Ruffalo: I think its hard to do that. We were
able to do it somewhat in the Kids Are All Right because
its not a polemic. The writer wasnt going after a political
point of view but was just telling the story. If I found something great
that expressed my political point of view, I would consider it, but
Im more of a humanist than anything else and dont have a
real political agenda. Im just on the lookout for interesting
You began your career in theatre. Could you talk
a little bit about the process?
Ruffalo: Theres a way that theatre people have
of working with each other. We have a short hand and plays are usually
character driven. A lot of work goes into the development of characters
and a lot of that work is on the shoulders of a literary legacy that
has a tradition.
You are a famous international movie star. What are
the challenges of combining career with the role of father and husband
and keeping your marriage happy?
Ruffalo: After I finished The Kids Are All Right,
I took two years off and havent acted since then. We moved away
from Los Angeles to upstate New York and really simplified our lives.
It was probably the best thing I could have done for my marriage and
my family. Its tough on everybody when Im gone for long
periods of time so I felt it was important to make the time just to
be with my family, even though I might want to go off and do something
Did you get use to the cold?
Ruffalo: (laughs) Its brutal, but fun,
because we go skiing, ice skating, and sledding. Taking time to have
fun together has been a huge balm to my family.