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Brad Balfour

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Oscar Nom Ruffalo Makes Sure We Know The Kids Are All Right

Posted: 02/26/11 11:27 AM ET

Since actor Mark Ruffalo's involved with so many things, it's inevitable that I run into him periodically. For instance, when he attended a special DVD release reception which paired him with another Oscar nominee, director Josh Fox, who co-directed Gasland.

But it's no wonder Ruffalo was there giving support to his fellow upstate neighbor -- both were there addressing a cause that needs help -- to stop the "fracking" done to get at the natural gas supply. It pollutes water tables and is happening in upstate New York. Ruffalo is a guy who cares, and especially when it has happening in his backyard, so to speak.

Though, as a consummate actor, the 43-year-old vet can play the nastiest of characters, he does best with the guys who care -- like his portrayal of Paul in The Kids Are All Right.  

The film primarily focuses on the troubled dynamic between a longtime married lesbian couple Nic (Annette Bening) and Jules (Julianne Moore) and the two teenage kids, Laser (Josh Hutcherson) and Joni (Mia Wasikowska), they've birthed -- both conceived by artificial insemination -- and raised.

The Lisa Cholodenko-directed film turns on their discovery of the blissful, befuddled but sexy sperm donor Paul; when the kids bring him into their family life, all hell breaks loose -- especially after an affair starts between Jules and Paul. This role that Ruffalo so brilliantly plays has garnered the hirsute actor many awards and noms including the 2011 Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. The director and movie are also nominated in their respective categories as is Bening for Best Actress.

Q: One of the things I always appreciated about you, especially in doing The Kids Are All Right, is that you have this connection to kids because of your family. You're a real family man, you have a passion about it, and it's great to see that you have enough of a passion that you want to be here and support the movie.

MR: Yes. I've become very good friends with Josh [Fox] over the course of this. We've been in the trenches fighting it. Today we did NY1 together and did a debate against two guys from the gas industry. That's on "Inside City Hall" tonight. It's just rare you find a fellow warrior. You have the same kind of beliefs and tastes. His place up there is 15 minutes from mine.

Q: You're up along the Hudson, right?

MR: No, we live on the Delaware. I'm in Callicoon on the Delaware. And you know, we were in Sundance together, we both won Special Jury Prizes. So we were there together and we were sitting next to each other. Here are these two knuckleheads from upstate New York; it's so weird. It's one of those kind of special, kindred spirit things. But I really believe in what he's doing. Films can change the discourse, films can teach us.

Q: What made you want to play Paul?

MR: It was a really interesting turn on an iconic American life character -- a kind of Peter Pan bachelor who lives his life purely for his own pleasure. A lot of us have looked up to people like that and [have] wanted to be one. Then he has this really nice turn when he meets his biological kids. They make him [into] a pile of mush.

Q: How would you react if you suddenly learned you had grown children you never knew about?

MR: That would blow me away. That would be a lot to handle [laughs]. I could get around to caring for that person, but it would be very disruptive, to say the least [laughs].

Q: Is this role close to home for you -- you're a vegetarian, too?

MR: I think I approach life and people with the same kind of attitude that Paul had. The guy has a fairly open heart. He's not too judgmental of people. He's interested, adventuresome, and has got a sense of humor that I relate to.

I don't have the confidence that he has. I never had the confidence with ladies he had [laughs]. And I wish that I'd found a sperm bank when I was in my early 20s [laughs]. Think of all the wasted talent.

But as far as the rest of it, he's an amalgamation of people that I've really known and loved over the years.

Q: The outcome for your character is sort of tragic. What did you feel about that?

MR: Growth is painful. I think he gets spanked. But I'd like to think that he is going to have a relationship with his kids and that he's going to buy a minivan [laughs].

You go from the beginning of the movie - that guy doesn't have to beg a woman for anything. And would never do it, too -- like begging Julie to stay with him and begging his father's forgiveness. In a weird way, even that look to his son is begging for something, you know? Some connection. I think that's a big change for him.

Q: Do you think he'll grow from it?

MR: People change incrementally. I think the whole idea of having a family is possibly being entertained in a more serious way.

Q: What about being so irresistible that a lesbian can't refuse him?

MR: I think Paul is like half a lesbian himself [laughs]. No, I'm kidding. You know, he's got one foot in the door. He had two kids with her. So I think it's a confluence of a lot of different circumstances that they end up together.

To me, the real telling nature of the relationship is when she's riding him and using his face like a riding pummel on a horse saddle. That says it all. I don't think there was really a deep connection other than just purely physical. I don't know how real that relationship really is.

Q: It addressed issues that are often debated and put them in an interesting context. Have you met people who were in a similar situation?

MR: I haven't met anyone who has [been in] this particular situation.

Q: Well, a man who got involved with a woman who was out of a lesbian relationship or someone who goes back and forth?

MR: It's interesting. Lisa is probably the one who could really talk about this. She understands it way better than I do.

I think statistically more people are on the fence than not. When it comes to sex, people have all kinds of kinky things that turn them on that I don't think always reflect so much who they are. Well, they certainly don't make it in the movies. Not these kinds of movies.

Q: You have worked with Julianne [Moore] before, and know her outside of working. Does that make it easier to do such intense scenes with her?

MR: Yeah. Your dream is to work with people who you have a vernacular with -- who you've worked with, you feel comfortable with. You can work well with people like that. Blindness was a tough experience. It was a hard movie to make. We had a great time, but the subject matter is intense. So you're going through something.

She's friends with my wife [actress Sunshine Coigney]. It's helpful with doing those sex scenes [chuckles]. To go to work and not have my wife be like, "Are you doing the sex scene today?  Who is this girl?  You like her, don't you?" She loves Julie. She trusts her. So, in a weird way, it was a lot easier [laughs].

Q: Lisa and Stuart [Blumberg] worked on the script for a long time. How complete was Paul as written when you got involved?

MR: When I read something, a big part of it is daydreaming. I'll start to get an image of the person. It was pretty clear to me who he was from the script. I mean, it's filtered through my interpretation.

Q: Were there changes to the character and scenes once you came on board?

MR: It pretty much stayed the same. At some points I'd improvise a line here or there, if I felt like there was a chance for humor in a place. I think what makes Lisa such a great director is she really is interested in subtext and what's happening between the lines, so you had a lot of behavior off the lines, people responding to little looks. Even when the camera is not on you or you're not speaking, something happens after a scene. Those are the flourishes that you put on as an actor.

Q: How does it feel to be nominated for an Oscar®?

MR: I'm lucky I got this far. Generally, I'm not Oscar® material. I do good work, but they don't think of me that way.

Q: Are you shocked?

MR: ...I'm pleasantly, ecstatically shocked -- a movie about two lesbians and their sperm donor dad. I'm so happy that we as a culture have come far enough to be able to celebrate that kind of a movie.

Q: Did you read that somebody at Harvard went in and destroyed 40 books on gay and lesbian literature?

MR: You're kidding me. But you know what that is? That is the last, desperate gasps of a dying mentality, a dying mindset that cannot sustain. I'm telling you, that boat has already sailed, there's no putting the genie back in the bottle.

Q: You are absolutely, totally right.

MR: So you're going to have some knucklehead who's so angry and frustrated and so self hating that they're going to go and destroy the books. But you know what? Those books are everywhere. You destroy those books; there are 20 others to jump in behind them.

Q: Your indie film roles really display your talents more than your Hollywood roles.

MR: You get to do more.

Q: Have you gotten frustrated by playing a lot of cops and such?

MR: I've gotten to play some great cops. Indie films are usually more character-driven just because of the nature of it. You can't [have] too big a plot, for a start, because you don't have the time or the money. I've worked with real formal filmmakers and very informal filmmakers, --.very kind of loose camera. Both have their own challenges.

I'd like to get a nice, beefy, juicy role in a feature film that was a big, big studio movie. But that's outside of my control. I hope that would happen, but I also feel lucky that I've gotten to work with great people and I've learned a lot. I wouldn't begrudge where I'm at.

Q: Who are you playing in The Avengers?

MR: The Hulk. And I'm kind of excited about it.

Q: Right, you're the new Hulk! Think about the string of actors you'll be following.

MR: It's like my generation's Hamlet, man.

Q: How many more episodes can they make?

MR: I don't know. I think they have to die with me. They're not going to make the 60 year old Hulk.

Q: Were you a comic book fan?

MR: Loved them. I grew up on that, man.

Q: You should go down to MoCCA sometimes. Have you ever been?

MR: Yes, yes. It's awesome. Yeah, I grew up on that and Bill Bixby's Bruce Banner.

Q: And Lou Ferrigno.

MR: Awesome. I hope they use him in the movie. They have to. The Avengers lost the Hulk a little too soon, I think.

Q: But I think they added some good characters.

MR: They did. What about Ant and Wasp? They're hilarious. That relationship.

Q: And Giant-Man.

MR: Yes. He was a good addition.

Q: One of the things I think is good with you is that you stayed here in New York, you've not been caught up in the whole Hollywood thing. You're still passionate about films that mean something.

MR: Yes, and they're dying. They are few and far between, but we need them more than ever.

Q: You find the mix between things that have some meaning and value and things that are actually entertaining, which is a tough job. But you do find ways to find vehicles that do that, and it's a nice job if you can get that.

MR: I agree. I am the luckiest son of a bitch. For an actor I have pretty much done it my way. I've done the things that are interesting to me. What more could I possibly ask for? I haven't lost much of my anonymity.

Q: People don't get nuts around you?

MR: They don't. They're cool with me, they stay away. Who knows what Avengers is going to do, but I like where I see those movies going. I like that they'll use somebody like me in those movies.

Q: You did your Hollywood thing and you're back here and not going back?

MR: Oh no, I'm not going back if I can help it. That place is mind numbing. That grabs me by the insides and turns me out.

Q: Is there more directing coming -- at Sundance 2009 you premiered your strange rock/religious fable Sympathy for Delicious which won the Special Jury Prize for Dramatic work.

MR: Honestly, by the time I finished this movie last year, I was like, that's it. I'm done with acting. I'm going to just direct.

Q: It's so good to see you when you're doing well.

MR: I told my wife, "Baby, I'm going to die either in your arms or on a stage. Get ready."