04/26/2011 07:38 am ET Updated 6 days ago

'Sympathy For Delicious': Mark Ruffalo's 10 Year Passion Project

Mark Ruffalo doesn't do things halfheartedly.

When he wasn't liking the roles Hollywood had to offer, Ruffalo retired to a farm 3000 miles away; when he decided to come back, he landed his first Oscar nomination. In his free time, he fights intricate environmental battles in New York state politics. And, in his very first directorial effort, he's bringing to life a 10-year passion project that's half religious allegory and half rock 'n roll.

Ruffalo showcased that directorial debut, "Sympathy for Delicious," at the film's New York premiere on Monday night. A winding, gritty story about a poverty-stricken, wheelchair-bound former DJ who suddenly finds that he has the powers of a faith healer, Ruffalo spent ten years working to produce the film with its writer and star, his real life friend Christopher Thornton. Just their persistence in pursuing the project alone should qualify for some lifetime achievement awards.

Thornton estimated that they went through 40 finished screenplay drafts over the years, whittling the story down as they fought Hollywood inertia to get their film, unusual in its subject matter, made.

They faced three big obstacles, Thornton told The Huffington Post at the premiere: "He had never directed before; I was, as far as film goes, a pretty unknown actor playing the lead; and the subject matter, people found odd. They were like, look, there's no sex, there's no car chases, there's no explosions -- it's a guy in a wheelchair and a priest. What on earth are we supposed to do with that?"

As passionately as they pursued the project -- in which Ruffalo plays the priest and Thornton, paralyzed in real life, plays the guy in the wheelchair -- once the final financing came through and it was time to bring the dream to life, the pair found that they had major doubts, too. Even if they had stars such as Orlando Bloom, Laura Linney and Juliette Lewis on board for major roles.

"I was very nervous about it on the first day, I thought I don't really know what the hell I'm doing and how dare I think that I did," Ruffalo remembered. "And then I walked out and I set up the shot and was like, 'you know, I don't like the shot, I don't like the camera here. I want to move it over here.' And very quickly I found myself naturally directing the movie."

Bloom, who as on hand at the premiere, had nothing but positive things to say about his experience under the first time director.

"I sat down with Mark and I was just like, 'I would love to work with you. I have always admired you as an actor,'" Bloom, who plays egomaniacal punk rocker The Stain, recalled about how he got the part. "And Mark was like, he was the most supportive, generous and gracious director that I could hope for and he was open to what I wanted to try and do."

Likening filmmaking to dessert -- "Acting, you get to eat one slice of the pie; directing, you get to eat the whole pie, and I tend to make a glutton of myself" -- Ruffalo said that he learned from some of the best directors in Hollywood.

"I've stolen from the best over the years," he told HuffPost. "In the end, Jane Campion and David Fincher were probably the most influential. Jane Campion gave me a little mini course on directing years ago, before I started the project, and I cut the movie at David Fincher's editing facility. And when I had it finished, I brought him in and we did a five hour critique, masterclass of the movie. So he was very influential and helpful to me along the way."

Now, with the film in the can and making its way through the festival circuit, Ruffalo, who is due to start shooting his role as The Hulk in the Marvel superhero epic "The Avengers," later in the week, sees himself making a shift from acting to directing as he moves forward.

"It's all I want to be doing. At this moment, I'm a little more turned on by the newness of directing," he said.

"Sympathy for Delicious" opens in limited release on April 29th, followed by a national rollout. It's available nationwide on Video on Demand.