"I feel like I haven't stopped doing press," Mark Ruffalo said to HuffPost Entertainment when asked about his busy year thus far. "It's been crazy. I have never had anything quite like this happen to me before."
In January, Ruffalo was at the Sundance Film Festival for the premiere of "Infinitely Polar Bear." April and May brought press rounds for the HBO film "The Normal Heart" and the Cannes Film Festival debut of "Foxcatcher." Here in June, he's focused on "Begin Again," a new musical drama from "Once" director John Carney. Then there's "Marvel's The Avengers: Age of Ultron," which is filming now. Ruffalo reprises his role as Bruce Banner aka The Hulk in the film, and he will be at Comic-Con in July to promote the future blockbuster. Despite the crazy schedule, Ruffalo has remained good natured. He even enjoys this part of being an actor.
"You get to talk and they listen," he said of the interview process. "You're not being interrupted or told you're an idiot. Not yet anyway. At least until the comments. The comments section will have plenty of that." As many writers can also attest, Ruffalo knows to avoid that part of the internet. "There's nothing but madness down that road."
Fortunately, the comments sections on articles about "Begin Again" should be a safe zone. The film, which debuted at 2013's Toronto International Film Festival, stands as an affable bit of counter-programming to summer blockbusters. Ruffalo plays Dan in the Manhattan-set feature, a former hot-shot record producer at the end of his rope. It isn't until he meets Greta (Keira Knightley), a singer-songwriter who just broke up with her pop-star boyfriend (Adam Levine), that Dan remembers why he fell in love with music in the first place. (The film's original title was "Can A Song Save Your Life?" and it was an apt moniker.)
HuffPost Entertainment spoke to Ruffalo at New York's Crosby Street Hotel about "Begin Again" and why superhero movies are modern-day mythology.
Hailee Steinfeld and Mark Ruffalo star in "Begin Again."
When you saw "Once," what stood out about John's work as a director?
I loved how bare that movie felt, and how immediate and honest it was. But it was also not afraid to do unexpected things. The whole bit at the dinner party, someone might say that doesn't need to be in there. But it's so satisfying. Those performances were immediate and lived-in. So you're like, "Oh, that's a guy who really has a keen eye for the truth in a way." As an actor, you know you're going to have an experience as an actor in that way with a director like that.
You definitely get that here. All the scenes in New York have a "let's put on a show" vibe.
Some of the stuff, just the riffing on the rehearsal with the band -- it's improvisational, but you know the whole arc of the movie is to make this band a success, and to foster that talent. Them during the creative process, that's a scene that you really see Dan at his best, and the band at their best. The whole movie is hung on that, and it's a very satisfying thing. It's something that we, as human beings, really want: to be creative and to have someone pat us on the back every now and again for our efforts. That's what we’re all after in some way. So even though it's a band, and someone might not have anything to do with music, they immediately understand what that's about and what’s going on there.
The relationship between Dan and Greta is so refreshing, in that it is either sexual nor paternal. Did that appeal to you?
It was a quality I wanted to see. It was a throwback, oddly enough, kind of like the original version of "A Star Is Born." There's a mentorship there that responds to the talent. It isn't about sex or love. Today, it would be so quick to blur that relationship and to make it sexualized. But here you're like, "How novel! They don't fuck!" I longed for that a little bit, just for the feeling of being original and off the beaten path. It's so much more satisfying in a weird way, too, in the fact that it isn't satisfied.
"Begin Again" deals with music artists taking back their art from the record labels. Do you think about how that can happen within the film industry?
I've been watching this for a long time. I'm really interested in social media and the cultural and sociological aspect of it. A way you could almost title this time we're living in as Decentralization. It's a decentralization of everything. We saw that quick decentralization in the music industry because of social media and the internet. This new ability to share information across so many different quadrants. I feel like it was a harbinger of a whole time of decentralization. Whether it's from power structures to the way people get their information to governments. Eventually, it'll be energy. We're seeing this mass decentralization. It will happen in the film industry. You'll have a more distributed generation. So there are people like Dan in "Begin Again" who are victims of that decentralization. Economically speaking, there is not as much concentrated wealth for someone like Dan, but creatively speaking he's completely unbound.
He's actually never been better.
Yes! He can really do what he wants to do without the idea of it being purely driven by profit, which is what happened to him and how he lost himself. The fact that he placed everything on the dollar, he lost his talent, ultimately. That's the story of his journey through this movie. He got to come back to his creative self. Which is what was forsaken and why he feels so empty now. So, yes, I think the movie industry will go the same way. It's already happening. It's getting cheaper to make movies. The question is what is the quality of comes out but I think there's a chance.
What do you do as an actor to keep your creative self on the right path?
It's two things: doing what I love and then also applying the same principles to the way I approach my work, whether it's a giant movie or not. Don't be prejudiced against any genres, but also following my interests -- following what my heart wants to do -- and being challenged. That has been the great blessing of my career.
Hulk is a big challenge from both a technical standpoint and a character one.
That's something I love. I love the Hulk. When Joseph Campbell is talking about modern mythology, maybe this is what he's talking about. What is the mythology that is going to spring out of our time. I see us working out a lot of cultural things -- sociological problems -- with the mythology of superhero movies. It goes dark and asks some big questions, and it doesn't cut black and white anymore.
And it can reach a large audience
Yes! And it's easily digested. Which when you think of mythology must have been very much the same way. It spoke in a language that a lot of people were willing to listen to. They put down their blinders and ideology and beliefs and class — they put all that shit aside to be fed these stories. I feel like superhero movies are same thing.
This interview has been edited and condensed.