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TORONTO – Being an actor is akin to being a con man, says actor Mark Ruffalo.

“You’re trying to get someone to like you. You’re trying to convince them of something. You pull one over on someone,” says Ruffalo, who’s in Toronto with not one, but two festival galas: Blindness, the adaptation of Jose Saramago’s apocalyptic novel and the The Brothers Bloom, a colourful comic drama featuring Oscar winners Rachel Weisz and Adrien Brody that premiered here at the Toronto International Film Festival yesterday.

The secret ingredient to making both games work is confidence, and though Ruffalo plays a career con in Brothers Bloom, he says it was a daunting challenge.

“I never really saw myself as Stephen, the confident one. I saw myself as Bloom, the more romantic, damaged one. That comes naturally to me,” he says.

In order to prep for the part, Ruffalo says he mined his relationship with a former con artist and diamond thief who makes his home in Los Angeles. The septuagenarian ex-felon taught him the tricks of his various trades.

“He’s a colourful guy. He’s so charming and gregarious. He’s from another time,” he says. “I learned there’s a stillness, and just showing up that conveys confidence. You stand up on your position without wavering and also just knowing your stuff,” he says.

“I had to remember all my lines forwards and backwards so I could talk a little quicker. There’s also a half-smile on the face of a confident person — something that says you know it all, and even if you don’t, you pretend you know it all.”

Though Ruffalo says he never, in the end, managed to find the heart and soul of the Tony Robbins brand of zen, he did learn to fake it pretty well over the course of the exotic shoot that had the cast globetrotting across Eastern Europe.

The story of two orphaned brothers who fell in love with the fiction and the filthy lucre of the con at a young age, The Brothers Bloom stars Ruffalo and Brody as the two brothers — and Rachel Weisz as the bizarre love interest who tests the younger brother Bloom’s honesty in matters of life and love, all in the midst of being conned.

For Weisz, the role in Brick director Rian Johnson’s sophomore effort marked a nice change of pace from heavier films. It also gave her a chance to delve a little deeper into the nooks and crannies of comedy.

“The thing about comedy is you have to be deadly serious about it, otherwise it doesn’t work,” she says. “The more serious you are, the funnier it gets.”

That said, Weisz threw herself into the role so intensely, she managed to learn several musical instruments, as well as a very nifty card trick.

“It’s all left me now,” says the actress and partner to filmmaker Darren Aronofsky.

“But it was important for the part. … I think she’s the kind of person who would have been very serious about things. But she also could have gone over the top. I had to make sure Penelope was still flesh and blood at the end of the day.”

And how does an actor ensure human authenticity?

Weisz says: “I drank a potion every morning … ”

Clearly, while the card tricks may have left her — the comedy hasn’t.

“Really … I liked Penelope’s decision to turn her life in a different direction. It could have been a tragedy, but she decided that wasn’t her story. She really embraces life … and I don’t think you can do more than that.”

The Brothers Bloom is set to open in select theatres Dec. 19.

© The Ottawa Citizen 2008

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