Ruffalo: the anti-asshole of American movies, the un-jerk, whose brand of mellow rebellion in films such as Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind and You Can Count On Me has long set him apart from Hollywood’s power-drivers and uptightniks. Wherever Tom Cruise comes from in the moviemaking universe, Ruffalo comes from the opposite end: masculine without being macho, a little rough around the edges but boyish. The kind of guy you suspect of still having a skateboard or two in his closet. He exudes much the same rumpled amiability in person.
“I consider myself a journeyman actor,” he says. “If you want someone to serve the film, you don’t want too much bullshit. You want someone who’s committed, who’s is going to show up on time, who’s gonna be in your corner. When you need someone, I’m the guy.”
If the quality of the A-list directors who want to work with him is any guide, then Ruffalo has had a dream career, working with everyone from Jane Campion (In The Cut), to Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind), to David Fincher (Zodiac), to Michael Mann (Collateral), and Martin Scorsese (Shutter Island). And yet if you’d approached Ruffalo just a few years ago he would have told you he’d quit acting for good. He’d just made his directorial debut, Sympathy For Delicious, about a paralysed DJ, only to see it receive a kick in the teeth from American critics. It’s still to find a distributor in the UK. Then, in 2008, his brother Scott was murdered in mysterious circumstances at his condo in Los Angeles.
“2008 was a pretty rough year for me,” he says. “I lost my brother. That doesn’t go away. The days I was acting I was cringing at every moment. So I took a year off. I got rid of everybody. Agents, managers, people I’d been with for years. I said, ‘I’m done’. I’d pretty much had it with acting, I’d had it with the business.” He packed up his apartment in the West Village and moved to upstate New York with his wife and kids, bought an old farmhouse, got into local political activism, and started protesting against the Iraq war. “Everyone thought I was crazy,” he says. “Probably I was a little crazy.”
When I ask what brought him back into the acting fold, he points to his role in The Kids Are All Right as being instrumental.
“That’s when I sort of came into balance and realised: I am an actor. Maybe I can do it in a way that’s right for me and I’m not chasing it, and I don’t have financial burdens pushing me toward it, and I kind of saw again what I loved about it.”