Mark Ruffalo, the standout in last year’s biggest hit “The Avengers,” has been dividing his time of late between acting and advocacy: He’s worked with New Yorkers Against Fracking to raise awareness of the environmentally destructive drilling method.
On occasion of the release of “Promised Land,” Matt Damon’s anti-fracking drama (which opened softly at the box office and hasn’t won over critics), Ruffalo called from the set of Bennett Miller’s “Foxcatcher” to discuss the challenges of merging art and politics.
Have you seen “Promised Land”?
I haven’t gotten to see it yet — I’ve been working a pretty grueling schedule here in Pittsburgh. But I know a good deal about it. I know Matt, and we corresponded about this — he didn’t want to make a polemic. I understand that. I’m pro-gay marriage. And when I read “The Kids Are All Right” [for which Ruffalo was nominated for an Oscar], I thought, This would be a great way to show the human side of that debate. I find myself interested in the human side of the story more than the sheer power structure and how that works, and lobbying. I wish I were a better writer and could create something that could do it. I haven’t come across anything yet that turned my head and made me feel it’s what I need to do.
Why are there so few political scripts these days? The 1970s, for instance, were a golden age by comparison.
A lot of it has to do with financing and accessibility. It’s harder to hit straight on like in “All the President’s Men,” or “Three Days of the Condor,” or these movies that came out in the ’70s that were politically charged. We still have them. If you’re going to show what happened in Iraq, you run into the problem of funding and accessibility and, those government agencies are really heavy about propaganda and what they want to see in the world. They’re like a corporation, they have trademarks on their insignias, on their weaponry. You have to get those things cleared. There should be a line between propaganda the country wants to give to its people, and the people who are making the art.
But “The Avengers” co-starred Chris Evans as Captain America, a U.S. supersoldier who represents the military might of the nation and is an unambiguous hero.
“The Avengers” isn’t saying: We’re going to make a journalistic style true story about a military operation. And even though a great deal of it is fictionalized, we’re going to tell it as a journalistic effort. You look at “The Avengers,” and Captain America, and one thing you see, he’s anachronistic. He’s no longer really part of the American culture, and it’s something they play on in jokes. His idea of weaponry is so primitive.
The character I’m playing is basically a pacifist. But he also has this giant green rage machine that’s part of his makeup. It’s kind of a good metaphor for us, for America. The difference between that movie and other movies is that that’s a fantasy, and when people go to [“The Avengers”], they’re very forgiving. They’re open to that experience. Culturally we work out a lot of things sitting watching “The Avengers,” thinking, This is so intense. It’s not my favorite genre, but people are willing, and the suspension of disbelief is so strong they’re going so wholeheartedly along with this ride. What’s the difference between this and the ancient gods? Mankind needs to have these kind of stories and have these characters to play with, and work out some need in their psyche. Maybe that kind of film has a positive place in our culture. [The villains] are aliens. They’re not people. You’re not seeing violent bloodshed. I see it as something totally different.