An article was published on The New Zealand Herald in order to promote Infinitely Polar Bear:
Few Hollywood A-listers move between big and small movies with the ease of double Oscar-nominee Mark Ruffalo. Before turning green and angry to battle an army of killer robots as the Hulk in next month’s hotly anticipated Avengers sequel Age of Ultron, he can be seen in the new JJ Abrams-produced domestic dramedy Infinitely Polar Bear.
That was probably the most significant thing I learned about mental illness — that maybe these things aren’t as horrible as we want to think they are. There’s actually a gift in our interactions with these kind of people, as well as the difficult parts.
In a casually raw performance that recalls his early breakout roles, Ruffalo plays Cam, a man suffering from bipolar disorder who must pull himself together to raise his two young daughters when his estranged wife (Zoe Saldana) heads off to business school.
The 70s-set film is based on the childhood experiences of its writer/director Maya Forbes, and it was her gently comedic take on what most films treat as pretty heavy subject matter that attracted Ruffalo, as the actor told TimeOut recently.
“Cam was committed to his family and I think that is what carries us through the more difficult times in the movie but also in our lives with people who are mentally ill.
There’s a lot of people who are dealing with psychological disabilities or mental illness and they have families and friends and people who love them.
“So a good way to broach what is a scary subject for a lot of people was with a lot of heart, a lot of honesty and a lot of humour and love. That was exciting to me and I think Maya does a really wonderful job and that’s what makes it relatable and watchable ultimately.”
Although Ruffalo had prior experience with bipolar disorder through members of his family, the film challenged some of his presumptions regarding the illness.
“As I started to work on it and hear about it and live in it, I realised some of the very things that made Cam not such a great father produced great kids.
“His inability to always be the parent in the room made his kids have to take on more responsibility or be more thoughtful about their choices. And in the difficulty of what Cam was struggling against, they also received a lot of positive things as well — these people went on to have really beautiful, loving lives and relationships.
“And so it’s easy to see them and think ‘Oh man, what a tough life, what bad luck for them’, but the fact of the matter is, not one of those family members would say ‘I wish he wasn’t like that’.
“That was probably the most significant thing I learned about mental illness — that maybe these things aren’t as horrible as we want to think they are. There’s actually a gift in our interactions with these kind of people, as well as the difficult parts.”
Ruffalo’s first Oscar nomination was for 2010’s The Kids Are Alright, which also celebrated a non-traditional family. Hollywood’s lack of diversity in this area is a topic that inspires passion in the actor. “The more we learn about real families, the more it challenges those assumptions about tradition. The more we move forward progressively in the world, and look at the world through a progressive lens, the more those assumptions that the media or ideological groups want to tell us is a traditional family, is really not true. All families are quirky, all families are weird.”