In Begin Again, we have Hollywood heavyweights Mark Ruffalo and Keira Knightley giving us some feel-good musical fun for the summer. But Begin Again marks only the latest film in a varied and distinguished career for Mark Ruffalo, which takes him from rom-com leading man, to gay rights advocate, by way of radiation-poisoned superhero. So before you head out to the cinema, here are the essentials of Ruffalo’s career thus far.
Being the third actor to play Bruce Banner/The Hulk since 2003, audiences probably doubted whether this version could finally get the character right. Luckily, an unexpected casting proved fruitful, and among many other praises thrown upon the superhero juggernaut, Ruffalo’s portrayal of Bruce Banner, and motion capture work as the Hulk, received some of the most vocal fan admiration. From the popular ‘Science Bros’ friendship with Robert Downey Jr’s Tony Stark, to Banner’s reserved and quiet nature in contrast to the indestructible beast, Ruffalo gave his character something that can often get lost amongst such spectacular action: brilliant characterisation.
From HBO came this recent TV movie adaptation of Larry Kramer’s play, in which Ruffalo plays activist Ned Weeks in the midst of the HIV crisis of the 1980s. As the founder of a prominent HIV advocacy group, Weeks is desperate for the government to intervene in AIDS research, not least because his lover Felix (Matt Bomer) is dying of the disease. Featuring an all-star cast including Julia Roberts, Jim Parsons and Alfred Molina, The Normal Heart is stunning in its tragedy, and so much of that is down to Ruffalo’s powerhouse performance, which has recently seen him nominated for an Emmy.
Martin Scorsese directs Leonardo DiCaprio in this intense psychological thriller, which also stars Ruffalo as DiCaprio’s new partner, US Marshal Chuck Aule. While attention remains squarely on DiCaprio and the seeming conspiracy he is becoming deeper embroiled in, Ruffalo is a wonderful foil to DiCaprio’s madness. That is, if Aule ever even existed…
Long before becoming the Science Bros, Ruffalo and Downey played opposite each other in Zodiac, one of David Fincher’s greatest thrillers, also co-starring Jake Gyllenhaal. Ruffalo plays Inspector Dave Toschi, one of the men on the hunt for the infamous Zodiac Killer, in a film that pulls you deeper and deeper into the vortex of mystery, a meticulously crafted thriller for the information age. The fact that Zodiac was adapted from a non-fiction book of the same name only serves to make the story more stunning.
Ruffalo made a name for himself in the rom-com market with hits such as 13 Going on 30, but The Kids Are All Right sees him playing a very different kind of leading man. As Paul, Ruffalo plays the sperm donor to lesbian couple Annette Bening and Julianne Moore, sought out by his children many years later. Of course, his welcoming into the family follows certain predictable story beats, like a growing romantic attachment to one of the mothers, and lesser films would probably make a complete hash of showing sexuality, indicating that “the right man” could turn a lesbian straight. The Kids Are All Right does no such thing, and the developments within are far more believable and natural. It is a well-crafted drama exploring family values, with a wonderful cast rounded out by Mia Wasikowska and Josh Hutcherson as the children, and Ruffalo even earned an Oscar nomination for his performance.