He’s one of my favourite actors – Mark Ruffalo.
Catching a bit of The Last Castle again on TV recently, I was reminded of a comment made after his stellar, breakout film performance in 2000 in Kenneth Lonergan’s You Can Count on Me, that Mark Ruffalo reminded you of ‘an early Marlon Brando’. Now just over a decade later, he’s worked with some of the best film talents out there and played a brilliant variety of roles, since he really arrived on screen as Terry, Laura Linney’s wayward brother, in Lonergan’s feature.
We’ve seen the dramatic: in Rod Lurie’s previously mentioned undervalued The Last Castle, Terry George’s Reservation Road, Austin Chick’s XX/XY, John Curran’s We Don’t Live Here Anymore, Isabel Coixet’s My Life Without Me, Steven Zaillian’s All The King’s Men and reuniting with Lonergan again in Margaret and Brian Goodman (from The Last Castle) in What Doesn’t Kill You.
We’ve seen the comedy: in Rian Johnson’s The Brothers Bloom, Michel Gondry’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and as Paul the sperm donor dad Lisa Cholodenko’s spot on The Kids Are All Right; we’ve seen the romance: opposite Jennifer Garner in 13 Going on 30 and Reese Witherspoon in Just Like Heaven.
Also in that mix, have been a number of cops and detectives – in Jane Campion’s evocative In the Cut, Martin Scorsese’s slightly overpraised Shutter Island, Michael Mann’s thrilling Collateral (almost unrecognisable with his hair slicked back) and most superbly, as Inspector David Toschi whose life is turned into an obsession by a serial killer in David Fincher’s masterful Zodiac.
What seems to be a recurring theme though throughout a lot of his work, is that he’s often cast in a kind of everyman role. And what I admire about his performances is the ease at which he comes across on screen – what you see is relaxed and graceful. He trained with method wiz Stella Adler and so you always see portrayals of incredible depth but performances that seem slightly ragged around the edges, not super polished, which makes them all the more real.
This focus shows in how he makes each line count, even if the person he’s playing, on the surface, appears laid back or without a focus – in The Kids Are All Right, Just Like Heaven and The Last Castle. He’s just a master of the unassuming – the realistic performance that doesn’t usually win awards, because it’s not that showy but that totally makes the piece work.
He hasn’t yet won an Oscar, though he was nominated for The Kids Are All Right but I’m sure that’ll come one day. Looking at what he has coming up (apart from a little movie called The Avengers) – there’s the long-awaited screen version of Larry Kramer’s landmark play about the arrival of AIDS, The Normal Heart – and even though it’s on cable TV, this will surely give him another Best Actor shot. What a great part Ned Weeks is for him, possibly pushing him into territory we haven’t seen before. At the start of the piece, he’s a man who’s just moving through his comfortable life with relative ease but when his lover contracts this new illness, he becomes a spokesman for change.
I saw Martin Sheen play Ned in the original London theatre production way back in the 80’s, so its certainly taken some time to reach the screen. It may be something director Ryan Murphy (the force behind Glee) has wanted to do for years and now with his success he’s able to. We’ll see what Murphy does with it but one thing’s for certain already – he’ll have a nuanced, delicate, understated yet powerful performance from his leading actor.Tags: Acting, Collateral, Mark Ruffalo, The Kids Are All Right, The Last Castle, The Normal Heart, Zodiac