Mark Ruffalo probably isn’t the actor most fans expected to see play Bruce Banner (aka The Incredible Hulk). But then again, were Ed Norton, Eric Bana and Bill Bixby really the predictable choices at the time? Once Ruffalo accepted the part and came aboard the cast of the star-studded “The Avengers,” he had to hold up the usual fanboy onslaught, much of it the same kinds of relatively baseless criticisms his own cast mates Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth and Robert Downey Jr. faced when they were first cast as superheroes. It’s an impossible set of expectations to live up to.
Now Ruffalo says he’s glad to finally have the film in the can so fans can see his take on Banner in finished form and come to their own conclusions. He’s been a good sport about the process, smiling and laughing along as fan anticipation hit a fever pitch. He’s even been known to tease his Twitter followers with some glimpses of the not-so-jolly green giant, much to the chagrin of Marvel and Disney. More on that below.
So now the time is finally upon us as “The Avengers” hits screens on May 4th. The film had its world premiere in Hollywood last Wednesday to positive reception and The Playlist sat down with Ruffalo at the Four Seasons the next day for an exclusive interview. Here are some highlights from our chat including Ruffalo’s thoughts on a possible standalone Hulk film.
Mark Ruffalo admits he was pretty surprised when he was first approached to play Bruce Banner. He remembered the comics and the TV series from his younger years, but he hadn’t really considered pursuing a superhero part in his own career. “I was always attracted to Hulk as a kid,” Ruffalo tells The Playlist. “Loved the TV show. I was quite surprised when they came to me for it. First of all, I didn’t think that was ever going to happen. Then I went through the debate of trying to decide whether to do it or not. From there reaching out to Robert Downey who said, “C’mon buddy, we got this. We’ll have a great time.' ”
Developing the New/Old Hulk with Whedon
The Hulk has had a difficult trajectory on the big screen. Best remembered for the TV series of the late ‘70s/early ‘80s, recent feature attempts by Ang Lee and Louis Leterrier were met with mixed reactions from fans and critics. Once Ruffalo signed on, he and director Joss Whedon discussed how to best approach the character. “We kind of felt like, we wanted to just go to the next generation, just take what they’ve done before and keep moving through with it. We came to the Hulk where we left Banner, almost meditating to see if he could start to control when those eyes turn green so you’re like, ‘Oh, maybe he’s going to have some mastery over it.’ We took the last Hulk where he’s meditating and can almost do it and we just made him more mature," he explained. "You come to a point in your life where you’re like, ‘Okay, this is who I am, this is the best me I’ll be and these are my shortcomings and these are my strengths. I’m gonna turn and face my life and accept it and stop trying to run from it and that’s what we thought Banner had, a world weary wry sense of humor about his situation.”
When Banner gets angry in the film and the Hulk tears out of the tiny man’s clothes, Ruffalo didn’t have the luxury of stepping aside for a latte while his cast mates acted opposite a tennis ball on a stick. Instead, he donned a motion capture suit and acted out the motions of the Hulk just like he was Lou Ferrigno. “It was very satisfying,” Ruffalo says of seeing the finished digital work on the Hulk. “It was exactly what we’d hoped it would be when I was talking to Joss about it. They worked so long at ILM and in post to make it so similar to me. I was really blown away and happy with the results.”
The funniest part is that once the Hulk is in a fit of rage, he bears a striking resemblance to Ruffalo’s dad. He laughs when I bring it up and picks up a binder of images from the film, finally turning to a page depicting Hulk facing the camera with a rather perturbed look. “Yeah, here it is,” he says. “There’s a great picture of him in here that I can’t fucking believe. [It looks like my dad] screaming at me. (Laughs) Ready to tear my head off. God it’s wild, so weird.”
His kids had mixed reactions to the larger, muscled green version of their dad. “[My son] saw the movie last night. He’s like, ‘It’s awesome, papa.’ I haven’t really gotten to talk to him in-depth about it yet, but he was definitely into it. My daughter, my little ones, they freaked out. I had to take my four-year-old out of the theater.”
Once the onslaught of fanboy criticisms came down the pipeline, a surprised Ruffalo decided it was for the best to tune out and focus on doing the best job he could. “I promised myself, you know what, I have no control over how people perceive it.”
At the premiere in Hollywood, fans and industry insiders seemed to react very positively to Banner and Hulk’s key moments, both in terms of the action and even some subtle doses of humor. “Yeah, it definitely seemed positive,” says Ruffalo. “And I love that people are liking it. That makes me very happy. Also I had a very good time making it which is kind of how I gauge my happiness about something.”
One aspect of the process Ruffalo found difficult to adjust to was the intense secrecy of the project. More than once the actor admits he was taken aside and given a lecture about saying something he shouldn’t have. “I had pictures of the Hulk and I was teasing it out on Twitter,” Ruffalo says with a laugh. “I’ve had them pull me aside and say you can’t do that, you can’t say that. It’s crazy. I’ve never seen anything like it, from the very beginning.”
But Ruffalo says he hasn’t completely learned his lesson. “I’m still going to push it,” he added, going to confirm that the ensemble were shooting a last minute, extra scene for the film.
Assuming Ruffalo’s Hulk is met positively by the masses come May 4th, a solo Hulk movie seems like a reasonable enough assumption. But Ruffalo says no talk has really gotten past the brainstorming stages at this point. “There’s been sort of toying around with the idea but no one from Marvel or Universal has mentioned it to me,” says Ruffalo. “It’s probably premature. They’re about to make another 'Captain America' and another 'Thor' and another 'Iron Man.' I’m sure a third 'Hulk' is predominately undermined at the moment. But I’d entertain that, definitely for the right story.”
On his own, Ruffalo has checked out some of the older Hulk comics and come up with a few of his own ideas to bring to the table. “I think we could do a lot more than anyone’s been able to do because of where the technology is. So something like 'Planet Hulk,' you could almost do something like that now. Although it’s mostly Hulk. I haven’t really thought about it," he said. "There’s something cool about Bruce Banner, especially in the ‘70s series, moving from place to place and falling in love. [He hums the old theme song] I don’t know. I feel like there’s so many places to go. I saw this whole kind of funny, interesting thing with Bruce Banner in India and when Hulk came around everyone thought he was a God and they all painted themselves and worshipped him. There’s plenty to do.”
“The Avengers” opens in theaters nationwide May 4th.