TIFF: 'Spotlight' Star Mark Ruffalo on "Awkward" Sex Scenes, Comforting David Fincher and Embracing Marvel

David Needleman
Mark Ruffalo

The actor looks back on highlights from his career, including his directorial debut 'Sympathy for Delicious' and his Oscar-nominated turn in 'Foxcatcher.'

You Can Count on Me (2000)
Laura [Linney] and I didn’t do anything consciously to tap into the sibling relationship. We were often together in this crazy little summer hotel called Wildacres in upstate New York. It was an old giant farmhouse. So, we were always together. We ate all our meals together. And we cleaned chicken coops together. We were like brother and sister on a family vacation. We didn’t push. It was just natural from the moment we met each other. There was a simpatico between us. It was strange. It was immediately very familiar and familial.

Zodiac (2007)
I knew that [director] David [Fincher] is tough. And I am not. So I see I was a little nervous about it. Then I learned that’s just the way David worked. About two‑thirds of the way into the movie, I invited a bunch of the cast members to my trailer on a Friday night, including David. He notoriously keeps a very low profile. He doesn’t really hangout with the cast and crew per se. Then I saw him was outside my trailer, just walking back and forth with a glass in his hand. I was like, ‘Hey, you want to come in for a drink?’ And he was like, ‘Yeah, that would be nice.’ He said to me, ‘You know, I’ve never made anything like this. I don’t know if they’re going to kill me or celebrate me.’ And finally I said, ‘Oh, let’s have a drink.’ That was really a nice moment where we connected outside of work. And we remained friends since then.

The Kids Are All Right (2010)
My first day of work I had a sex scene with Yaya [DaCosta]. I was thinking it would be something like us under the covers. I got to set, and I hadn’t met Yaya yet. We introduced ourselves to each other. And [director] Lisa [Cholodenko] said, ‘The way I’m seeing this is you’ll be standing naked in the middle of the room, and you’ll be holding her while she straddles you, and you’ll be having sex standing up in the middle of the room. OK?’ That was pretty much the furthest thing from what I had in mind on my first day of work. It was particularly difficult and joyful all at once. That became the nature of the rest of that shoot. A little awkward and, you know, and a lot of fun.

Sympathy for Delicious (2010)

My best friend in acting school [Christopher Thornton] became a paraplegic. He was really gifted. It sort of stopped his career in a way as an actor. He wrote Sympathy for Delicious. I wanted to direct him in it. I already had directed a bunch of theater. It was just a completely original and authentic work that dealt with hardships in life and how we deal with them. I felt like it carried a really important message that sometimes the things that we see as the most difficult and challenging are a gift. I directed it just after my brother had passed away. I was going to back out of the movie. But I decided to do it as an homage to him. I loved the experience so much and felt really at home doing it. I particularly enjoyed walking past the makeup trailer every morning to go to work. I really relished the entire experience and worked through my grief for my brother and threw a lot of that into that movie.

The Avengers (2012)

Sometimes you pick a movie just for the sheer pleasure of entertaining people. I don’t believe that everything has got to be artist‑driven. I want to stay in balance. I marvel at the Marvel movies because people are willing to suspend so much of their critical minds for the movies themselves, and they’re so willing to go on that journey. One of my favorite scenes is when Black Widow finds him, and he’s then on the run and in India. That just really opened up my imagination to this guy and where he’d been. And now she’s trapped him. He could have gotten out of that. He’s The Hulk. But he sort of turns to face himself, and I thought that was the beginning of what could be a great journey of those two characters.

The Normal Heart (2014)

Larry [Kramer] is such an amazing example of speaking up. Sometimes I feel like a lot of artists have become afraid to speak out or don’t really have an understanding of the historical place that artists have held as people who do have a voice in the culture. Larry showed that you have to stand on principle. And no matter how wrong you’re made or how many names you’re called or how little you seem to be able to effect change, you just keep on and eventually you’ll be vindicated. Even when his own culture was telling him to shut up, he fought on. To have that kind of guts and that kind of commitment to your beliefs is hard and it’s scary, but it’s what makes a great life. A very important life.

Foxcatcher (2014)

When I first read the screenplay, I thought it was really powerful. How a tragedy like that happened. This movie says something about the destructive nature of capitalism. And it’s capitalism not as it was intended to be, but where it consolidates wealth into the hands of the few. That wealth is not based on merit so much as family. And then what that does is to distort values in everyone around them and everyone who comes in contact with it. Even Dave Schultz as great his ability was, his values were distorted by finding a place where he could make money and keep his family going. He had to sort of sell out his own values in the face of that. It was a difficult scene playing Dave, when he’s being interviewed and has to call John [Steve Carell], his mentor. That’s a distortion of our values, when he has to leave his brother behind and his brother has to sell himself out to a mentor who is abusive and has no real redeemable value other than the fact that he’s the one who’s throwing the money around. It’s something we see time and time again — talented people who are forced to subjugate their talent to people who don’t have any talent. And it’s only by birth where they’re lucky enough to have the wealth that they have.