When Mark Ruffalo first appeared on the scene, the comparisons to Marlon Brando were plentiful. It was an easy parallel to make — he was bursting with talent, darkly handsome and excelled at playing brooding, troubled characters. Ruffalo even studied at the Stella Adler Studio of Acting, which continued the teachings of Brando’s famous acting teacher. “You belong here, darling,” his teacher Joanne Linville told him in their interview, as recounted by Ruffalo in a Variety story. “I never had anyone tell me I belong somewhere. I had never been so excited about learning in my entire life as I embarked on that journey.”
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But Ruffalo soon proved to be his own actor, seamlessly slipping into light comedies and superhero status as effortlessly as he made his dramatic work look. He just received his fourth Academy Award nomination for his sharp turn in “Poor Things” and on Feb. 8, will be honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. In celebration of that event, we looked at 10 of his most memorable performances over the years.
WHAT: Mark Ruffalo receives his star on the Walk of Fame
WHEN: 11 a.m., Feb. 8
WHERE: 6777 Hollywood Blvd.
Ruffalo earned his second Oscar nomination (after “The Kids Are All Right”) for playing wrestler Dave Schultz, an Olympic Gold medalist who was murdered by millionaire John du Pont. Ruffalo has the challenge of playing a decent family man opposite Steve Carell as du Pont and Channing Tatum as Dave’s younger brother Mark. It can be hard to make goodness interesting, but Ruffalo presents a dedicated family man and athlete — making it all the more tragic when his life is inexplicably
The Normal Heart (2014)
When director Ryan Murphy first offered Ruffalo the role of openly gay writer Alexander Weeks (based on Larry Kramer, who adapted his own play for this TV movie) the actor felt the role should go to a member of the LGBTQ+ community. It was Murphy who insisted, and it’s impossible to argue with his choice. Ruffalo has long excelled at being an audience surrogate, and here he takes us through the early days of the AIDS epidemic as we watch Weeks lose his friends to the illness. Ruffalo stuns in powerful scenes as he rails against the inhumanity, but it’s often in the moments where he says nothing that hit the hardest, speaking volumes with just his eyes.
This Is Our Youth (1996-99, 2014)
Ruffalo began his career on the stage, and while many might point to his Tony-nominated 2006 Broadway debut in Clifford Odets’ “Awake and Sing” as a high point, it’s not available to be (legally) seen. Technically, neither is this 2014 staged benefit reading of Kenneth Lonergan’s play, but the audio was recorded and is available on Audible. Ruffalo originated the role of Warren, a disillusioned teen who steals from his father, in the 1996 off-Broadway production set in the Reagan era. It was a major breakthrough for the actor, who would go on to play Warren off-and-on through 1999; in subsequent productions, actors including Jake Gyllenhaal, Kieran Culkin and Casey Affleck took on the part. Even revisiting the role just 10 years ago, Ruffalo captures the dread and fear of a young man about to start his life in the
We Don’t Live Here Anymore (2004)
Ruffalo and Laura Dern give a masterclass in performance as Jack and Terry Linden, a married couple who each have affairs with another couple (played by Peter Krause and Naomi Watts). Directed by John Curran and based on an Andre Dubus story, the film is undeniably bleak as you watch these doomed relationships play out — the film is as raw and gritty as the emotions it explores. But there is something exhilarating about seeing two actors at the top of their game facing off that makes the journey worthwhile.
13 Going on 30 (2004)
Prior to his role in this beloved rom-com, Ruffalo was known for more brooding, serious parts. But he proved he could do fun and breezy just as well with a pitch perfect performance as Matt Flamhaff, the childhood best friend of Jennifer Garner’s Jenna Rink. When Jenna magically goes from 13 to 30 overnight, she seeks out her loyal friend — only to discover he’s transformed into the perfect guy, inside and out. Comedies often get dismissed as easy but if it’s that simple, why do so many get it wrong? “13 Going on 30” became a classic largely because of the vibrant performances — and the chemistry between its two leads.
Ruffalo brings his signature mark of toughness and empathy to play Boston Globe reporter Michael Rezendes, part of the team that broke the investigation of sexual abuse by Catholic priests in Boston. It’s an excellent performance and even more admirable if you ever see the real Rezendes and realize just how much Ruffalo nailed his voice, cadence and mannerisms, right down to the way he angles his head to look right into someone’s eyes. As co-writer/director Tom McCarthy told Variety, “Mike just had this energy. Just so cocksure. You could immediately feel that it was like vibrating and I think Ruffalo caught that so perfectly.”
Poor Things (2023)
Ruffalo has been open about how scared he was to take on the role of attorney Duncan Wedderburn, the epitome of toxic masculinity in this Frankenstein fable about Bella Baxter, a woman brought back to life with a child’s brain. In fact, he even suggested other actors for the role to director Yorgos Lanthimos. Luckily, Lanthimos insisted, and the result is some of the actor’s most enjoyable work as he goes from lecherous cad (he warns Bella not to fall in love with him) to obsessive stalker. It’s a fun ride — for both the audience and the actor. As he told Robert Downey Jr. during Variety’s “Actors on Actors” conversation, “Oh, it was the time of my life. I got to play that guy with no sense of self-consciousness or no sense of morality, really no sense of any bounds whatsoever that hold us.”
The Avengers (2012)
I was a fan of Edward Norton’s turn as the Hulk in 2008’s “The Incredible Hulk,” but when Ruffalo was announced as his replacement in the Marvel Universe, there was nothing to argue with. And from his first moment as Bruce Banner, Ruffalo was believable as both brute and scientist. His bromance with Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark became an endearing fan favorite too. Personally, it’s “Avengers: Endgame” that has my favorite turn as the now jolly green giant — his Smart Hulk persona is just endlessly entertaining. But it’s hard to argue with the utterly flawless first appearance that started it all. Reflecting on the journey of Banner and the Hulk in 2022, Ruffalo told Variety, “I’ve really gotten to probably play like five different iterations of the two of them during that time, and bring some important, meaningful part of myself to each one of
You Can Count On Me (2000)
Lonergan wrote Ruffalo’s stage breakout role with “This Is Our Youth” and then did the same for the actor with film, casting him as Terry Prescott, a somewhat aimless young man who drifts back into the life of his sister Sammy (Laura Linney) and nephew Rudy (Rory Culkin). While it was Longeran and Linney who earned Oscar nominations, Ruffalo was put on the map as the Next Big Thing — a blessing and a curse but one that the actor more than lived up to. Like his sister, the audience is frustrated by Terry’s arrested development, but undeniably charmed as well. A more tender side is exposed as Terry grows closer to Rudy, who desperately needs a father figure. It’s a grounded, authentic turn that foretold great things to come.
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