“Poor Things” Stars Attend Ceremony at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival
The versatile and talented actor Mark Ruffalo was honored with the American Riviera Award on Sunday night. Despite competing with the Super Bowl, the Arlington Theatre was packed with an animated crowd.
Before these events begin, the honorees walked up the red carpet in front of the theatre where they are photographed and interviewed by media outlets and also interacted with the public.
The audience inside the theater can watch this in real time on the screen, and it was striking to see how warm and generous Ruffalo was with the fans outside. He paused for many pictures, chats and hugs, and seemed genuinely engaged and appreciative when speaking with the Teen Press. Which was all a great warm-up for what he was like during the actual tribute.
The discussion was moderated by Anne Thompson of Indiewire, who said, “He’s one of my favorite actors of all time. He’s charismatic, an incredible leading man and character actor.” Their conversation was refreshingly “un-Hollywood.” Ruffalo did not have rehearsed or polished answers, but rather gave sincere thought to every question, and was open and honest about his life and career.
He talked about leaving his home in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and arriving in Hollywood in the 1980s. He said that at that time it was a rather scary place for an 18-year-old. He worked all kinds of manual labor jobs, and got involved in theater during those early years. He recalled, “I started with theater, we did thirty plays in 12 years … in a 60-seat theater. That’s where I am comfortable.”
He was in a number of small roles before getting his breakthrough in You Can Count on Me (2000). Speaking on working with writer/director Kenneth Lonergan, Ruffalo said, “Kenny’s writing is so specific and beautiful. Such a powerful inner life happening with those characters. What I learned was to be present and to act moment to moment.” On playing complicated characters, he said, “I guess I end up loving these people. And you can’t play them if you don’t love them.”
He spoke at times of his personal life, including his devastating brain tumor diagnosis in 2002, coinciding with his wife’s pregnancy with their first child. He had facial paralysis after surgery, and his hearing was damaged in one ear. He said he bargained with “the entity that’s bigger than us” with something like, “Dude, you can take my hearing but don’t take my kid’s father.”
Perhaps this experience, and the death of his brother in 2008, led him to take many roles in which he plays a character who is marginalized in some way. It also motivated him and his family to relocated to upstate New York, as he was disturbed by the effect Hollywood was having on his children.
The conversation moved through Ruffalo’s career chronologically, looking at his roles in Zodiac, The Brothers Bloom, The Kids Are All Right, Spotlight, and his numerous turns as The Hulk, among many others.
Ruffalo is a deeply committed activist, and was proud that his participation in the film Dark Waters, about chemical company pollution, resulted in environmental law changes against Dupont Chemicals and others. He testified before Congress about changing laws on forever chemicals in 2019. He was equally proud that the film Spotlight triggered stronger scrutiny and punishment for clergy accused of abuse.
He noted that during the actors’ strike last year, SAG encouraged actors to participate in independent projects, to show studios that it can be done and be competitive. He was in an independent series called Hal and Harper, his first television project, which we will hopefully see in the not-too-distant future.
He described at length the rehearsal process for Poor Things, which was unusual in that it involved hours of theater exercises every day, and lasted for several weeks. This took him back to his early theater roots, and he truly appreciated this leisurely rehearsal time. He had never performed a role like Duncan Wedderburn before, and had to adapt to a comedic period piece and perfect an accent.
To end the night, his Poor Things co-star Emma Stone came out and gave a beautiful tribute to Mark Ruffalo’s many gifts as an actor and human being. She said his superpower is his “immunity to compliments,” which must be one of the things that keeps him grounded and authentic, and that “Mark has the rare ability to marry pathos with comedy. Watching him on set was the most fun I have ever had on a set.”
Ruffalo responded with heartfelt gratitude to SBIFF and the audience, and sent out love and thanks to his wife and children, and his professional team. He paused to search for words, and expressed his heartache over the victims of the conflict in Israel and Gaza. He is clearly a human first, who deeply cares for every other human.
The American Riviera Award was established to recognize actors who have made a significant contribution to American Cinema. Previous recipients include Brendan Fraser, Kristen Stewart, Delroy Lindo, Renée Zellweger, Viggo Mortenson, Sam Rockwell, Jeff Bridges, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Robert Redford, Quentin Tarantino, Martin Scorsese, Sandra Bullock, Forrest Whitaker, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Kevin Bacon and Diane Lane.
The Santa Barbara International Film Festival is a 501(c)(3) non-profit arts and educational organization dedicated to discovering and showcasing the best in independent and international cinema. Learn more at sbiff.org