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Like many other actors who were tagged "best of a generation," Mark Ruffalo's roots were in theater and independent film where his honest, open character approach was applauded. His breakout stage role in Kenneth Lonergan's acclaimed "This Is Our Youth" led Lonergan to give Ruffalo the lead in his film directorial debut "You Can Count on Me" (2000), which earned countless festival awards and had critics buzzing about the little-known actor's subtle, compelling performance as a cerebral but aimless young adult with an arrest record and a pregnant teenage girlfriend. Hollywood came courting, but struggled with a tidy niche in which to put the darkly handsome actor; first offering him small but effective character roles as "conflicted" types in big budget thrillers like "Collateral" (2004) before unsuccessfully making the understated actor into a bland leading man in romantic comedies like "Just Like Heaven" (2005). Ruffalo eventually found an appropriate arena somewhere between the multiplex and the art house, favored by character-driven directors like Jane Campion, David Fincher, Steven Zaillian and eventually Martin Scorsese - all of whom capitalized on the actor's talent for believably disappearing...
Like many other actors who were tagged "best of a generation," Mark Ruffalo's roots were in theater and independent film where his honest, open character approach was applauded. His breakout stage role in Kenneth Lonergan's acclaimed "This Is Our Youth" led Lonergan to give Ruffalo the lead in his film directorial debut "You Can Count on Me" (2000), which earned countless festival awards and had critics buzzing about the little-known actor's subtle, compelling performance as a cerebral but aimless young adult with an arrest record and a pregnant teenage girlfriend. Hollywood came courting, but struggled with a tidy niche in which to put the darkly handsome actor; first offering him small but effective character roles as "conflicted" types in big budget thrillers like "Collateral" (2004) before unsuccessfully making the understated actor into a bland leading man in romantic comedies like "Just Like Heaven" (2005). Ruffalo eventually found an appropriate arena somewhere between the multiplex and the art house, favored by character-driven directors like Jane Campion, David Fincher, Steven Zaillian and eventually Martin Scorsese - all of whom capitalized on the actor's talent for believably disappearing into complex, empathetic characters.
Ruffalo was born Nov. 22, 1967, in Kenosha, WI, and raised in a large, working class Italian family. As a kid, a viewing of the movie classic "A Streetcar Named Desire" on television ignited his desire to act. By the time he was a teenager, his family had relocated to Virginia Beach, VA, where he was a state champion wrestler at First Colonial High School and first took the stage in school productions. Ruffalo ended up in San Diego before relocating to Los Angeles, where he trained at the Stella Adler Conservatory. He made his stage debut in 1990 with a role in David Steen's "Avenue A" at Los Angeles' Cast Theater, and spent the next decade acting in dozens of Los Angeles theater productions and eventually co-founding a small theater group where he also wrote and directed plays. In 1993, his appearance in the Festival of One Acts production of Kenneth Lonergan's "Betrayal by Everyone" earned the actor his first real notice. Also during this period, Ruffalo spent his days auditioning for paying acting work in film and television, landing a guest spot on the critically acclaimed "Due South" (CBS, 1994-99), and roles in the little-seen indie drama "A Gift from Heaven" and abysmal horror sequels "Mirror, Mirror 2: Raven Dance" (1994) and "Mirror Mirror III: The Voyeur" (1995).
"The Destiny of Marty Fine" (1996), a drama about a down-on-his-luck boxer which was co-written and produced by Ruffalo, was first runner-up at the 1996 Slamdance Film Festival competition and helped raise Ruffalo's profile as a promising new talent in the independent film world. From a small supporting role in that feature, he returned to the theater to star in "This Is Our Youth," Kenneth Lonergan's tale of privileged Manhattan post-adolescents resisting the transition to adulthood. He received glowing notices for his portrayal of a pot-smoking college dropout who totes around a prized collection of vintage superhero toys from his childhood, earning a 1997 Theatre World Award and reprising the role in a successful 1998 off-Broadway run. The taste of New York theater - coupled with his unsatisfying years spent navigating Hollywood - was enough for the actor to relocate to the East Coast, so he moved to a Pennsylvania farm not far from New York. His screen career gained momentum with increasingly visible roles in a string of low budget thrillers - most notably, the quirky and appealing indie comedy "Safe Men" (1998), which cast him as a veteran safe cracker opposite less experienced thieves and aspiring lounge singers, Steve Zahn and Sam Rockwell.
Ruffalo gave a strong supporting turn in TNT's biopic "Houdini" (1998), playing the legendary illusionist's brother, but his talent was underused with a small part in the disappointing New York nightclub saga "54" (1998). Following a memorable supporting role in the indie comedy "Committed" (1999), which opened to a positive reception at the Sundance Film Festival, Ruffalo had a small role in Ang Lee's Civil War drama "Ride with the Devil" (1999) and took center stage in the drama "The Moment When" at the Playwrights' Horizons Theatre in NYC. After 10 years onstage and screen, his major career breakthrough came in 2000 when Lonergan cast him in the lead in the character drama "You Can Count on Me." He was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award, as well as L.A. and Chicago Critics Awards for creating a stunningly real portrait of a philosophically leaning wanderer unable to conform to a "normal" lifestyle like that of his upstanding single mother of a sister (Laura Linney), whose home he disrupts during an unexpected visit. The starring role finally gave Ruffalo a chance to showcase his ability to vanish into a role, registering complicated emotions with his character's restless energy and conveying even more with his deep silence. The actor was suddenly "one to watch" in Hollywood, and in addition to his professional triumph, he was married that year to actress and longtime girlfriend, Sunrise Coigney.
After turning down a number of offers to play further versions of "stoner guys" he inhabited so well in "This is Our Youth" and "You Can Count on Me," Ruffalo finally received some appealing offers for character roles in mainstream studio fare. He played an incarcerated military man opposite Robert Redford and James Gandolfini in "The Last Castle" (2001), and another conscience-riddled soldier in the big budget John Woo action war feature, "Windtalker" (2002) before the actor's hard-won rise was cut short by a diagnosis of a benign brain tumor. The tumor was successfully removed, though Ruffalo suffered from partial facial paralysis and some memory loss which eventually disappeared. During the remainder of the year while he recovered at home, he appeared onscreen in a number of films that were completed prior to his illness including "XX/XY" (2003), the surprise Sundance hit about two men and a woman in a three-way sexual relationship. Ruffalo drew rave reviews as the driving force behind the success of the film and also received praise for his sensitive and moving performance in the effective but little seen "My Life Without Me" (2003), playing a man lured into an affair with a married woman who has been diagnosed with cancer.
The actor's fears that his career was over as a result of his sick leave from "the business" were unfounded; evidenced by his post-illness casting by director Jane Campion to star in "In the Cut" (2003). While the film was ultimately not a successful adaptation of the Susanna Moore novel on which it was based, Ruffalo was singled out for his dark, erotic turn as a masochistic police detective who enters into a dangerous affair with a troubled crime victim (Meg Ryan). He balanced that dark dramatic performance with a hilarious starring role in Michel Gondry's off-kilter "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" (2004), playing an ethically challenged technician hired to erase the painful memories of a bitter romance from a heartbroken man (Jim Carrey). In what proved to be a banner year, Ruffalo cracked into the lucrative world of mainstream movies; first playing the love interest of Jennifer Garner's 13-year-old flash-forwarded into adulthood in "13 Going on 30" (2004). From this likable but unremarkable leading role, he was nearly unrecognizable in a supporting role as an undercover police detective hoping to save an L.A. cabbie (Jamie Foxx) from a menacing hit man (Tom Cruise) in Michael Mann's blockbuster thriller, "Collateral" (2004).
Ruffalo maintained his commitment to more intimate, character-driven independent films by serving as executive producer and star of "We Don't Live Here Anymore" (2004), where he played an unhappily married college professor and friend of a similarly self-destructive couple who drift into infidelity with the other's spouses. Following a strong showing in the Sundance Jury Prize-nominated film, Ruffalo was summoned back to Hollywood to take the lead in another mainstream romantic comedy. In "Just Like Heaven" (2005), he elicited empathy for playing a despondent widower who finds his new apartment inhabited by the spirit of its previous owner, a workaholic doctor (Reese Witherspoon). Less satisfying was his follow-up starring role opposite Jennifer Aniston in "Rumor Has It " (2005), an ill-conceived sequel to the film classic, "The Graduate" (1967), where Ruffalo played the jilted boyfriend of a writer (Aniston) terrified of marrying him. The actor rebounded from his romantic comedy detour to play a Southern doctor in "All the King's Men" (2006), based on Robert Penn Warren's classic novel of an idealistic man-of-the-people slowly corrupted by the political system. Despite pre-release Oscar buzz and an outstanding ensemble cast including Sean Penn and Kate Winslet, the film failed on all levels.
After a long absence from the stage, the now seasoned film star hit Broadway where he received a Tony Award nomination for his starring role in Clifford Odets' "Awake and Sing!" Director David Fincher sought him out to play a flamboyant homicide detective in "Zodiac" (2007), an engrossing chronicle of the investigation into the elusive and notoriously media-taunting serial killer who was active in the San Francisco Bay area during the late-1960s. The chilling and thoughtful film received rave reviews and helped set the tone for Ruffalo's subsequent leads in a number of emotionally intense titles beginning with "Reservation Road" (2007), where he played a morally-conflicted attorney who tries to cover up the accidental hit-and-run of a small boy, and is subsequently hunted down by the boy's father (Joaquin Ph nix). In the allegorical thriller "Blindness" (2008), based on the book by José Saramago, Ruffalo played the victim of a mysterious blindness epidemic that quarantines victims to a hospital where they form their own mini society. While provocative, the film missed the mark overall with critics.
"What Doesn't Kill You" (2008), a gritty character drama co-starring Ruffalo and Ethan Hawke as a pair of low level Boston mob thugs, impressed critics considerably more, earning Ruffalo a nomination from the Satellite Awards. The low-profile actor uncharacteristically made entertainment news at the end of 2008 when his brother Scott was found shot in the head in his Beverly Hills home in what was first considered a homicide before the two suspects were released. Rumors swirled that it was an actual accident resulting from Scott playing Russian roulette. Regardless, Ruffalo and his family were devastated by the loss. In a few months, the grieving actor earned a second nomination for "The Brothers Bloom" (2009), a caper that teamed him with Adrien Brody as a pair of notorious con men traveling the globe on one last big score. Ruffalo reunited with Kenneth Lonergan to appear in "Margaret" (2011), a long-shelved drama about a teen who witnesses a fatal car accident. From this little-seen indie, Ruffalo found the perfect balance of commercial appeal and filmmaking integrity with "Shutter Island" (2010), a Martin Scorsese adaptation of Dennis Lehane's novel that cast him alongside Leonardo DiCaprio as marshals investigating the disappearance of a patient from a mental institution. He returned to the indie world to co-star in "The Kids Are All Right" (2010), playing the sperm donor father of two children (Mia Wasikowska and Josh Hutcherson) who enters the lives of a family headed by a lesbian couple (Annette Bening and Julianne Moore). The quirky comedy was widely hailed by critics, particularly the sterling performances displayed by Bening and Moore. But Ruffalo also received his due, which included Indie Spirit, Screen Actors Guild and Academy Award nominations for Best Supporting Actor.
Ruffalo settled into the director's chair for the overlooked drama "Sympathy for Delicious" (2010), which also featured him in a supporting role. In 2012, he appeared in "The Avengers," the biggest movie of his career, as Bruce Banner and his green gargantuan alter ego, the Hulk. Garnering raves as the actor who finally got Banner and his rage-filled incarnation right, Ruffalo reprised the role for a stealthy appearance opposite Robert Downey, Jr. in "Iron Man 3" (2013) and was featured in the ensemble caper film "Now You See Me" (2013) with Woody Harrelson and Morgan Freeman, followed by a more dramatic role in the critically-acclaimed television adaptation of Larry Kramer's searing AIDS drama "The Normal Heart" (HBO 2014). Around this time, it was announced that Ruffalo would return for the highly anticipated sequel "The Avengers: Age of Ultron" in 2015. Ruffalo next appeared in the small indie comedy-drama "Infinitely Polar Bear" (2014) with Zoe Saldana, followed by Bennett Miller's "Foxcatcher" (2014), the story of eccentric millionaire John E. du Pont (Steve Carell) and his growing obsession with the Olympic wrestling team.
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CAST: (feature film)
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