ALBUQUERQUE, NM – In April of 2012, fans will have had their appetites whetted for The Hulk and his appearance in Joss Whedon’s “Avengers.”
We’ll have heard him roar. We’ll have watched him slide down a New York City skyscraper, Iron Man clutched under his mammoth green arm. We’ll have seen him stand in the middle of a ruined urban street surrounded by his fellow superheroes, assembled, as the Marvel parlance goes.
But it isn’t April 2012.
It’s June of 2011 and Mark Ruffalo and his emerald alter ego are among the biggest mysteries for a small cadre of journalists who have been prowling the “Avengers” — or “Group Hug” as all of the signs and badges read — set for the better part of two days.
We’ve seen hints of The Hulk.
In the corner of the stage occupied by Tony Stark’s well-appointed Manhattan penthouse, with its unobstructed view of a green screen wall, there’s a looming cardboard cutout that could best be described as Hulk-esque. It’s big. It’s green. It had no genitals. And it bears no resemblance to Ruffalo.
We’ve seen a metal chamber with a SHIELD plate on the side. It has a thickly paned observation window and we all surmise, without hesitation or corroborating evidnce, that were one to design a holding cell fit for a Hulk, incredible or otherwise, this would be perfect.
We’ve also heard Ruffalo’s co-stars talk about him and his on-set presence in tones that are simultaneously admiring and lovingly mocking.
For example, discussing the cast’s myriad uncomfortable costumes, both Jeremy Renner and Scarlett Johansson acknowledge that Ruffalo has it worst.
“I think the humility award definitely goes to Ruffalo. Poor bastard’s in a thong or wearing something unflattering and he’s supposed to be the baddest ass thing,” Renner says.
Agrees Johansson, “And his little fez on and his little plus-and-minus stickers, poor thing.”
We’ve even seen concept art of The Hulk, hanging in the production office, but ink and paint renditions aren’t the same as pixelated simulated reality.
Ruffalo arrives in the trailer housing the reporters as our last interview of the set visit. We’ve grown accustomed to the same circular, spoiler-free answers, so our ears perk up when Ruffalo walks in with a big smile and announces, “I’m gonna let it rip!”
Hardly the “poor bastard” described by Renner, Ruffalo is jovial and excited about “The Avengers,” though obviously his state of mind is improved by sitting around in casual, everyday attire rather than covered in motion capture dots. He’s generally pleased and when we ask if he’s seen a finished version of The Hulk, his attention perks up even more.
“I’ve seen an awesome representation,” he gushes. “I can show it to you guys.”
He whips out his smartphone and goes to the photo album.
“I can show it to you, but you can’t… take a picture of it.”
We nod eagerly. We weren’t actually planning to take pictures of the picture on his phone.
He looks around nervously as publicists and producers are stirred to silent and then not-so-silent panic behind us.
Ruffalo seems ready to unveil the picture. He says, “Alright, I’ll do it really fast.”
At this point, before we even get a glimpse, his phone is taken away. No, it’s not as “1984” as it sounds. The Marvel people just want to find out if Ruffalo’s allowed to show us what he wants to show us.
“I’m the loose cannon of the f***ing Marvel family,” Ruffalo cackles.
Alas, although the phone is returned to Ruffalo moments later, he’s instructed that finished photos of The Hulk are above our pay-grade.
These are the kind of things that will seem quaint in April of 2012, when The Hulk is everywhere, the subject of his character banners proudly released by Marvel. But in June of 2011, Ruffalo’s noble attempts to show us his gargantuan CGI incarnation make him a bit of a hero, albeit a thwarted hero.
In general, Ruffalo is funny and candid — “I felt very uncomfortable. I’m not well-endowed,” he cracks of his first day on-set in mo-cap skivvies — as he talks about his early experiences with ILM, the inspiration for his movements as The Hulk and his decision to seek Edward Norton’s blessing before taking on the Bruce Banner/Hulk role.
What follows is an expurgated version of the Q&A between Ruffalo and the pack of reporters (including, in case you haven’t figure it out, HitFix):
Question: What have you filmed so far – or are about to film – that you’re most excited about?
Mark Ruffalo: I’ve been having a lot of fun with the Hulk motion capture stuff, actually. The one distinction, the only distinction that I hold, is that I am the only actor to ever play Banner and the Hulk. So I’ve been working a lot with ILM on him, so no one will be able to blame ILM, fully, if this Hulk doesn’t work.
Q: We talk to a lot of the other actors and we talked about the scenes you’re doing in the mo-cap suit on set, so what’s that like?
Mark Ruffalo: The first day I was a miserable bastard. I was a trained actor reduced to the state of a Chinese checkerboard. And then once I got over everyone laughing at me…
Question: Where is Banner’s mental state when we pick it up, because in the last one he was just really miserable, hates what he is…
Mark Ruffalo: Yeah, it’s hard to watch a movie of a guy who doesn’t want to be there. I think Banner’s aging and living with this thing for, now it’s been two years since his last one. We’re kind of going for this world-weariness of accepting, trying to get to the point where he can live with it, and maybe master it and come to peace with it. And so there’s this kind of nice ironic wryness Banner. He’s not so f***ing miserable, you know. I think that’s sort of a throwback – We’ve talked about it being a throwback to Bill Bixby, which was the Banner that I grew up on basically. He had kind of a charm about it him, and this world-weariness. He was on the run, but he was still able to flirt sometimes and smile sometimes, and occasionally he’d crack a joke. When you have a movie where there’s so many characters, you end up getting about 10 minutes screen time with your particular character. So in the 10 minutes that we have, we’re trying to bring out this charm in him, and maybe this idea that he wants to be a superhero. He looks at Stark and he’s like, “That’s the dude who did what I was attempted to do. He’s the model. He made it work.” So Banner and Stark have a very cool relationship in the movie.
Question: Would you want to do your own Hulk [movie] after this?
Mark Ruffalo: Why not! It was the one character of all of them… You know I was a comic book fan when I was a kid and I always loved The Hulk. When “The Incredible Hulk,” that show, came on, I would not miss that. And so if I was going to find myself in this world, this would be the guy that I would be most likely to be interested in doing. To make a very short answer long: Yeah, I’d love to have him do his own movie. It’s a tough nut to crack, because, like I said, it’s hard to watch a guy who doesn’t want to be there for two hours.
Question: Yours is the only character who hasn’t had a chance to play his character yet in another movie. Do you feel added pressure because of that?
Mark Ruffalo: Hell yeah man! When I was at Comic-Con — and I’ll never forget this, and Robert didn’t help me with this — when he introduced me, he said “Now reprising the role of the Hulk…” and they went, “Yeah!!!” because they thought it was gonna be Ed Norton, and then he said “Mark Ruffalo!” and they were like, “Yeah! Huh?” And it’s been like that ever since. I made the mistake of going online one day and reading the fanboy’s take on me playing Hulk and it was not encouraging. Yeah, so I’ve never done anything that’s had so much scrutiny behind it before I even rolled a frame of film. And Joss is like, ‘You know, you are the only character I’m introducing, so if you go down we both go down. So don’t f*** this up.”
Question: When you’re in the mo-cap suit, what are you attempting to base Hulk’s movements upon?
Mark Ruffalo: Believe it or not, I looked at a lot of gorillas, just because they have this kind of lumbering thing to them that then becomes explosive. I liked that. Plus, when you do the motion capture, you put the suit on and then you go into a room where they have monitors all around, so step in front of the camera and there’s The Hulk. It’s literally like putting the costume on, but it’s The Hulk, and every move I make The Hulk is making, a very rudimentary version of him. And all of a sudden you start looking at that and you’re like, “That, the way I’m moving like that, isn’t honest to that character.” And all of a sudden the image of the Hulk starts telling you how to move. He doesn’t move quickly. He has this kind of lumbering thing and his shoulders are a little rolled over.
Question: How do they do it when you’re all on-set together. Someone said before they have you on a table?
Mark Ruffalo: It depends. Some of the stuff they do it’s just me standing on the ground, but some things they’ll put me on a table so that they can get the framing right. And the table puts me exactly at the height that The Hulk would be, which is eight-and-a-half feet. They’ll do that mostly for framing, or they’ll bring in a cutout and they’ll hold that up, it’s sort of like a backpack thing, they’ll put that on someone’s shoulders. It’s all mostly for framing. Once I’m in the mo-cap suit they can pull me out of any scene and put me in anywhere they really want to.
Question: Was doing the mo-cap one of the reasons you took the job, or did that just come later after you were hired?
Mark Ruffalo: No that was right when we were talking about it, that was one of the things, that we would take the “Avatar” technology, that really interested me, because I’ve always loved those Hulks, but you don’t really see the resemblance of the guy in a physicalization of that character, I don’t feel like it’s captured it quite yet. So I was very excited to take that “Avatar” technology and see what that would do.
Question: So you had signed on prior to seeing the script?
Mark Ruffalo: Yes I did. Which is a big no-no for me.
Question: Everybody has been talking about how good the script was and Joss was talking about all of the drafts he did. Can you talk a bit about it?
Mark Ruffalo: It’s hard to have this many characters, this many storylines, and have each character start to make an arc. That was my worry. I said “Joss, don’t put me in there if I’m just going to be standing around. There’s no reason to.” He’s like, “No, no, no, don’t worry – everyone’s gonna have their voice, and their sort of own little character arc.” And he’s really come through on that. He was kind of enough to give me a couple of scenes, where he was heading. We worked a lot together on the script over the months that he’s been writing it, just “What do you think about The Hulk?” He’s a very confident writer. He’s really collaborative and I’ve seen him be that way with a lot of the actors. I think the script is in really good shape.
Question: Have there been any encounters with the other Hulks, like Ed Norton or Lou Ferrigno, or are there plans to get together?
Mark Ruffalo: I actually called Ed, because I’m friends with Ed and wanted it to be copasetic. I didn’t want to step on his feet. And he said, “Do it, buddy.” He bequeathed it to me, and we had a joke that it’s our generation’s Hamlet. We’re all gonna get a crack at it.
Question: Is it going to be weird going back to do a drama after this?
Mark Ruffalo: Yeah, I like to try different things. If you haven’t noticed yet, I’m kind of a casualty of ADD, and so I like to try different things. I always kind of find myself back in indie dramedies or dramas, but I have gone out and done bigger studio things, nothing ever like this because no one has ever asked me to. So I just go where I find my interests taking me, mostly. I don’t really have too much of a plan.
Question: Can you talk a little about the first day? Everyone’s in costume – were you in that scene? Was everyone in costume?
Mark Ruffalo: Yeah, and I was like, “Where’s my costume man? This sucks!” They all looked dope and ripped up, and I’m there in a not-very-flattering little linen suit. But I was thinking, “Wow, this is the team and here I am, a total outsider.” But I think that really works for Banner, and I think it really works for Banner in this particular story.
Question: When you’re on set as Hulk, on a table, and you throw cars. How does that work? Are you acting like you’re throwing stuff?
Mark Ruffalo: Well at ILM they actually give you something to throw. It’s just very light. And then when you look up on the screen it’s a car flying across the room instead of a cardboard box. That’s pretty much how they do it. Once we shoot all this, I’ll do it all on set, and then we’ll go back to ILM for three days and refine it and do it on the stage where I can actually see the feedback of a screen. That’s something they haven’t done before.
“The Avengers” opens in theaters everywhere on May 4.