Few actors have a rsum as varied as Ruffalo's. He's starred in quirky indies, big-budget thrillers and a host of romantic comedies. This year, he's tackling another psychological thriller: In Shutter Island, Martin Scorsese's adaptation of Dennis Lehane's pulpy 2003 novel, Ruffalo plays a U.S. Marshal who, true to the film's noir leanings, isn't exactly what he seems. Oh, and the actor has started getting behind the camera: We caught up with Ruffalo by phone at the Sundance Film Festival, where he was screening his directorial debut (and labor of love—dude's been working on it forever), Sympathy for Delicious, about a DJ-turned-faith-healer.
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You were on our cover seven years ago—in that interview, you talked about Sympathy for Delicious, which just premiered last month....
[Laughs] Yeah, it took me that long to get it made!
Congratulations. How has the festival been treating you?
It's been pretty amazing. I've gotten my ass handed to me by some reviewers, but Manohla Dargis gave me a good review in the Times, and that's all I care about. [Laughs] It's not for everyone, my movie. But I'm having the time of my life here.
You also act in the film; how hard was it for you to do both at once?
It's really difficult. Acting and directing are kind of at odds with each other. With directing you need to have a full view of what's going on. With acting, you're in the life of the character, with their needs and wants and desires. I would love to keep doing directing right now—I'm excited by the challenge of learning about it.
Well, you've had some pretty good teachers—you worked with Martin Scorsese for the first time on Shutter Island.
I've had the greatest film school that a man could ask for! He's one of my great heroes as a director. I was always nervous [around him] and falling down and doing clumsy things all the time.
What did you learn about directing from him?
He's probably one of the great visual storytellers. He knows how to place a camera where the story needs it to be. He works very hard on the material, and he's very story-oriented, which I appreciate. And he's an incredibly generous and gentle guy, which was also really nice to be around. The rest of the crew adore him.
Gentle isn't a word I associate with the guy who directed Goodfellas.
Yeah, but you can see it in those movies; the actors seem to be very free. He creates an atmosphere where it's very comfortable for actors, so even though those movies have a bit of a hard edge, the environment to work in is very good.
There's a rumor that you'replaying Dean Martin in his Sinatra biopic.
The first time I heard about that was on the press line the other day. [Laughs] No one's contacted me about it!
Really? Maybe they're just inferring since you've worked on one of his films now.
[Laughs] I hope so. I could play the hell out of Dean Martin.
Can you sing?
I will! I'm an actor, I can do anything with enough time. Or fake it. Why not?
So what's up next for you?
I just did The Kids Are All Right with Lisa Cholodenko, which was really fun and funny. It's not really like a romantic comedy, it's more edgy than that. It's in the middle of this big fight over gay rights and gay marriage. [Sound of a toilet flushing] I'm sorry, I'm hiding in a bathroom. [Laughs]
That's quite all right.
I'm trying to get away from the glare of the festival. But yeah, it's going to land in the middle of that cultural war that's going on. And it's a beautiful way to show a family—politically, what it means and what it's saying about love and family. And I'm really proud of it.
It sounds great. Thanks for chatting—I know you're busy out there.
I just feel bad I'm missing all the press [for Shutter Island]—it's been hard to make the choice to stay here.
Well, you've got a film to promote.
Exactly. I just think, What would Marty do?
That sounds like a good way to go through life. You should make bracelets.
Certainly when you're talking about film. Martystrong!
Shutter Island opens Fri 19.