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'You Can Count on Me''s Mark Ruffalo
NEW YORK (CNN) -- Mark Ruffalo may look familiar to you from his half-dozen movie roles, parts that have included turns in "Committed" (2000) "Ride With the Devil" (1999) and "Safe Men" (1998). Or maybe you recognize him for his extensive theater work.
Perhaps you know him for his off-screen efforts. Ruffalo co-wrote a screenplay for an independent film a few years back, and has directed several one-act plays.
Even if you've seen Ruffalo perform before, you've not yet seen him like this.
Ruffalo, 32, plays his first film lead in "You Can Count on Me," a small film with a big message about family. He plays Terry, a simple man from a small town who's just trying to mend a relationship with his sister (played by Laura Linney) and find a place for himself along the way.
The film may be small in scope and budget, but it is anything but tiny in the amount of Hollywood buzz and critical attention it's attracting. The movie has been hailed for its honesty, its acting and its newest star, Ruffalo.
CNN: Why do you think "You Can Count On Me" is striking such a chord with critics and audiences?
Mark Ruffalo: I think it is a nice story between a brother and a sister. It's a dream role for an actor to play Terry. It's got everything, so I think I will be riding on Terry for a long time as far as being proud of it and feeling a closeness to it.
CNN: Did you feel a personal connection to the character of Terry?
Ruffalo: Well, bumbling around as an actor for the last 12 years, bar tending and going in on audition after audition and having everyone say "No," I certainly got to a point where I was frustrated and didn't know what the hell I was doing with my life. I think he kind of speaks for most of our generation -- a kind of aimlessness and not really buying into the whole work ethic -- and to me that is exciting. I like to portray that kind of part. I think it's something that young people can relate to.
CNN: You still had to convince writer/director Kenny Lonergan that you were right for the part. Why?
Ruffalo: Because Laura is blonde, I am dark. We look nothing like brother and sister. We don't sound like brother and sister, we don't act like brother and sister.
CNN: How did you convince him to let you play Laura Linney's brother?
Ruffalo: I said, "Kenny, come on you gotta bring me on, I mean, please." So he brought me in for an audition, and he saw that maybe I could do it. And then I had to go read with Laura. I walked in and said hello to her and we had immediate connection, like you do with some people.
CNN: When did you know you wanted to be an actor?
Ruffalo: I wanted to be an actor when I was really little, and then you forget about those things and you get practical. Then, when I was 18 years old and everyone was going off to college, I didn't have anything going on. And so, out of desperation, I went to Los Angeles and started studying at the Stella Adler Conservatory (of Acting). I hung out there for like seven years. I didn't have enough confidence and I was just hanging out in acting class instead.
CNN: Acting a bit like Terry in "You Can Count on Me."
Ruffalo: Yeah, people would say, "What are you doing?" and I'd answer, "I'm acting, I am in class now, just studying the craft." And I was really just hiding.
CNN: "You Can Count on Me" became a favorite of the Sundance Film Festival. What was that like?
Ruffalo: I had been at Park City (Utah, site of the festival) in '96 with a film that I wrote and it was miserable. Then I came back with "You Can Count on Me" and .. I kind of walked in there expecting the worst. I was just digging my nails into the armrest.
And it came on, and all of the sudden, there were a couple of laughs and then it just started moving. I could feel the audience listening and it was quiet and they were laughing -- but it was a real organic laugh, real bubbly. It was one of the great nights of my life.
CNN: You're now shooting "Windwalkers," John Woo's new film.
Ruffalo: Yeah, It's about the Navaho code talkers of World War II. I play this second-generation Greek American who is fighting in World War II as a marine.
This isn't a typical American John Woo film. It's much more story-oriented than action oriented, it's much more character-driven. I think it's a real departure for him and also a departure for me.
CNN: People are already talking Oscar for "You Can Count on Me." When you make a movie like this, does that ever cross your mind?
Ruffalo: No, not at all, because it just isn't a big movie, it's a small movie. And my experience with the Oscars has always been films like "Forrest Gump" (1994) and "Titanic" (1997), so that was really the furthest thing from my mind at the time. But right now, things have been going so well and people have been liking it so much that anything now is just icing on the cake.
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