Mark Ruffalo photographed in April. (Matt Sayles / Associated Press)Link
Mark Ruffalo plays Bruce Banner in a scene from "The Avengers." (Zade Rosenthal / Marvel)Link
The Hulk in a scene from "The Avengers." (Marvel)Link
"The Incredible Hulk" #1, the 1963 comic by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby that began the franchise. (Jack Kirby / Marvel Comics)Link
The latest comic incarnation of "The Incredible Hulk" hits stores this May. (Marvel Comics)Link
Bill Bixby played David Banner in the TV series "The Incredible Hulk," which ran from 1978-1982, as well is in several TV movies. Here, he reprises the role in the 1990 TV movie, "The Death of the Incredible Hulk." (NBC)Link
Lou Ferrigno plays the other side of Bixby's character in "The Incredible Hulk" TV series. He has also voiced the Hulk in the more recent Marvel movies, including "The Avengers." (USHV)Link
Eric Bana plays Bruce Banner in the 2003 film "Hulk." (Universal Studios)Link
A scene from 2003's "Hulk." (Universal Studios)Link
Edward Norton portrays Bruce Banner in the 2008 movie "The Incredible Hulk." (Michael Gibson / Universal Studios)Link
The Hulk in 2008's "The Incredible Hulk." (Marvel Studios)Link
Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), left, and Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) in "The Avengers." (Zade Rosenthal / Marvel)Link
Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) in a scene from "The Avengers." (Marvel)Link
Director Joss Whedon, Mark Ruffalo and Robert Downey Jr. on the set of "The Avengers." (Zade Rosenthal / Marvel)Link
Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), and Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) in "The Avengers." (Marvel)Link
Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), left, Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Captain America (Chris Evans), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) and Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) in a scene from "The Avengers." (Marvel)Link
Mark Ruffalo, right, and his wife Sunrise Coigney at the Hollywood premiere of "The Avengers" on April 11. (Kevin Winter / Getty Images)Link
Mark Ruffalo in 2010. (Mel Melcon/Los Angeles Times)Link
This story contains spoilers about “The Avengers” and previously released Marvel films.
When word got out in 2010 that Mark Ruffalo had been cast as Bruce Banner and his big, green alter ego the Hulk in “The Avengers,” many fans of the franchise were furious. They took to the message boards, touting the merits of Edward Norton’s performance in 2008’s “The Incredible Hulk” and decrying the decision to cast a different actor in “The Avengers,” which would finally unite Marvel’s superheroes, including Captain America, Iron Man and Thor.
Ruffalo — best known for off-the-beaten-path movies such as “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” and 2010’s critical darling “The Kids Are All Right” — had been unsure of his decision to accept the role in the action-packed flick. But he said the fan outrage was exactly the motivation he needed.
“I remember the fanboys — there was a lot of negative response to me playing that part early on, and I kind of liked that challenge,” he said during a recent interview in Beverly Hills. “This one really scared me. It was something that I had never done, that I don’t think anyone expected me to do.”
It might have been unexpected, but Ruffalo’s “Avengers” performance has been lauded by fans and critics in the week following the film’s opening. Los Angeles Times reviewer Kenneth Turan called Ruffalo “the latest in a long line of Hulk portrayers, and perhaps the best.”
Ruffalo’s Hulk was as green, angry and entertainingly destructive as ever, but his Bruce Banner brought humble wisdom and soft-spoken charm to S.H.I.E.L.D.’s pack of alpha-male egos. In many ways, he is the heart of the film.
“He’s all heart, because Mark is such a cutie,” joked director Joss Whedon. “I think he and Cap kind of share that role as the everyman who’s lost in this kind of world, who are both very centered in who they are, but at the same time, very convinced that they’re not going to be able to negotiate this modern situation.”
Trying to find a place in the world has been the underlying challenge for Bruce Banner since his creation by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in 1962. In the comics, nuclear physicist Dr. Robert Bruce Banner is exposed to radiation from a gamma bomb. He survives the blast, but when angry, he transforms into the brutish, powerful creature that becomes known as the Hulk. It’s a Jekyll-and-Hyde fate, punctuated with moments of heroism but underscored by sorrow and loss.
The character has undergone several incarnations since, with altered origin stories, including 2003’s “Hulk,” which starred Eric Bana, and the 2008 version with Norton, but Ruffalo said he was most inspired by Bill Bixby’s David Banner in the 1978-1982″The Incredible Hulk” TV series, which he watched with his 10-year-old son in preparation for “Avengers.”
“Bixby’s [Banner] used to fall in love with people and was trying to have a life even in the course of the thing, and was funny and charming,” Ruffalo said. “After the third one, my 10-year-old boy Keane said, ‘Papa, he’s so misunderstood.’ And I was like, ‘Dude, that is exactly it.'”
Ruffalo said he approached his character not as an homage or a reboot, but rather as the next step in an evolutionary process.
“We left the last Hulk — Ed’s Hulk — he was sort of like, ‘OK, this is who I am. I’m going to try and see if I can have some mastery over this,’ so we end that movie with him meditating,” Ruffalo said. “He’s older now, and he’s been on the run his whole life, and he’s tired of fighting. … He’s got a world-weariness and a joyful participation in the sorrows of the living. He’s an older Bruce Banner, and he’s kind of coming to accept his fate.”
Instead of running from the rage and the resulting monster, Ruffalo’s Banner turns and faces it. His secret to managing the Hulk, he tells the Avengers in a key moment in the film, is that he’s always angry.
“Mark and I had spent so much time talking about the way anger manifests,” Whedon said. “And how we deal with it, and who Banner would be at this point in his life, and how he would have learned to sort of walk between the raindrops and has a bumbling kind of grace to him that is based on the fact that he understands that control means accepting the thing within you and not sublimating it.”
In the film, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) becomes a friend to Banner, encouraging him to embrace the Hulk as a superpower instead of fearing the monster.
“Tony’s the successful version of him,” Ruffalo said. “He’s like a renegade scientist too, who used his own ideas on himself, but got everything that Banner hoped he would get. So yeah, I think he sees Stark as the successful version of himself, or what could be possible for him. Stark helps him come to the conclusion that maybe … having this enormous amount of energy and power can be used for something positive for once.”
Whedon said the relationship between Stark and Banner is “one of the most beautiful things in the movie. They bond over their intellectualism, but Tony is also from the start pushing him to stop being afraid,” the filmmaker said. “And that’s not necessarily a smart idea, but it does turn into the right idea.”
The right idea, of course, was to “Hulk out.” And for that, Ruffalo said he turned to his son for inspiration.
“I’m playing my 10-year-old son,” Ruffalo said. “Why we long for Hulk is from very early on, around that age, we’re expected to behave a certain way, but we still have the force of nature just teeming through our bodies, and I see this conflict of trying to control all of these urges and at the same time still having them so strong. So I dedicate my performance to my 10-year-old boy.”
On the screen, the Hulk is 8 feet tall and strong enough to take down a fighter jet. But on set, wearing a skin-tight performance-capture suit, Ruffalo didn’t feel quite so powerful.
“They’re in their awesome superhero suits,” Ruffalo said, “I’d be in my ridiculous little leotard … and that’s exactly how I felt. I was standing there, freaked out.”
The result, however, is a Hulk that retains elements of humanity.
“When I Hulked out, that’s me Hulking out,” Ruffalo said. “The entire Hulk is a collaboration between me and the artists at ILM. What they’ve done with it is incredible. We were finally able, I think, to really meld Bruce Banner with the Hulk. You really see him inside there.”
Ultimately, Ruffalo’s Banner finds himself at home, both in his Hulk alter ego and as part of the Avengers team. At the end of the film, Banner drives off into the sunset with Stark. Ruffalo said he has “no idea” whether that relationship will carry over into “Iron Man 3,” but that he would love to take on Bruce Banner again.
“I think he found his family,” Ruffalo said. “I think it’s really about family in a weird way. All the ego, all the stuff you have to get through to work together, you know. He wants to have a life. Joss, he has him push that cradle, you know, ‘I don’t always get what I want,’ in that first scene. He doesn’t have a life. He doesn’t have anywhere to be. He doesn’t have a family. And maybe this is the beginning of that for him.”
— Noelene Clark
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