‘Avengers’: Mark Ruffalo says the Hulk has ‘found his family’

May 10, 2012 | 1:40 p.m.
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Mark Ruffalo plays Bruce Banner in a scene from "The Avengers." (Zade Rosenthal / Marvel)

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"The Incredible Hulk" #1, the 1963 comic by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby that began the franchise. (Jack Kirby / Marvel Comics)

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The latest comic incarnation of "The Incredible Hulk" hits stores this May. (Marvel Comics)

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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)

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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)

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Edward Norton portrays Bruce Banner in the 2008 movie "The Incredible Hulk." (Michael Gibson / Universal Studios)

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Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), left, and Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) in "The Avengers." (Zade Rosenthal / Marvel)

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Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) in a scene from "The Avengers." (Marvel)

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Director Joss Whedon, Mark Ruffalo and Robert Downey Jr. on the set of "The Avengers." (Zade Rosenthal / Marvel)

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Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), and Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) in "The Avengers." (Marvel)

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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)

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Mark Ruffalo, right, and his wife Sunrise Coigney at the Hollywood premiere of "The Avengers" on April 11. (Kevin Winter / Getty Images)

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.”

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The Hulk in a scene from “The Avengers.” (Marvel)

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.

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Bill Bixby played David Banner in the TV series “The Incredible Hulk.” (NBC)

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.”

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Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), left, and Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) in “The Avengers.” (Zade Rosenthal / Marvel)

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.

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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)

“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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20 Responses to ‘Avengers’: Mark Ruffalo says the Hulk has ‘found his family’

  1. Chris says:

    Just saw the Avengers. Mark Ruffalo's performance of Bruce Banner was the most pleasant surprise in what turned out to be an all around awesome movie! I loved the Hulk growing up, but didn't really care much for the 2003 or 2008 movies. This guy just plays Banner perfectly. Loved every minute of this movie and will definitely be seeing it again soon.

  2. clinton wrighter says:

    I was thouroghly impressed with all the cinamatic's in this film. I think it has become my all time favorite movie. the way this movie was brung forward from each individual super hero, was well thought out and executed

  3. mar says:

    I too grew up on the TV show version of The Hulk and I did not care for either of the previous incantations of the character in the movies. Mark nailed it perfectly – for me – and made me remember why I loved The Hulk as a child!

  4. chadasi says:

    There was one scene in the movie, where you could feel the emotion just by looking into his eyes. It did something to me and I have to see the movie again. Ruffalo did a great job as Banner and I really look forward to seeing him again. I hope he keeps up the great work.

  5. ErikMarie says:

    This is definitely my favorite superhero movie. Everyone was fantastic, and Mark's Banner was the center, the heart of it.

  6. MSL says:

    Banner and Stark, indeed had a subtle, but great, touching relationship in this excellent movie.

  7. MSL says:

    PS: Great Article by the way.

  8. meekthegeek says:

    I'm not surprised at all to hear that Mark drew inspiration from Bill Bixby. He captured the exact same sweetness and vulnerability. And it sounds like maybe his own nervousness about the part, and being a newcomer to the cast, informed his performance. **love**

  9. EVOLUTION says:


  10. Eve says:

    I was one of the very few who defended him being cast as Banner. Now it's great to see that all those naysayers are eating crow right now.

  11. General Ross says:

    Did he forget Betty Ross?

  12. Ruffalo's Hulk was the highlight of the film, no doubt. I'd love for him to get his own movie, but past history shows there's really not a big market for a purely Hulk movie. I'd also LOVE to see him make an appearance in Iron Man 3, but I'm afraid it would detract from what should be a very Iron Man-centric film. This is Robert Downey Jr's last foray into a film series he will forever be ironically associated with – he really deserves to have the spotlight all to himself.

    Besides, the second Banner appears on screen people will start expecting Hulk to make an appearance, which would further detract from a purely "Iron Man" film.

    And since no comment is complete without a shameless plus for your own stuff, consider checking out the Avengers workout I wrote to inspire nerds (judging by the Avenger’s box office performance, that’s pretty much everyone!) to get in better shape. Even if you don’t like fitness, it’s a dorky, fun read of a good time. So…yeah, check it out!

  13. TheUniverse says:

    I watched the The Avengers and it was FREAKING AWESOME! I like them all but the Hulk/Bruce Banner STANDOUT among the rest. Mark Ruffalo did an AMAZING job and he gave JUSTICE to Hulk/Bruce Banner compared to the other 2 Hulk movies. Marvel and Disney made an EXCELLENT decision for giving the role to Mark Ruffalo. We NEED a new Hulk movie of Mark Ruffalo! WE NEED MORE!


  14. Charles Nelson says:

    Great read, here is an interesting article on Psychology Today about the Hulk's role from a bipolar perspective – http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/bipolar-advan

  15. sonya Jah says:

    The moment I watched the trailer, i was constantly wishing to get a chance to see it.
    It turned out to be great and awesome.
    I fell in love with The Hulk instantly. Banner had isolated himself.
    He was lonely..you could tell from his voice and eyes. But I guess he found solace with the team. Loki also tried to play with his head but Banner’s showed that his Hulk had matured. He had more control than before.I love them all but in some way, Hulk stood out!!

  16. Everything is possible says:

    When I enter the theater, I was rooting for Thor, of course Chris Hemsworth is so handsome, but Mark Ruffalo's interpretation of Bruce Banner captivated me and of course the Hulk, actually my favorite scenes from the movie are those when the Hulk or Bruce Banner are on it. Through this movie I discovered how good is Mark Ruffalo as an actor and now my favorite avenger is Bruce Banner/Hulk!!

  17. George says:

    Mark was the best hulk hands down and if you think otherwise then you have a lot to let go of thanks for your time

  18. Dan says:

    Loved the movie, loved Mark's Hulk. But just wanted to mention… The 2008 Hulk, played by Edward Norton was good too. And really the creation of the hulk didnt change from the 2008 version to the avengers version. He was trying to duplicate the super soldier formula, using gamma radiation to augment his strength and was blasted with an overdose. In the Hulk series, it doesn't say Bixby was trying to recreate the formula, but he was experimenting with gamma radiation strength augmentation. And In the Hulk with Norton, if you watch it shows him in a machine just like the machine it showed in the hulk series. At the end of the Hulk movie, Norton starts accepting that he is the Hulk. He stops fighting what he is, and in my opinion Mark just carried that on to the Avengers. So I think they both were wonderful portrayals of the life of Bruce Banner.

  19. hawk says:

    At least they made him more believable at 8ft. tall instead of 15ft. tall like in the first movie.

  20. Maxwell says:

    This Hulk has many of best lines in the movie.

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