Mark Ruffalo in a room by himself looking wonderful. Photo: Corbis Outline
Between my two sisters, my mom, my grandmothers, I spent a lot of time with women growing up.
I adore women. They see the world differently and communicate differently. So part of growing up was the male macho thing I got from the wonderful men in my life, but the other part was spending time with women, picking up on all the idiosyncratic moods and modes of communicating that women have that are different to men; their patient female energy, the interesting dynamic and conversations. I do think that’s helped me as an actor; I do think I learnt subtext [from women].
My mother and [maternal] grandmother were very influential. Mom [Marie] was a stay-at-home mom until the ’70s, the time of women’s liberation. At that point she said she wanted to rejoin the workforce and have her own life, too. She became a hair stylist and worked at a very hip, cosmopolitan salon in Chicago, about 45 minutes away from where we lived. Mom has a grace and sweetness and kindness that’s almost saintlike. To see her in that wild atmosphere! My brother Scott and I would wash towels on the weekend in the salon. She was so lily white and they’re all partying, smoking pot, doing lines off the washer and drier in the back. Mom had no idea. That kind of innocence!
But she has a great strength and resilience, like her mother, a first-generation Italian immigrant. She was a factory worker but became a registered nurse. She was as tough as nails and worked so hard so she could put money away and get a condo. The one thing I was lucky to learn from both of them was the morality of hard work, how satisfying that could be. And I was my grandmother’s favourite, so she showered me with all kinds of love and praise, and that’s never a bad thing. Even when I was older, poorer than a church mouse, struggling to get a big acting break and thinking of quitting, she used to send me $20 a week, with a note, which was everything to me. Not just because $80 a month fed me but because it was so kind and thoughtful and encouraging.
It was scary to think I might not be an actor because it had been something I worked on for so long. It was also something so many women had helped me with, like my acting teacher, Joanne Linville, who really gave me the tools to do everything I can do today as an actor. Since then, female directors have had a big influence on me as well, starting with Jane Campion [on 2003’s In the Cut]. With Jane it was the first time I really approached film as if it was a theatre piece, with proper rehearsal and character development. She was remarkable, as was Lisa Cholodenko on [2010’s] The Kids Are
All Right. Female directors have a more maternal, gentler style on set and create a really comfortable working environment.
My wife [Sunrise Coigney] has obviously been vitally important to me. We met in Los Angeles 14 years ago in June and started a very steamy love affair. When I met her I was living in a garage that had been converted into an apartment and was driving a 1974 Dodge Dart that had a cardboard back window and a bumper that was held on with baling wire. I was a theatre rat at the time, bartending to make a living. She pulled me up: “You have a warrant out for your arrest, you don’t have a driver’s licence, you don’t have a credit card, what are you doing, who are you, how can you live like this? C’mon, grow up!”
She made me see life in a different way and gave me the encouragement and the kick in the ass to put things in gear. She’d been living on her own since she was very young, a model travelling the world, and understood the world in a way I didn’t. She helped me to grow up, in a way.
The secret to us staying together all these years is a good combination of sexual attraction and the ability to be brutally honest. Fighting fair. And it means a lot to me that she loved me for what I was, what I could be, when she met me. She had no reason to be with me other than her love for me at that moment. You’d think about that before you go and run off with somebody.
Mark Ruffalo stars in The Avengers, in cinemas now.
From Sunday Life