When I met Mark Ruffalo on the set on Now You See Me last April, it was only a matter of weeks before he would blow everyone away as The Hulk and Bruce Banner in The Avengers, a movie that marked a major transition for the actor previously known for indie dramas and comedies like You Can Count On Me and The Kids Are All Right. Sitting down with Ruffalo on one of the higher floors of 5 Pointz, the iconic graffiti hub in Long Island City, New York, it was tough not to ask Avengers questions-- and of course, it's a little embarrassing a year later to look back and see all these sly questions about a movie nobody had yet seen.
Lucky for us, Ruffalo was on point in sharing what he could about Now You See Me, a heist film about a group of four magicians-- played by Jesse Eisenberg, Dave Franco, Woody Harrelson and Isla Fisher-- whose most fantastic trick involves robbing banks and sharing the profits with their audiences. As an FBI agent, Ruffalo is dispatched to catch the thieves in the act, and teams up with an Interpol agent played by Melanie Laurent to get the job done. But when you're hunting down magicians they're bound to always be a few steps ahead, and Ruffalo spends most of the film behind them… until the scene he shot that night in Queens, perhaps.
For more on what I saw on the set of Now You See Me you can catch up with the full set report, and read below for Ruffalo's confessions of magician envy, his delight in taking part in a big action film (that didn't require a motion-capture suit), and how he made changes to the story alongside director Louis Leterrier.
What was it about this project that made you sign on and get involved?
Um — Jesse Eisenberg. I read it and I thought it was a really fun thing. It’s something I’d never done. I got to do some action stuff in it and I thought it was really kind of a clever script. It had a clever twist in it. And I just thought it would be one of those movies that is just a fun ride.
Do you have magician envy?
I’m a little bummed out that I don’t get to do any tricks, but I got something up my sleeve.
You used to work in a bar as a bartender. Did you see a lot of guys pulling magic tricks on women and stuff?
Magicians, just a general note, don’t get laid. I hate to say that.
Do you think David Copperfield got his ass kicked as a kid?
I don’t know, but he’s not doing so badly right now I don’t think.
If you’re a really good magician, I would imagine you could…
You know, we were at a party once and there’s these street magicians that I’ve seen perform. David Blaine, I was at a party and he was doing some stuff and I thought my wife was gonna run off with him. And then Keith Barry who’s one of our consultants on this, who’s actually Woody Harrelson’s consultant who’s a great hypnotist and a great street magician, could be very, very seductive as well.
? Is that a Dave Franco-inflicted wound you have on your cheek there?
This is a Dave Franco special. He whipped a card at me.
A couple of them.
A couple of them, yeah.
You’ve played a police officer before, but what’s different about Dylan?
He’s kind of a rogue, he’s kind of mangy and a little sassy. Most of the cops I’ve played are pretty straightforward cops. He’s much more kind of an outsider, you know? They call it a street agent, you know. There’s desk agents and street agents basically in the FBI. He’s kind of unorthodox and he loves being on the street and he’s tough and he doesn’t shave, he doesn’t really follow the rules. He’s something of a lummox. He’s always screwing things up, but does it with a lot of authority.
And the relationship with Melanie, is there a chemistry between the two of them or is this strictly a professional thing?
No, there’s definitely something happening there, but he would like to keep it professional, but it’s outside of his control in that way.
You said you wanted to do this because of action and you’ve got a big action movie coming out with The Avengers. Is this really different from that?
Well, a lot of the action stuff that I did on Avengers was on green screen or CGI at ILM in a suit and a lot of it was — I was playing with smaller things, you know? People were smaller so I didn’t get to really interact with them.
You didn’t get to punch someone?
No. I got to mess Loki up, but it was actually just a foam roller.
Now about this movie, we heard that you might have been hypnotized and perhaps that there’s a word that someone could say to you and you would either bark or you would do something. Is this actually true or is it a made-up rumor on the set?
Woody got very proficient at hypnotizing people and we were out one night and I don’t know if something was dropped in my drink or Woody actually hypnotized me, but something did happen to me. I don’t want to talk about it much.
Does Melanie know the word?
I’m not telling you the word! No, no, no. It wasn’t a word. It was, I wouldn’t be able to remember the number three.
An actor usually wants to play somebody somewhat empathetic on screen. In a movie like this, and it seems society in general, you want those people to get away with it. We want the people that you’re chasing, while we know societal-wise they should get caught, we want them to get away. What is that syndrome that we have?
Well, when it’s sort of done in a way that you get to know the people. But this has a Robin Hood flair to it and right now there’s definitely a populist sort of view of the world that, you know, people are being taken advantage of and the big people are taking advantage of them, and so the idea of taking from the rich and giving to the poor seems to resonate quite a bit right now, and that’s always been a great story. We like that story. There’s a great quote, “Behind every great fortune, there’s a great crime” and so this kind of turns that on its head. I don’t know why, but, you know, filmmaking could direct you to have sympathy for people that you normally, as a society, wouldn’t have sympathy for.
Does your character sympathize with the Horsemen at all?
No. [Laughs] No, he sees it as breaking the law. He’s kind of a black and white guy throughout most of the movie.
I feel like you’re saying this has some element of Occupy Wall Street in it. When you read the script, was that happening already?
No, that wasn’t happening when I first read it, but it was happening, you know? You could feel it boiling up, but it hadn’t exploded yet. And just by chance this movie’s somehow fit into that movement, some of the themes of the movement. I just think occasionally, culturally films reflect, you know, the time that they come out in without even intentionally doing that. They just happen to catch that, you know?
You’re a particularly politically active actor, so when you say you’re automatically drawn to these kind of scripts?
Some things yes and some things — I had no idea that this would tie into those themes, but, you know, it’s definitely fun to play that up once it is there. Like, The Kids Are All Right, that just came to me, but I also was like, “In two years when that movie comes out, that’s gonna have an impact. That’s actually gonna be part of the social conversation and in a really positive way,” I thought. And so sometimes it happens like that and sometimes it doesn’t.
? What makes Louis Leterrier different as a director?
He’s a very visual director. He sets up really beautiful, compelling shots. He tells the story visually. It’s a second language and so — there’s been a lot of collaboration on the script and he’s been very open to that. He’s just a very gentle, sweet guy so he creates an environment that’s a lot of fun, people are very nice, and I’ve had a very good time collaborating with him on it. He’s very open to ideas, you know?
Has he been interested in what you’re doing as the Hulk having directed the last Hulk movie?
Well, the funny thing is, is, yes I met with him on that Hulk. Yeah, and so, he came to me and he said, “Hey, we didn’t get a chance to do it then, let’s do it now.”
We heard that the story was changing a lot based on the strengths of each actor. Did you have some input yourself?
Well, yes. When we first met, I had a draft and he said, “Hey, what do you think about this? Would you like to see any changes? We’re about to do a rewrite. What would you do with it?” And that was our meeting and I kind of just told him some ideas and he really liked them, and then I met with Ed Solomon and we went through the whole script together and worked in some changes there. And then when we were rehearsing with the other actors, we were polishing stuff and doing rewrites during that time too. So it’s been a very -– like I said, Louis likes to collaborate and it’s been a very collaborative process from the first meeting to what we’re shooting today. And even the stuff we’re shooting today is changing minutely to fit the location and fit the action. Sometimes dialogue doesn’t work or you don’t need it, and so we’ve been doing that as we go along.
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