From childhood friend Matt “Matty” Flamhaff in 13 Going on 30 (2004), to colorful Inspector Dave Toschi in Zodiac (2007), to giant Incredible Hulk in The Avengers, there’s no doubt that Mark Ruffalo is one of the most versatile actors in Hollywood.
Mark Ruffalo first gained recognition from his role in Kenneth Lonergan’s play, This is Our Youth (1996), which led to a lead role in You Can Count On Me (2000) where his performance was highly regarded by critics, and he was nominated for and won multiple awards.
What does the rest of Ruffalo’s journey to the top of Hollywood look like? Read more for a detailed look at his tragic past and rise to fame.
Starting Out & Making it Big
After spending some time in Virginia and San Diego, Ruffalo and his family made their way to Los Angeles. It was there that he began studying acting at the Stella Adler School.
Even though it was a 3-year program, the budding actor ended up staying there for 6 years. During his studies, he worked as a bartender at a local bar to pay the bills during his overall 10-year venture to become a professional actor.
After a mind-boggling 600 auditions, Ruffalo finally broke through and landed the lead role in You Can Count On Me in 2000.
He had already been cast for a part in This Is Our Youth, a theater play in 1996, and his debut role was in an episode of anthology series CBS Summer Playhouse in 1989, but playing the lead in You Can Count On Me earned Ruffalo many accolades from critics and fans alike.
He was compared to a young Marlon Brando and won some awards at the Los Angeles Film Critics Association and Montreal World Film Festival.
Things kept going up from there, as the young actor was cast in various other films like The Last Castle with Robert Redford in 2001, XX/XY in 2002, In the Cut in 2003, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind with Jim Carrey in 2004.
Starring in other hits like 13 Going on 30 and Shutter Island alongside Leonardo DiCaprio, Ruffalo scored the role of Hulk in The Avengers series in 2012. This brought him into a whole new universe, stretching across 6 films (and possibly more), plus a colossal fan base.
During the peak of his early career, Ruffalo found himself diagnosed with a brain tumor, otherwise known as an acoustic neuroma.
“It was very scary,” he said in a 2014 interview on CBS Sunday Morning, in relation to telling his wife. “She was pregnant, she was due. Basically, I found out and our baby was born two weeks later. I didn’t know what to do, I couldn’t tell her. I didn’t know how to tell her without making her afraid, and so I just waited until after.”
“Honestly I thought I was gonna die. When my son was being born, it was very loaded.”
The tumor thankfully ended up being benign, but unfortunately during the procedure to remove it, Ruffalo was left with one side of his face paralyzed.
Speaking about the aftermath of the surgery he said, “It lasted for a long time. It lasted to the point where they were saying, ‘You’re probably not going to get your face back’.”
The movement in his face slowly started to come back though, after he looked in the mirror one day and noticed that he could move a small part below his eye.
Watch the full interview here:
Following the emotional and physical suffering from his brain tumor, Ruffalo experienced even more tragedy when his brother, Scott Ruffalo, was killed. He had been shot in the back of the head and was found at the front of his Beverly Hills home on North Palm Drive.
Mysteriously, the case of his murder was never solved. “They made kind of a last scrambled effort to solve it, and they ended up just closing it as a homicide,” Mark reflected when questioned on what the police had done to solve the case.
“It’ll be the great mystery of my life.”
In 2013, he had opened up again about the death of his brother, having this to say:
“You never get over it; you just get used to it. You get calloused, a little bit harder maybe, so be on guard for that. But take these tragic things and turn them into something meaningful and worthy of the loss. Make it count.”