Mark Ruffalo: Ruffalo Stance

The Kids Are All Right's Mark Ruffalo talks marriage equality and argues why he still may not be right for a gay role in The Normal Heart.

BY Brandon Voss

April 13 2011 3:00 AM ET

Why don’t more celebrities show your level of support?
Throughout history, it’s always been the artists who express progressive views, and there has always been an attack on artists who speak out against culture wars and military actions. I’ve seen the right-wing media campaign to discredit people who speak out against their agendas, and it’s been chillingly effective. I’ve seen it happen with the war in Iraq and I’m seeing it happen with marriage equality.

Were you raised with these views on gay issues?
My family was Catholic, my grandmother who lived with us was a born-again evangelical Christian, and my father was a Bahá'í. I saw these three belief systems at work, but the inclusiveness of the Bahá'í faith resonated with me as a young person. They were very kind and loving. Although they too have a problem with homosexuality, they saw it as an issue between that person and God. More than anything, I was taught from them that everyone is equal, and that’s what I saw in action with those people. That was the truth that I experienced and that lived in my heart past that point.

What was your earliest exposure to gay people?
During my senior year of high school, a really close friend of mine came out to me. He was so depressed, he was suicidal for weeks. I kept asking, “What’s wrong with you?” He’d cry, but he wouldn’t tell me. I didn’t know what a problem so big could be, so I thought he killed somebody. Finally, I got him to tell me, and that was the first time I knew a gay person. I’d heard about gay people, but I had no idea what that was. At the time I was in Virginia Beach, where homosexuals were like an urban myth. All of a sudden, there it was in front of me, and it was a person that I really admired. He asked, “Are you not going to be my friend anymore?” I said, “Of course not.” You come to a moral question at that moment: Is this person I’ve known all this time now a dreaded, horrible human being that’s to be shunned, or is this person just like everybody else, except for a different sexual orientation? Luckily, I’d had whatever it takes to make someone see a person for who they really are — and to stand up and accept that even when other people around you don’t.

You’ll play gay activist Ned Weeks in Ryan Murphy’s film version of The Normal Heart, Larry Kramer’s seminal 1985 play about the dawn of the AIDS crisis. Frankly, you can’t screw it up.
No, I can’t. It’s huge. It’s the same scrutiny with me as the Hulk in The Avengers but from a whole different group of people. It’s a great honor, but I was hesitant about doing Normal Heart because it probably should be a gay actor. I brought that up to Ryan, but he said that I was the actor he wanted.

Why should it be a gay actor?
It just should be. It’s time. At what point did they finally let an African American play an African American? There comes a time in our culture when Marlon Brando shouldn’t be playing a Japanese guy. But the other way of thinking is that we should all be able to play whatever, and that’s sort of how Ryan approached me. More than anything, I wanted to know what Larry thought. Larry speaks his mind and doesn’t suffer fools kindly, God bless him, so I made it a point to make sure I was OKed by him. I’ve gotten to meet and talk to him, and he’s totally given me his blessing, which makes me feel better about moving forward.
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