Today is March 17 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often do you realize everyone suffers and struggles in the end? Navigating the chaos and practicing the art of living well demands a recognition that everyone suffers and struggles, and the end is the same for everyone. Actor Mark Ruffalo is painfully aware of life’s struggles and sufferings and yet translated one dream after another into reality. After high school, Ruffalo moved with his family to San Diego. Following six months of “surfing, smoking, just wandering aimlessly”—and working as a busboy—Ruffalo was “just about ready to jump off a bridge.” Then he went to L.A., found out about the Stella Adler Academy and “walked into a class, and immediately where he felt “this is right. This is where I’m gonna be until I learn how to act. I was there for seven years.”
During that time, Ruffalo and a group of actor friends started the Orpheus Theatre Company. Since he needed to make money, he also worked as a bartender for close to a decade. Reflecting upon those years, Ruffalo said “I realized nothing was happening for me—I thought, I gotta make something happen.” And so, he co-wrote and appeared in The Destiny of Marty Fine, a low-budget thriller about an ex-boxer who witnesses a mob hit and then has to kill to save his own life.
As acting teacher Stella Adler said “If you can live without acting, then don’t act! It’s brutal, man. It’s so brutal. Because it’s too fucking heartbreaking.” And so it was for Ruffalo. By his own estimation he experienced 600 failed auditions. He decided to quit. Close to ten years of little progress was enough. The experiment to become a professional actor was over for him. His mother told him ‘You know, I have never told you to do anything in your life. But if you don’t get back to California, I’ll never forgive you. Are you crazy? You can’t quit now!’
Ruffalo did not quit and eventually landed minor roles in films including The Dentist (1996), Safe Men (1998) and Civil War Western Ride with the Devil (1999). Through a chance meeting with writer Kenneth Lonergan, he began collaborating with Lonergan and appeared in several of his plays, including the original cast of This is Our Youth (1996), which led to Ruffalo's role as Laura Linney's character's brother in Lonergan's Academy Award-nominated 2000 film You Can Count On Me. He received favorable reviews for his performance in this film, often earning comparisons to the young Marlon Brando, and won awards from the Los Angeles Film Critics Association and Montreal World Film Festival. His next role was in 2001 in Rod Lurie's The Last Castle playing a bookie in a military prison alongside Robert Redford.
After completing work on The Last Castle, Ruffalo was diagnosed with a vestibular schwannoma, a type of brain tumor also known as an acoustic neuroma. The tumor was found to be benign; however, the surgery to remove the mass resulted in partial facial paralysis and affected his hearing. The paralysis subsided after a year, but Ruffalo remains deaf in his left ear. His career was taking off and he was determined to not let this physical setback prevent him from translating his dream into reality. Ruffalo would go on and land a role in XX/XY a 2002 American romantic drama film nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival. From there his career would continue to progress. Some highlights of his career include 13 Going on 30 (2004), Zodiac (2007) and receiving a Tony Award nomination for his supporting role in the Broadway revival of Awake and Sing! in 2006. Ruffalo gained international recognition for playing Bruce Banner / Hulk in the Marvel Cinematic Universe superhero films and in 2019 starred in and co-produced Dark Waters.
In December 2008, he suffered the tragic loss of his 39-year-old younger brother, Scott, who was found shot dead in his Beverly Hills apartment. The murder remains unsolved. In a February 22, 2020 interview with Patrick Smith for Independent Ruffalo reflected upon his brain tumor and the death of his brother and said:
“I don’t know what I’d be without those experiences. Something like that happening or any kind of tragedy just opens the world in a different... you realise human beings’ fallibility. I have my own deep insecurity. And so, I am not that certain about anything. None of us know the ending of the story. All of us are walking around with an enormous amount of uncertainty and so maybe I bring that uncertainty to the parts I play. I am painfully aware of that vulnerability of us as human beings…There is a gift in everything tragic if you survive it. You don’t go through that without the person who left you. They leave you a gift that only their passing can give you. That’s the only grace that we have as human beings, that through the suffering we actually gain something that couldn’t be attained any other way…And in the end, we are fucking toast. No one gets out of here alive no one gets out of the real struggle and the suffering.”