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I’m going to be honest. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I walked into Yorgos Lanthimos’ Poor Things. The fevered sexual awakening of a character, Bella, played by Emma Stone in one of her best roles, is unlike anything else I’ve seen on the big screen this year. While it’s Stone’s performance in Poor Things that’s attracting a lot of attention, for me I had the most fun watching Mark Ruffalo just absolutely chewing up the scenery as aging rake Duncan Wedderburn. Turns out, though, it only happened because Ruffalo decided to say “fuck it.”
The actor recently admitted he was actually scared to join the Poor Things cast in a role that “might be outside [his] scope.” He’s older than he was once, for one, and he had been thinking about where his career as an actor could be going over the past few years. While he wasn’t sure he could pull off playing Bella’s older, yet still childish lover, he really went for it, telling High Snobiety why he adopted the attitude he did.
I’m 55 now, and you start to think, ‘OK, I’m on the downside of this hill in a way, and there’s a limitation to how long it’s going to last and how long my body’s going to hold up.’ And honestly? I’m getting a little bored of myself as Mark Ruffalo. [With this role,] I was trying to take the ship as close to the reef as I could possibly get without actually running aground. There’s a daringness in this that I normally wouldn’t have. I was just like, ‘Fuck it, If I go down in a flaming disastrous performance, I don’t really give a shit.’
Instead, he pulled it off. Wedderburn is an outlandish character in a sea of outlandish characters, yet he’s the comedic highlight in the film. His despicable, gambling, goofy, love besotted, incorrigible, incapable, well-traveled, and open-to-the-occasional-slap character gets just the right amount of screentime and I honestly couldn’t imagine anyone but Ruffalo pulling it off tonally, even if it is a departure for him.
It was a risk for the actor known in recent years for playing Hulk in the MCU. Sure, Ruffalo has had gigs that earned him acclaim in films like Spotlight or Foxcatcher, but none were nearly as out there as his role in Poor Things is. This time around, he fully embraced a more zaddy destiny (shoutout to Chris Meloni for paving the way), and a strange one at that. He now believes the choice to play Duncan will only help him to find more creative roles to tackle in Hollywood in the future – even if he isn’t getting any younger.
I’m not playing the benevolent dad or the depressed dad or the fucked up dad. I’m playing a bon vivant, a total egoist and megalomaniac. I feel like it opened up the brackets on how people see me as a performer. And how I see myself.
Poor Things premiered at the Venice International Film Festival in September of 2023, and is set to hit the 2023 movie schedule in the U.S. on December 8-- though I wouldn't exactly call it an upcoming Christmas movie. The U.K. release will follow in early 2024.