After talking with both director Rian Johnson and Adrien Brody about their experiences and thoughts on their upcoming caper comedy, The Brothers Bloom, we hit the halfway point of our morning of interviews.
The next to arrive was Mark Ruffalo, who plays Stephen—the smart and outgoing older brother who devises each new con, writing each one into a story for his younger brother, Bloom (Brody), to act out.
Meeting Mark was a pleasant surprise. Dressed comfortably in a gray T-shirt layered under a long-sleeved gray button-down shirt, he seemed surprisingly (and refreshingly) un-Hollywood. Instead, he was laid-back and lighthearted and casual. He spent almost the entire 20 minutes laughing and joking with us, and it made the conversation fun and relaxed—almost like chatting with the guy next door.
But not only was he fun to talk to, he also had some great stories to tell—about his career, his unusual friends, and his experiences in making The Brothers Bloom.
Q: You must have had a good time making this picture. It sure comes across.
MR: I had a blast. Thank you. We were running around all of Eastern Europe with such a really great group of people—and we laughed and drank and ate our way through this film (laughs). I think I put on 20 pounds over the course of the film. You see my vests [from the character’s wardrobe] get tighter and tighter as I go along. Serb food!
Q: Do you have any sibling relationships like the one Stephen has with Bloom?
MR: I have a younger brother and two younger sisters. Anyone who has a sibling knows that it’s a sticky relationship—especially if you’re close together and if you come from a dysfunctional family, as many of us do. So some of my favorite stuff I’ve done has to do with sibling relationships.
If you’re an older brother, you’re always picking on somebody at some point—and then hating yourself for the rest of your life for it. You care about them and their well being. Like with Bloom, you feel a responsibility for the younger ones. You almost take a sort of parenting feeling about them. So I had a lot to draw from for the character.
Q: Your character has this lifelong fascination with the con. How does that relate to your life as an actor?
MR: You know, there’s not that much of a difference between these guys and actors, really. We have nice clothes, but they’re all scrunched up in a bag—and we’re going from here to there. We’re constantly selling something, whether ourselves or a movie, and we’re trying to get someone to like us, one way or another. It’s not too dissimilar, really.
Q: How did you find out about this part?
MR: I got a call that Rian wanted to meet me, so we met, and we talked about me playing Bloom, actually. And then I got a call a few months later, saying, “I want to meet you for Stephen.”
I said, “Stephen, really? Who got Bloom?” (laughs)
I didn’t know if I could do this part. I didn’t know how to approach it. So I sat down with Rian, and we started talking, and he convinced me that I could play it, and I tried to convince him that he should get somebody else. And he won, thank God.
So then we started figuring out who the guy was. We used [Italian actor] Marcello Mastroianni a lot. And I know a diamond thief who’s an ex-con—who’s a real con man—and I often thought about him. He was a hustler, he was a rip-off artist, and he was probably one of the most charming, fun, gregarious lovers of life that I’ve ever come across in my life.
Q: Where did you meet a diamond thief?
MR: In Hollywood, of course! He’s an old, 75-year-old diamond thief / writer…and he’s got 20 other titles. But he spent a big chunk of time—17 years—in San Quentin. There’s a lot of him in Stephen, actually. Quite a bit.
Q: Why did you want to play Bloom instead of Stephen?
MR: I thought that I was more suited to the young romantic lead (laughs). And I’ve moved on from that now.
But I don’t know… Part of it was because that’s what I was asked to play—you fall in love with what you have. And it came more naturally to me, for some reason.
Stephen was a little more daunting. He has such a confidence about him that I don’t necessarily personally possess—so it was more of a stretch for me. Bloom’s more broken. He doesn’t know what he wants. He’s more insecure. And that just felt more natural to me.
Q: Can you talk about when you did this movie in relation to Blindness? They’re such polar-opposite films.
MR: This was actually before Blindness. I was in Serbia shooting this when I went to Cannes with Zodiac. While I was there, somebody dropped out of Blindness. By chance, I saw someone at a party, and they said, “Hey, so-and-so dropped out of Blindness. Would you be interested in working with Fernando Meirelles?” And I said, “Yes! Of course!”
It was actually Julie’s [Ruffalo’s Blindness costar, Julianne Moore] manager—and she said, “Really? Are you available at this time?”
So I met Fernando an hour before I got on the plane, in Cannes. He was scrambling to recast this part in Blindness, and it was just a stroke of luck.
Q: So, like your character in Bloom, you were going all over the world…
MR: Yes! And I fell into my next con (laughs).
I was doing Bloom at the time, so I was kind of ready to go and do something kind of heavy, and there was Blindness. You couldn’t get much heavier than that. So I saw it as a nice contrast to Bloom—a totally different kind of thing, which I like to do. You know…switch it up a little.
Q: Your character seems to like to dress up—but you’re not playing him like a flamboyant guy in a bowler hat. How did you deal with wearing a cape, for instance, and then trying to play a believable character?
MR: My friend—my 73-year-old con-man-slash-diamond-thief-slash-producer-director-actor…you know…furrier (laughs). The way this guy dresses is unbelievable. It’s always a suit…and pinky rings. And it’s always anachronous. You always feel like he’s from the ‘50s. And he’s totally straight. So I think you just play it as straight as possible. You wear that stuff—and hopefully you don’t have to wear a cape—and you just integrate it into the character.
Q: Did you pick up any confidence by playing a guy who was incredibly confident?
MR: I know how to fake it now (laughs)! It’s just a stillness in him. It’s showing up…it’s really standing on your position. There’s no wavering. The way he talks, it’s clear and direct—or sometimes fast. I knew that I had to learn these lines forwards and backwards, so I was never stumbling over them. It’s just moving very fluidly. A smile—always a smile. Even when he doesn’t know, he’s still pretending he knows. Those are the things that I held onto.
Q: What is it that you love about your profession?
MR: I love being able to play different people. I get to experience the world in a way that a lot of people never do. I’m invited into places that most people will never see. And that’s really exciting for someone who’s so stricken with ADD as myself. I couldn’t probably hold a normal job—but I ended up on my feet this way. And I love acting. I don’t know what it is about it. I just enjoy it.
Q: Can you talk about working with Rinko [Kikuchi]—and the fact that she doesn’t really have any lines?
MR: …and steals the movie? She doesn’t really speak very much English, either—but I could talk to her for hours. She’s just a really fun, sweet, innocent young actor who’s really talented. I mean, you’re acting with her, and you’re like, “Look at her. She’s stealing the whole movie—God bless her—and I love her still.” (laughs)
To me, Stephen’s sexuality is a little ambiguous—but if Stephen were to actually have a lover, it would be as close as possible to Bang Bang [Kikuchi’s character]. But it was just this totally impossible thing, as well. It was something that I was always trying to slide in there that Rian completely disagreed with me on.
Then, after a brief discussion about Stephen’s ambiguous sexuality and how it plays out in parts of the movie (I’m not going to tell you—you’ll just have to see for yourself), it was time for Mark to head on to his final interview. It was also time for the rest of us to prepare for our 20 minutes with Rachel Weisz. So be sure to check back for part four of my Brothers Bloom feature.