Watching Avengers: Endgame is like having the last sip of the most delicious coffee you’ve ever tasted. You put down the coffee mug with a smiling face and a craving heart. Rarely do we find movies, that too franchises where people do not just appreciate the storyline but experience an undetachable bond with the characters. Hulk is one such incredible character.
In fact, he seems to be the most human super-hero in the entire series. A super-hero who has low self-esteem, anger-management issues, and who ultimately overcomes every obstacle eventually sticking the team together like glue. Hulk’s characteristics are much similar to the actor playing him- Mark Ruffalo. Most people do not know about the tragic life of Ruffalo, and how much of a Hulk he is to overcome them all in real life.
Mark Ruffalo was born on 22 November 1967 at Kenosha, Wisconsin. As a student, Mark had dyslexia that was never diagnosed or cured. He still managed to get through high school, even excelling in wrestling. Upon graduating, he moved to San Diego with his family where things went downhill pretty fast. “Within six months, we went from normal to bankrupt and eliminated as a family”, he said. Crumbling the situation further was his father who moved back to Wisconsin abandoning his family of five. Mark was deeply disturbed; however, years later he was finally able to understand the mental state of his dad, whom he describes as “an artist who never found his art form”. Even though he was dyslexic, he managed to earn a scholarship on the basis of his wrestling skills. But, by then he had discovered his love for acting and theatre. Trading a stable future that he’d get if he took the scholarship, with a rocky road where he just had a passion, he moved to Los Angeles’ MacArthur Park, in a $600 per month apartment with two of his friends and kid-brother Scott.
Mark and Scott were inseparable, a bond that was too good to be true even for brothers. In those days, MacArthur Park was infamous for a notorious drug-peddling environment, where murders were a common thing. Once Mark’s neighbour was stabbed 12 times on his front porch by unidentified people. Danger also followed him at times to work wherein he was once held at gunpoint at a local bar. Luckily for him, the guy sitting adjacently turned out to be a police officer who shot the culprit right in the head, saving Mark. Many acting gigs later was Mark finally able to move out of the toxic location. Ruffalo is said to have auditioned for 600-800 roles without hearing back! Rejections developed in him severe anger-management issues that he brought home. He says,
“There was a time if you came into my apartment, there were pictures and posters hanging in very odd places where they were covering fist-holes through walls,” adding, “Glasses that had been thrown through, coffee mugs, books, whatever I could get a hold of.”
Ironically, his co-star and Nick Fury actor Samuel Jackson called him a “cuddly little bear” and revealed that “everyone loves hugging on Mark” on the set of the Marvel movies. That says a lot about his transformation as a person.
Ruffalo got his big break in the critically acclaimed drama “You Can Count on Me”, following which he got cast alongside the legendary Robert Redford in 2001’s The Last Castle. Men’s Journal quoted him saying,
“There I was with one of my heroes, Robert Redford, doing this walk-and-talk. I’m like, ‘What the f*** am I doing here? This is my wildest dream come true!’… And then I found out I had my brain tumour.”
Fascinatingly, the actor claims that he had a vivid dream of him having a tumour even before it was diagnosed. He was so convinced about his dream, that he told the production doctor of M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs (2002), “Listen, I really had a scary dream last night and you’ll probably think I’m crazy but I think I have a brain tumour and I would really like to get it checked out”. She went pale when a check-up later, he was actually diagnosed with a golf ball size tumour behind his left ear with a solid 80% chance of losing his hearing ability permanently, and a 20% probability of his facial nerves getting damaged. During this time, he was just starting to get work. He had to forcibly pass on Merrill Hess to Joaquin Phoenix, but that was least of his concern. He was vexed about the birth of his first child Keen during the time of his surgery. In fact, he was so certain of dying that he recorded a message for Keen so that he could know his father in some manner. With a heavy heart, he went under the knife. His heart is said to have stopped for a brief time on the operating table, but thankfully doctors revived him. His stars were noble and the tumour was successfully removed; however, he said he heard a weird permanent ringing in his left ear.
In 2008, his kid brother Scott was murdered. The loss of his brother left a deep hole in Mark’s heart, and he never fully recovered from it. In fact, he opted out of Noah Baumbach’s Greenberg only to grieve in peace for his brother’s untimely death. Recalling his times with his brother, with whom he had withstood storms of life strongly, he says,
“Those were the best of times, the worst of times.”
Eventually, when the ringing started to fade, he realized that he had lost his ability to hear from that ear. What could be worse? The left side of his face became paralyzed. Can you imagine an actor being deprived of that one thing that matters the most in his career- his face? His career seemed to have abruptly ended even before it really started. As an escape from his misery, he vanished in the air for one entire year. All sorts of speculations and rumours were rife about him becoming a drug addict, alcoholic, and even having AIDS! He never cared to put out the truth. He said,
“Whatever the truth, I was damaged goods. I mean, no one is going to hire an actor with half a paralyzed face.”
Oh boy, was he wrong! After 10 months of suffering his facial nerves started to respond. He fought his way back to the big screen with his 2011’s The Kids are Alright, which also became his first Oscar nomination. During this time, he was battling anxiety and was introduced to Meditation by one of his friends. He says that meditation has changed his life, and has given him immense hope. If his story was already not tragic enough, he was accused of being a terrorist in 2010! Why? Well, he was an avid supporter of Sundance Special Jury Prize-winning fracking documentary Gasland and was helping to organize screenings of the film in an effort to raise awareness of its potentially disastrous effects on the environment and those living near the drill sites. Funnily enough, his support and efforts were linked to his brother’s murder and he was perceived as a threat to security landing him on a terrorist list. However, The Washington Post did an extensive investigation to dig out the truth and his name was cleared.
Meanwhile, one thing led to another, and then the highest-grossing Hollywood franchise of all time, the Marvel Cinematic Universe happened to him, winning him the Academy recognition, all within the space of a few years. Next thing we know is that the world knows him as The Incredible Hulk. Do you know what is really incredible about him? Yes, his ability to not give up in the face of adversities is the likely answer, and it is true. However, to me the incredible part is his honesty with himself about his failures, drawbacks, weaknesses, and reality; and the hope that he never lost in spite of all the bad luck that surrounded him. Amusingly, being Ruffaloed is a legit term in Mark Ruffalo’s social circle. It means to have what seems to be bad luck that actually turns into good luck later.
He was destined to play the Hulk. After all, for the most part of his life, he had lived as a Hulk!