How Mark Ruffalo became the movie star everyone forgot.

Mark Ruffalo is having the best year of his career. 

He's just been awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and the actor is starring in not one but two of the year's most critically acclaimed films, Oppenheimer and Poor Things — the latter earning him an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor.

Ruffalo is well-versed in being praised for offering support to films' larger roles. In fact, the 56-year-old has been nominated in the category four times, receiving Best Supporting Actor nominations for The Kids Are All Right in 2011, Foxcatcher in 2015 and Spotlight in 2016.

Wisconsin-born Ruffalo is one of only eight actors to be nominated for this particular Academy Award four times. However, the Marvel alum has never been nominated in the Best Actor category.

Mark Ruffalo is always the supportive bridesmaid, never the bride.

In a recent interview, he recalled feeling discarded by a studio representative early in his career. "Studios, they weren’t coming to me in that way," Ruffalo reflected to High Snobiety before his big Marvel break.

"I'll never forget when they were negotiating my deal [for Zodiac], the studio negotiator literally said to my manager, 'Look, we don't give a sh*t about Mark Ruffalo. We don't even want Mark Ruffalo in this movie.'"

Mark Ruffalo is honoured with a star on The Hollywood Walk of Fame. Image: Getty. 


Despite his several noms, the actor has never taken home an Oscar in the Best Supporting Actor category. This year, he's up against Oppenheimer co-star Robert Downey Jr, who has swept awards season so far — so the odds are not in his favour.

This is despite Ruffalo giving arguably his career-best performance in Poor Things — a performance that has received minimal fanfare compared to those of Hollywood counterparts such as Downey Jr. and Paul Giamatti.


The actor isn't part of any kind of Oscars campaign push, like Leonardo DiCaprio drew leading up to his 2016 win, or Brendan Fraser in 2023, or Bradley Cooper this year — despite his multi-decades-long career and being widely regarded as one of the least problematic men in Hollywood.

He's had roles in more than 50 films throughout his impressive career, spanning drama, comedy and big-budget action, and these days, it seems Ruffalo thrives on being a scene-stealing member of a supporting cast.

But it wasn't always like this. 

In the mid-noughties, Ruffalo appeared as a lead in numerous romantic comedies, including View From the Top with Gwyneth Paltrow, and Just Like Heaven alongside Reese Witherspoon.

He starred opposite Jennifer Garner in 13 Going on 30 (aka Suddenly 30 for those who don't know), which has since become a cult classic. And Garner spoke about Ruffalo's impact on rom-coms in her speech at his Hollywood Walk of Fame ceremony. 

"The scruffy hair, the untucked, cute button-down, both of which became the norm for cute guys everywhere for the next 20 years," she joked.

Mark Ruffalo and Jennifer Garner at the ceremony. Image: Getty. 


As he became one of the noughties' leading rom-com men, Ruffalo established himself as a dramatic actor as well, with critically acclaimed performances in Zodiac, Shutter Island, Spotlight and The Kids Are All Right.

By 2012, Ruffalo took a career pivot to become a bona fide action star as The Hulk in the four blockbuster Avengers movies, which would become the highest-grossing film series of all time.

Ruffalo's latest film, Poor Things, is a notable departure from the more earnest types of roles the actor plays. Cast as cartoonish English villain Duncan Wedderburn (opposite Emma Stone's Bella Baxter), Ruffalo gives an electric, instantly iconic performance that critics have praised.


"Your work on Poor Things deserves all of the awards, all of them," Garner added in her speech.

Accolades or not, Ruffalo is just happy to start portraying different characters to the ones that shaped his career. 

"I'm not playing the benevolent dad or the depressed dad or the f**ked up dad," he told High Snobiety. "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... And honestly? I’m getting a little bored of myself as Mark Ruffalo." 

It was an intentional choice by the actor to expand his portfolio after feeling boxed in after two decades of film work. 

"You fall into this kind of 'brand'. People come to see you as one thing and I was just kind of tired of it. It felt stifling to me," the actor told Screen Daily

Mark Ruffalo as quirky villain Duncan Wedderburn. Image: Searchlight Pictures.


But Ruffalo's 'nice-guy' brand is not one easily shaken — and it's this persona that perhaps plays the biggest part in his becoming one of the most overlooked talents in Hollywood, a world that rotates around celebrity drama and gossip.

Unlike paparazzi drawcards such as Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio, Ruffalo hasn't lured tabloid headlines by spending his career exhibiting questionable judgement, or dating and deserting a string of famous women. His personal life has been refreshingly normal, meeting his wife, Sunrise Coigney, by chance while walking the streets of Los Angeles in 1998, marrying in 2000, and welcoming three children together along the way. 

One year into their marriage, the actor was diagnosed with a benign brain tumour that required surgical removal — something that could have paralysed his face, and did end up leaving him with lasting hearing loss in one ear. But all he could think of was his family at the time, he told SmartLess podcast hosts Jason Bateman, Sean Hayes and Will Arnett, adding that he remembered thinking, "Take my hearing, but let me keep the face and just let me be the father to these kids."


Ruffalo has also become a major player in the activism field, advocating for climate justice and clean energy through co-founding The Solutions Project since 2013, and being named one of TIME’s Earth Award honourees in 2023.

With his brand established — unwittingly or no — the actor says he will continue to choose unexpected film projects, including his next role in Parasite director Bong Joon-ho's upcoming sci-fi drama Mickey 17, opposite Robert Pattinson, Steven Yeun, and Toni Colette.

"I did 12 years in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and I think when you do something like that, people come to expect a certain thing out of you," he told A.Frame, the Academy's website.

"It's been amazing to have a chance to move my career in other directions again."

But one thing is for sure: the actor will almost certainly stay the most low-key star in Hollywood, a part Ruffalo is happy to continue playing.

"I'm an actor. I want to observe the world," he told High Snobiety. 

"I don't want the world to observe me."

Feature image: Getty.

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