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Mean and Green

Mark Ruffalo's Hulk in 'The Avengers' is a smash

Actor Mark Ruffalo recalls his first day on the set of "The Avengers," where he was playing Dr. Bruce Banner and surrounded by superheroes like Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) and Thor (Chris Hemsworth). "I was like, 'Where's my costume. man. This sucks!' They all looked dope and ripped up, and I'm there in a not very flattering linen suit. But I was thinking, 'Wow, here's the team and here I am -- a total outsider.' But I think that really works for Banner, and I think it really works for Banner in this particular story."

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Ruffalo is saying this at the New Mexico soundstages where "The Avengers" filmed last year, and where Parallel Universe was part of a group of outlets that got to visit the set and interview all the principal actors. Ruffalo, known mostly for indie dramas like "The Kids Are All Right," is the newest member of the "Marvel family" and the third to play the Hulk in the past nine years, following in the footsteps of Eric Bana and Edward Norton. Neither man's portrayal -- in 2003's "Hulk" and 2008's "The Incredible Hulk," respectively -- really got audiences buzzing, so "The Avengers" represents a third try for Banner and his raging alter ego to connect with the public.

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And, boy, has a connection been made. "The Avengers" is one of the best superhero films ever, and from press screenings and early public showings (before this Friday's official opening), it's clear that one of the film's standouts is the Hulk. Not only is Ruffalo terrific as Banner -- playing the part with more humor and less brooding than his predecessors -- but his motion-capture work as the rampaging green giant brings a different feel to the monster than before.

All this is unknown, however, when we speak with Ruffalo months earlier. His "costume" when he is playing the Hulk consists of a leotard covered with dozens of little sensors -- the standard gear for motion capture. "The Avengers" marks the first time that the actor playing Banner also plays the Hulk. "Believe it or not, I looked at a lot of gorillas," says Ruffalo about what he based his movements on when in the suit. "Just because they have this kind of lumbering to them that then becomes explosive. I liked that.

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"When you do the motion capture, you put the suit on and go into a room where they have monitors all around -- and you step in front of the camera and there's the Hulk," the actor continues. "It's literally like putting the costume on, and every move I make, the Hulk makes -- a very rudimentary version of him. And all of a sudden you get an honest sense of that character. All of a sudden the image of the Hulk starts telling you how to move."

Of course, we meet Banner before we meet the Hulk in "The Avengers." Keeping a low profile and treating sick people in Calcutta, he's tracked down and drafted by S.H.I.E.L.D. to help analyze the gamma radiation signatures given off by the Cosmic Cube in the possession of Loki (Tom Hiddleston). Once on board the S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier, Banner strikes up a rapport with fellow brilliant scientist Tony Stark (Downey Jr.). "He ends up being an intricate component to the first part of the movie," says Ruffalo. "They aren't really after him necessarily to be the Hulk. They're really after him for his gamma expertise. So there's a big portion of the movie where he's doing a lot of that, helping them kind of crack this riddle."

But Ruffalo also knows that fans have yet to see a Hulk on-screen that really captures the spirit of the character from the comics. "It's hard to watch a movie with a guy who doesn't want to be there," agrees Ruffalo, alluding to the morose Banner seen in the two previous stand-alone Hulk films. "I think Banner's aging and living with this thing since we've last seen him. We're kind of going for this world-weariness -- trying to get to the point where he can live with it, and maybe master it. Come to peace with it. And so there's this kind of nice ironic wryness to Banner. He's not sulking and miserable, you know.

"We had talked about it being a throwback to Bill Bixby, which was the Banner that I grew up on basically," adds Ruffalo, referring to the late-'70s TV series that popularized the Hulk outside of the comics. "He had kind of a charm about it him, and this world-weariness. He was on the run, but he was still able to flirt sometimes and smile sometimes, and occasionally he'd crack a joke. So in the screen time that we have, we're trying to bring out this charm in him, and maybe this idea that he wants to be a superhero. I mean, he looks at Stark and he's like, 'That's the dude who did what I was intending to do. He's the model. He made it work.' So Banner and Stark have a very cool relationship in the movie."

Although Marvel president Kevin Feige has said recently that there are no plans for a third movie starring the Hulk on his own, the company may already be rethinking that based on the early buzz surrounding the character in "The Avengers."  Even last year, long before his literally smashing performance will have audiences cheering and applauding, Ruffalo is excited about the possibility. "Why not!" he exclaims. "I was a comic book fan when I was a kid and I always loved the Hulk. When 'The Incredible Hulk,' that show, came on, I would not miss that. And so if I was going to find myself in that world, this would be the guy that I would be most interested in playing. To make a very short answer long: Yeah, I'd love to have him do his own movie."

He might get his chance.

"The Avengers" is out in theaters Friday, May 4.

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