[Marxism] Mark Ruffalo won’t put down his megaphone

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sat Nov 30 07:02:48 MST 2019


(He's the real deal as opposed to Leo DiCaprio. Anybody living in 
Callicoon has credibility in my book.)

Washington Post, Nov. 30, 2019
Mark Ruffalo won’t put down his megaphone
By Sonia Rao

Shortly after moving to Callicoon, N.Y., in the late aughts, Mark 
Ruffalo received an invitation to make the brief journey to Dimock, Pa., 
to meet with folks whose lives had been upended by drilling for natural 
gas. Nearly two dozen people brought with them binders of health 
records, letters they had written to environmental agencies and photos 
of their tap water on fire in hopes that Ruffalo, who had made no secret 
of his ire over the Iraq War, would extend his outspokenness to shedding 
light on their troubles.

Overwhelmed, he ran right out.

But that night, Ruffalo recalls on a late November evening, he lay awake 
in bed, his mind racing: “Who are you, Mark Ruffalo? Are you really who 
you say you are? Are you someone who cares about your neighbors? If 
someone in need who has less than you reaches out to you, are you 
willing to use this platform to do something righteous and good?”

It’s akin to a superhero origin story, the way he tells it — if that 
character were a three-time Oscar nominee who over the past decade has 
become one of the most prominent activists among the Hollywood crowd. 
Between his stints as an actual superhero (the Marvel Cinematic 
Universe’s Hulk), Ruffalo, 52, has also starred in films he hopes 
contribute to “a greater conversation.” The latest is Todd Haynes’s 
legal thriller “Dark Waters,” concerning the pervasiveness of “forever 
chemicals,” or toxic polyfluorinated chemicals (a.k.a. PFAS) that are 
non-degradable and accumulate in living creatures over time.

Seated in a room off the Ritz-Carlton lobby, Ruffalo has just returned 
from a day spent on Capitol Hill with lawyer Rob Bilott, the real-life 
inspiration behind the “Dark Waters” protagonist. In the film, which is 
based on a 2016 New York Times Magazine article, Rob pivots from 
defending chemical corporations to taking on the behemoth DuPont after 
discovering runoff from a nearby DuPont site has been poisoning a 
farmer’s cows. Rob realizes there are human lives at stake, too, when he 
uncovers decades’ worth of concealed documents linking the synthetic 
chemical used to make Teflon nonstick coating (as well as other 
household items) to serious health issues such as cancer.

Review: Mark Ruffalo is the dogged attorney who took on DuPont in the 
fact-based ‘Dark Waters’

On the Hill, Ruffalo and Bilott met with Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand 
(D-N.Y.), Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) and Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), the 
minority leader, to demand stronger action against the military’s use of 
forever chemicals, which have been found in water supplies across the 
country. They also testified in a hearing alongside activists.

“I sort of believe that when the time is right, the culture calls a film 
like this forward,” Ruffalo says. “Sometimes those movies land and 
they’ll have impact, like ‘Spotlight’ or even ‘The Kids Are All Right.’ 
I don’t know what’s going to happen with this. I hope that we can have 
that greater conversation about it, but it’s pretty remarkable that this 
movie is coming out the very week they’re finally talking about doing 
something to regulate PFAS.

“I mean, that? That’s cosmic, you know?”

Before the blockbusters, the auteur thrillers or even the romantic 
comedies, Ruffalo acted primarily onstage; he trained with Stella Adler, 
who came out of the Group Theatre. Those guys were "agitators," he says, 
contributing to a tradition that taught him it was important to engage 
politically as an actor, as an activist, as a human being in the world.

So when someone as beloved as Ellen DeGeneres preaches unconditional 
kindness as a defense of her controversial friendship with former 
president George W. Bush, as she did last month, Ruffalo isn’t compelled 
to stick with the celebrity flock that praises her. He says what he 
feels, in this case tweeting that until “Bush is brought to justice for 
the crimes of the Iraq War . . . we can’t even begin to talk about 
kindness.”

“Listen, I think it’s important that we don’t forget things,” he says of 
the tweet. “A lot of division we see in the United States right now, 
it’s a justice issue. And if we can’t hold the powerful accountable, 
then there’s no justice in our country. And if there’s no justice, then 
there’s no way for us to agree upon anything. . . . So I do feel 
compelled to speak up.

“We tortured so many people. We disrupted the balance of the Middle 
East, right? We demonized a whole group of people based on their 
religion, you know? Like, really ugly things happened. I would say even 
more ugly things happened during that administration than what we’re 
seeing now, that affected people in the most negative ways.

“I was outraged that we would have maybe forgotten that.”

There isn’t much standing in the way of Ruffalo continuing to speak his 
mind. He doubts any major companies are going to “pay me to be their 
spokesman or drive their cars” because “I might be too radical for that, 
which is fine.” What he doesn’t say explicitly is that he’s also an 
A-lister of a more privileged demographic who has maintained his ability 
to draw in audiences. Those Oscar nominations arrived well after he 
became “anti-fracking’s first famous face,” as New York magazine once 
described him.

As for Marvel executives, Ruffalo says they don’t seem to care if he 
ruffles feathers every once in a while as much as they hope he will 
never again accidentally live-stream a film at its world premiere. (The 
incident occurred two years ago with “Thor: Ragnarok.”)

Clear of those suits, Ruffalo is challenged by another sort. During the 
PFAS hearing, skeptical lawmakers questioned his authority to speak on 
the subject at hand.

“They took some issue with me being an actor, and how dare I?” Ruffalo 
says, nodding with exasperation when asked whether he often receives 
that treatment.

“But my response is, I make these stories. I’m a storyteller, and these 
are real stories and real people, people that we may never hear from 
unless someone did tell a story about them. I’m also an American, and I 
have every right to be there.

“I don’t work for them, they work for us, you know?”

Ruffalo, right, portrayed the real-life Bilott as a subdued character 
with strong internal motivations. They attended a hearing together in 
Washington on Nov. 19. (Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)
Ruffalo, right, portrayed the real-life Bilott as a subdued character 
with strong internal motivations. They attended a hearing together in 
Washington on Nov. 19. (Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)
Before approaching him outside the Taft law offices in Cincinnati, 
Ruffalo followed Bilott around, closely studying his gait. The two had 
met before, when the actor swung by the Bilott household after reaching 
out about the 2016 article. With this subsequent visit, he hoped to soak 
up as much about the lawyer's overall demeanor as he could.

It can be challenging for films like “Dark Waters” to keep the audience 
engaged, given that the most dramatic elements often involve characters 
sifting through papers. Animated protagonists can make up for that; 
recall Ruffalo’s outburst as Boston Globe reporter Mike Rezendes in 
“Spotlight,” a film about the visually dreary trade of print journalism.

Bilott, on the other hand, posed “an interesting acting problem to work 
out.”

“To be true to Rob, he’s not demonstrative,” Ruffalo continues. “He 
approaches the law with this kind of equanimity of emotions and 
dispassionate sort of rigor. That’s not what we’re used to in our 
heroes, you know?”

The trick to centering a film on a more subdued character, per Ruffalo, 
is to invest enough interest in his interiority, his motivations for 
fighting an uphill battle. Asked what convinced him that Ruffalo could 
play him on-screen, Bilott doesn’t mention Ruffalo’s acting prowess but 
rather his understanding of the gravity of what had transpired. Bilott 
has been working for nearly 20 years to get the federal government to 
pass regulations restricting the emissions of forever chemicals — and 
still, no dice.

“Mark called, expressing interest in believing that this was a story 
that needed to be brought out to a wider audience,” Bilott recalls over 
the phone. “He came out and met with me and the boys, he spent time with 
us. It was clear he understood the story.”

Despite some past missteps, Ruffalo has remained committed to the fight 
for clean water, which he describes as “the thing that connects us.” He 
joined the Standing Rock Sioux tribe in protesting the Dakota Access 
pipeline, for example, and hopes that the more he uses his platform in 
such a manner, the more others in Hollywood are encouraged to as well.

“I have seen people really drop their fear in my community, for the 
right reasons, and really start to speak up in profound ways that they 
would never have done 10 years ago,” he says. “I’m not saying that I led 
that, but I hope that people saw, well, Ruffalo isn’t getting crucified 
for this stuff, so maybe [if I speak out about] the things that I 
actually care about in the world, it’ll be okay.”



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