Contributed by Michael J. Lee, Executive Editor
for Radio Free Entertainment
August 6, 2005
In the romantic comedy Just Like Heaven, Elizabeth (Reese Witherspoon), a workaholic doctor who doesn't have time for a personal life, is involved in a car accident, and subsequently finds herself roaming the earth in an ethereal state. She also finds a stranger named David (Mark Ruffalo) living in her San Francisco apartment. David, who is the only one who can see her, becomes convinced Elizabeth is a ghost, but the young woman isn't so sure. Together, they go on a journey to find out what happened to her, and discover a world of missed opportunities along the way.
Just Like Heaven is directed by Mark Waters (Mean Girls, Freaky Friday) and also features Donal Logue (Grounded for Life) and Jon Heder (Napoleon Dynamite) as a scene-stealing psychic.
In this interview, Mark Ruffalo talks about his experience of working on this project, his co-stars, and his outlook on life, the supernatural, and his own career.
MEDIA: Your character is pretty messy and disorganized. Are you personally like that, or are you more of a neat freak?
MARK: Probably in-between...I sort of have to contain it to my own closet, otherwise I will be thrown out of the house. And I like living in my house, so...
This role has a good deal of physical comedy. Have you previously done a lot of that kind of work? And how did you get involved in this film?
I've gotten to do some of that, certainly early on in my career. Not to that extent. It is something different. I was hearing people say, "Mark Ruffalo can't do comedy" or "He can't be a leading man." And I come from the theatre, and there are no boundaries like that. You could do whatever you want. Whatever you say you could do, you could do if you put your mind to it. So I kind of wanted to prove to myself and the rest of the world that I could do this sort of thing. I'd like to have a career that is able to span any genre. I want to treat this like I would treat my theatre career. So I was looking for something funny, something more comedic or lighter, and this came to me. I liked the story. I didn't really love the script at first, and then I met with Mark and Reese and we started working on it a little bit. I liked where [Mark] wanted to go. I liked his sensibilities. So I figured we could do something in this genre that was actually funny and romantic. It's hard to pull off, and it's not often done in this genre. So I hope we succeeded.
How did you guys go about handling the script revisions?
They brought it to me, and my first reaction was "this isn't really for me." But it was Mark Waters, and I know Mark Waters from House of Yes. And I know him back from the New York independent scene. And so I had a feeling that he would have something interesting, and I also knew that he would be collaborative, so I went in and I started talking to them. And I could see that there was the makings of something that could be exciting for me, but it was going to need some work. So no one really signed on to do the movie until they had another rewrite with everyone's concerns being dealt with. And then we just started rehearsing, and rewriting as we were rehearsing, and fine-tuning the thing.
How did you get along with Reese?
I really enjoyed working with her. We have a nice, easy kind of repartee with each other. And she's very funny and she laughs at my jokes, which goes a long way in any relationship. [laughs] We enjoy a nice sort of fun, light relationship, the two of us. She's very cool. And I always thought Reese was a little...you know, "really well put together." [laughs] But she's human, just like the rest of us. She's actually very funny, and is struggling with all her humanity as well. So I really like that.
How were the special effects of Reese as a spirit done?
All the ghost stuff was really low budget, in-camera effects. We'd shoot it once with Reese and me together, and then we'd shoot it again with Reese gone.
Was acting in that manner a difficult process for you?
Well, I was doing that as a little kid a lot. [laughs] So it's kind of like getting back to that, which I think all acting is trying to do, you know? It was hard at first. And what was really hard was actually having Reese standing off camera and talking way over there, because I'd want to look to her. So we worked out this thing where she'd go in another room with a microphone, and she'd do her lines, and I'd play to this imaginary person. First, it was a tennis ball with a little face drawn on it. And then eventually, I didn't need it anymore. After a while, I just kind of got into the rhythm of it and it was okay.
If you were in the position of Reese's character and possibly had only one last night in San Francisco, what would you do? (Careful--you could possibly get in trouble with this answer.)
[jokes] Robbing a bank...no, that'd be useless. [laughs] I don't know, I guess you spend it with someone that you would like to spend your last moments with. It all comes down to being around people, I think. So if I knew I had to do that, I'd probably end up with some of my family.
Do you believe in the afterlife?
I had never had any experience like that. But there's a lot of people who have--people that I trust and believe. So I haven't had that experience, so I can't really say that I know for sure that it exists. But plenty of people have, so I'm not discounting it either. It's maybe more interesting thinking that possibly that mystery does exist.
Donal Logue plays your best friend. How was your off screen chemistry with him, and would he help you steal a body from a hospital, as he does in the movie?
[laughs] He might! I love that guy. We immediately hit it off. Mark was constantly chastising us to focus and get back to work. And we would just be off in our little [world]. It was always some goofy thing that he and I would be tripping on. The days where [he] and I were together on set were much longer days. And we goofed around a lot. He's great. He's really good. And he's a pretty wild guy, too.
Is it true that you had a brain tumor that forced you to pull out of a movie?
Yes, I did. I was set to do Signs, and I had the brain tumor and I wasn't ready to do the movie by the time it was ready to go.
[NOTE: Fans will be happy to know that Mark has since made a full recovery.]
Did that experience give you a different outlook on life?
Yeah, it makes you appreciate things differently--made me appreciate my life a lot more, and appreciate the time that you have. It changes you, certainly.
Reese said that if she wasn't an actress, she possibly would have been a doctor.
Really? Yeah, I could see that.
If you weren't involved in acting, what type of work would you pursue?
Writing, maybe. Directing, maybe. I thought teaching, for a long time, would be interesting to do. I'd like to teach actors. That'd be fun, I think.
Over the course of your career, did you ever feel that you weren't getting the recognition your work warranted?
In the beginning, I felt that way. And I was really bitter for a long time. [laughs] But I wasn't ready. I had a lot of attitude problems back then. I mean, I know why people weren't giving me jobs. [laughs] I would have a little bit of an attitude that would make me not want to work with me. It was just a protection mechanism to keep from being hurt. I remember when I did the play This Is Our Youth in New York, and then I came to LA, what pissed me off was all the LA casting directors [asking], "Where did you come from?" And I had been here for seven years! I had to go to New York to make it in LA. As a young actor, that's a little frustrating because you're trying. I wasn't sitting around waiting for the phone to ring, I was doing plays. I did 30 plays here in Los Angeles, but I never got that recognition here. I had to go to New York where they do plays, where theatre's taken seriously, and get recognition there and then come back here.
Well, we wish you continued good fortune in your work. Thanks for your time.
Nice talking with you guys. Bye.