Gene Siskel Film Center Awards Review – Honoring Mark Ruffalo

Mark Ruffalo received the Renaissance Award at the Gene Siskel Film Center Gala June 6.

Each year, the Gene Siskel Film Center celebrates the art of film by honoring a filmmaker who advances the art of cinema. On Saturday, June 6, at the Ritz-Carlton Chicago, they honored two-time Academy Award nominee Mark Ruffalo. Ruffalo, a Wisconsin native,who has had an outstanding career that has included film, television, and theatre spanning over several decades and sixty roles. The night was filled with laughter and a compelling narrative about the people and moments that lead Ruffalo to being one of Hollywood’s leading men.

  

Ruffalo credits his aspiration to become an actor to two important people; his grandmother and his high school drama teacher. He told a very touching story about when he was a boy and his grandmother asked if he would like to stay up and watch the television world premier of "Streetcar Named Desire” starring Marlon Brando. After watching the movie, he told his grandmother that that was what he wanted to do. Years later, after he felt he had peaked as a champion wrestler in high school, and still having a love of mimicry and character, he saw the drama department in rehearsal. He decided to ask the high school drama teacher if it was too late for him to become an actor. Her response was, “You’re sixteen!” Needless to say, it wasn’t too late! After being cast in his first play, he knew with certainty that acting was his passion. However, it was not all smooth sailing as he pursued his career. He shared several hardships he had encountered along the way that could have easily deterred a less determined person. He opened up about his dry spell that forced him to move back to Wisconsin and begin the process of taking over his father’s business. The other, which was shocking to hear, was that he suffered from a brain tumor which left his face partially paralyzed and deaf in his left ear. Thankfully he was able to overcome both challenges and create for himself an incredible career. Ruffalo once stated that the best actors to work with were ones that were fearless. He has shown time and time again that not only does he act with a sense of fearlessness, but also has been fearless on his path to becoming the artist he is today.

 

 

Throughout the ceremony, three film clip packages were shown (which Ruffalo admittedly stated were the first times he’s seen several of the movies) and it was thrilling to see how his work has progressed over the years. These clips lead to interesting discussions between Ruffalo and Chicago Tribune’s film critic, Michael Phillips. Phillips asked very intuitive questions from how Ruffalo got his “big break”, to how he researches his roles, to how he has leveraged his celebrity to become an activist in a variety of settings. It is through these questions that the room full of engaged listeners got to see the truly inspiring person and a genuinely nice guy Ruffalo is. I was most enthralled with how eloquently and intelligently he spoke, not only about his acting processes, but his work outside of film, and also his family. You can tell that he is a truly passionate man about all aspects of his life and that acting is only a part of the person he is and strives to be. This came out very clearly  during the last five minutes  of the interview when Phillips asked three tough but insightful questions. The first was what scares Ruffalo most about acting, to which he answered, very humbly, that he would begin to buy into himself which would, in turn, make him complacent or lazy with his acting. When asked the opposite, he shared that it was the unknown and things that made him a bit nervous that was the most thrilling part of being an actor. And lastly, Phillips asked a question the Gene Siskel himself always made a point to ask which was, what do you know for sure? After a moment of contemplation, Ruffalo gave an answer that not only summed him up as a person but was the perfect way to end a fantastic evening by declaring “love is the answer.”

To learn more about the Gene Siskel Film Center of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago please visit the siskelfilmcenter website

 

Photos by Robert Carl 

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