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Zodiac - Mark Ruffalo interview

Mark Ruffalo in Zodiac

Compiled by Jack Foley

MARK Ruffalo talks about Zodiac and the type of research he carried out into one of America’s biggest unsolved mysteries.

He also discusses his admiration for the real-life David Toschi [the character he portrays] and how the case ultimately affected his life and career.

Was it great to talk with the real investigators in this case?
Oh yeah. I’d met [George] Bawart while we were shooting the movie. But also, I spent a lot of time with Dave Toschi too. So, so I got a real up close and personal look at this investigation.

It seems that this is still very much alive to the investigators…
Toschi has perfect recall, I mean, when he starts talking about something he’s, like: “Yeah, it was July 28th; it was 12:00.” He has perfect recall of the details of what happened – when, where, who was there, what he was wearing. He always knew what he was wearing. I think it’s seared into who he is. It was a big deal for him. I had a lot of reference material from him.

Dave was somebody who was not afraid of the camera, and so there was just a lot of material available on what he looked like and how he sounded. I have a lot of little clips from CBS News. David Fincher was able to get a hold of all of this research material. It’s a very nuanced piece and it’s, I think, incredibly honest to specific details.

With all the material that was available, it almost can seem at a certain point to be a little bit overwhelming…
Well, for me, it’s always a gift to have somebody to play because in my wildest imagination, I would not come up with something quite as specific in nuance as, let’s say, a Dave Toschi. It might be some other thing and have its own things, but when you’re really dealing with people, all the really great work always has gone back to reality and really looked honestly at time and place – what happened there, what was going on, what was culturally going on – and that’s the training I was given as an actor.

You go to the time, historically – what was happening, what kind of music people were we listening to, what was the art they were looking at. You put it all into the machine and hopefully something pops out on the other end that’s interesting. You don’t want to be boring. But I felt like there was enough going on with the investigation and the characters and all the inter-character stuff that, even as honest as we were, which there’s no dramatization of this, I mean, what you see is what happened. Maybe big chunks of time were left out, but there’s no dramatic license going on with this movie. And that’s hard to pull off without it being boring.

In your discussions with Dave Toschi, did you get the sense that this is still a major part of his life, even now?
It’s that wound that he’ll carry to his grave, sort of. It was such an enormous part of his life – his career, his life, his family, everything was caught up in it. He was being groomed to be Chief Of Police. He was on the rise. To have it go down the way it did, in such an ignoble way, I don’t think you recover. He certainly has integrated in his life with enormous dignity and grace, and his family has rallied around him, and he has a new career, and all those things, but it’s something that I don’t think you just recover from and it was searing.

Did it affect you personally, to play in such a dark story?
I tell you, something happens. It’s something that I didn’t really know anything about. But, I mean, it’s scary to think that this guy is still out there, and certainly you’re washed over with this imagery. I have all these murder books. I have the murder, I have the entire investigation at my house. I have every report; I have the pictures; I have the letters’ I have it all, and it’s gruesome. This guy is evil, and to experience that, outside of your thinking about it, to really just get a glimpse of it, that was pretty terrifying.

What drew you to the project? Did you want to do it immediately after you read it?
No, I read a draft of the script where Dave Toschi had a very small part and if I was going to be working with Fincher, I wanted to show up and be, like: “I love this and I could really do something special with it.” But I didn’t see what to do with it at that time. And then he said: “Well, come in. I’m doing a re-write; let’s talk about it.” And I sat down and I talked with him about it, and I loved what he was saying, and I loved where he was going with it, and so at that point he said: “Well, listen, I’ll have 90 pages in about a week, do you mind waiting?”

No one does that, by the way. Usually they’re like: “Do you trust me or not? You’re in or you’re not.” But he had the class to say: “I’ll have 90 pages, will you please look at that?” I mean, David Fincher saying that to me! He knew that that was an important thing. And so I read it, and I was like: “That’s it. When do we start working?”

How did he communicate his vision to you at the time?
He said he wanted to do a piece that was in the vein of All The President’s Men, that had been all about acting, very little about camera moves, where you could lock off on a long acting scene of two people talking and hope that it holds enough tension in it that it remains interesting. That’s what he was going for, that was his departure. And that sounded fun to me. I mean, I come from the theatre, and that’s what you do on the stage, so I thought that was very exciting. It’s hard to do. You end up having to do 30 takes, because you have extras walking by and tree branches, and David’s a full-frame director.

What happened to Toschi following his connection with the Zodiac investigation?
At some point, someone accused him of actually being the Zodiac killer, of writing the letters, and he did it in such a public way. He did a press conference. And when that happened, no matter what, it was out. It was such a huge case and so many people knew about it that when that happened there was no turning back. He couldn’t go back. Even though he was totally exonerated the next day, they demoted him immediately, and they took him off of Murder Police and they put him into Pawn Shop Detail.

Until they could figure out if he was or not?
They kept him on Pawn Shop Detail for his entire career. Now there’s a bunch of political stuff that goes with that. He was not the best friends with some of his brass. He was definitely more identified with the work-a-day cops, the blue collar cops, than the brass. So, when they fried him, they fried him and he never worked his way back up.

How do you choose your roles?
Well, sometimes I’ll get offered a drama and I’ll be like: “Oh, God, I’ve got to do something light now; this is just too much. “ But mostly it’s as things come along and I find something interesting, then I go and do it.

Do you feel like you’re on a team with your fellow actors in this film?
You want it to feel like it’s a team. I prefer that. This felt like it was a team. It was me and Anthony Edwards mostly together. I love that guy and we definitely are team players. He’s amazing in that movie. We’re definitely more of the team player kind of guys.

Do you believe Graysmith’s theory that Zodiac was ‘Arthur Lee Allen’, or do you think the killer is still out there?
I don’t know if he’s still out there. I don’t know if it was Lee for sure. I’m 98% it was Lee, but there are a couple things that just don’t get in line with that, so it’s hard. We’re talking about condemning somebody. It’s hard to pull the trigger on that without really knowing.

In a weird way, the movie is, oddly enough, a metaphor for where we are in the world today. We know in our heart of hearts that so-and-so did this, but when they start to look at the evidence, maybe that wasn’t true. And what this movie’s about is “due process of law”, and what “the law” means; what keeps us together as a society and what keeps the world together, is “law”. And they have to follow the law. Dave Toschi said: “Mark, as soon as Arthur Lee Allen walked into the room, I said, ‘this is our guy’. But can I prove it? No.”

Now, there would have been more tools for the investigators…
Yeah, they weren’t set up for it back then. They didn’t have faxes. This was the first serial killer to pop up on the scene. They didn’t have the words ‘serial killer.’ They didn’t know how to deal with it, and all of a sudden there was somebody who was killing for joy, for kicks, and self-aggrandizement, in a world where they really didn’t know what that was. I mean, that’s why it became an obsession because we’re all desensitized to serial killers now. They weren’t. They didn’t know what the hell this thing was. And they see someone doing this as tantamount to, you know, to Hitler.

With all the dramatic films you do, do you also like to make romantic comedies?
I’m a theatre actor, and you do different stuff in the theatre. No one expects you to do the same thing over. You’re not always a dramatic actor – you do comedies and dramas and dramedies and tramics. [laughs] I just do what’s been kind of interesting to me, and what’s challenging to me. I’ve never done a romantic comedy, but I see, like, Cary Grant, he does some very cool stuff in those and so I think I’ll try. Even Brando tried a couple of romantic comedies along the way. It’s just that I want to have a career, look back at it, and think: “Yep, I pretty much tried. I did a bunch of different stuff and I did it my way.”

Read our review of Zodiac

Read our interview with Chloe Sevigny