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Classic Rock Songs Shake to the 'Bones'

Rock historian Ed Ward reviews the new classic rock box set Rockin' Bones: 1950s Punk and Rockabilly. Hits from Elvis, Buddy Holly and Jerry Lee light up this 101-track, four-disc collection produced by Rhino Records

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Other segments from the episode on October 11, 2007

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, October 11, 2007: Interview with Mark Ruffalo; Review of the album "Rockin' Bones: '50s Punk and Rockabilly.

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DATE October 11, 2007 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
NETWORK NPR
PROGRAM Fresh Air

Interview: Actor Mark Ruffalo on his new film, "Reservation Road,"
previous films "In the Cut," "You Can Count on Me," recovering
from brain surgery, being a father, acting and the human condition
TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

After theater roles and the small parts in films and TV episodes, my guest
Mark Ruffalo was discovered by critics and audiences in the 2000 film "You Can
Count on Me." He played Laura Linney's troubled brother. He went on to star
or co-star in such films as "My Life Without Me," "We Don't Live Here
Anymore," "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind," "Collateral" and "Zodiac."

Now he's starring in the new film "Reservation Road." It focuses on two
fathers whose lives become entwined by a tragedy. Ruffalo plays a divorced
father who loves spending time with his son, but can't get his life together.
While driving back to his ex-wife's house, taking his son home after going to
a Red Sox game, Ruffalo's car accidentally hits and kills a boy. It all
happens so quickly Ruffalo's son doesn't realize what happened. Ruffalo is so
stunned and afraid he just keeps driving. The father of the dead boy is a
college teacher played by Joaquin Phoenix. In this scene, after secretly
thinking of turning himself in, Ruffalo shows up at his ex-wife's door. His
ex is played by Mira Sorvino.

(Soundbite of "Reservation Road")

Ms. MIRA SORVINO: (As Ruth Wheldon) What is it, Dwight?

Mr. MARK RUFFALO: (As Dwight) Tomorrow's the first day of the World Series.
I want--I want to take Luke for the week.

Ms. SORVINO: (As Ruth Wheldon) No. That's--that's not what the court
ordered.

Mr. RUFFALO: (As Dwight) OK, can we just forget about the whole court thing
for a minute? (Unintelligible)...doesn't care about the series. It's the
Sox. When is that ever going to happen again? I just want to take him for
the week. I'll get him in school on time. Please. After that--after that, I
have to go away for a little while.

Ms. SORVINO: (As Ruth Wheldon) Jesus, Dwight, you're always running away.

Mr. RUFFALO: (As Dwight) Listen, you're always telling me that I got to take
responsibility for myself. Well, that's what I'm trying to do here, OK? Let
me have him.

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: Mark Ruffalo, welcome to FRESH AIR. The only thing your character
really likes about his life is being a father. I mean, he really deeply loves
his son.

Mr. RUFFALO: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: And his track record as a father is a little erratic.

Mr. RUFFALO: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: Now, you're a father. Is it easier to play the role of a father being
one? Do you think it would be more difficult for you, had you not kind of
experienced what it's like to be a father?

Mr. RUFFALO: I may not have maybe responded to the role the way that I did.
I mean, I may not have kind of ended up in this movie if I wasn't a father, I
don't think. It's such a particular experience. You know, I have a
six-year-old boy, and it just brings out a lot of questions and reflections on
character, what it is to be a man. You are constantly sort of checking your
behavior. You know that one day some scene is going to play out constantly in
your child's memory--that's my experience--and you're also dealing with your
baggage and your family experience. And it's something that actually has been
passed on to generation to generation. It's not just your relationship with
your boy, but your relationship with your father and his relationship with his
father and so on and so forth.

And so it sort of becomes a reflection on the work, you know. You're drawing
on those things and, you know, my child, at the point of shooting this movie,
was really coming into like his cognizant idea of selfhood. And so a lot of
these themes that are in the movie are sort of things that have been on my
mind or, you know, immediately relatable to me in my life right now.

GROSS: I know sometimes actors take the role home with them, and their wives
or husbands complain that they're...

Mr. RUFFALO: Suffer?

GROSS: Yeah, that they're a little too much like the character when they get
home at night. That's something that you really wouldn't want to happen as a
father, probably, because your child wouldn't understand that it's the work,
you know.

Mr. RUFFALO: Yeah.

GROSS: So do you have to take, like, special care, when you're playing a
father, you know, a troubled father...

Mr. RUFFALO: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: ...and you're coming home to your children?

Mr. RUFFALO: I think any actor really worth their salt, no matter how you
try to safeguard against it, gets affected by these people that you sort of
come into contact with in a very kind of intimate and personal way, and they
certainly have some chemical reaction on you as a human being. But I've been
doing it long enough now that I, you know, I can pretty much divorce myself
from it. I could leave it at home. Certainly, you know, certain aspects of
it haunt you. But I do think it's important to take care that you have some
continuity with your children and your wife, you know. And so, no, I was on
location for this for quite some time and that actually worked out well
because I didn't have to, you know, really step in and out, step in and out,
step in and out every day.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. RUFFALO: But I do think it's something that you have to--it's certainly
changes my choices as well, you know, as I'm getting older and kids are
getting older.

GROSS: What about when you made "In the Cut," which was a thriller that
has...

Mr. RUFFALO: I knew you were going to go there.

GROSS: Yeah, that has a lot of, like, not only dark, but kind of like
overtones of sexual, kinky stuff going on?

Mr. RUFFALO: Yeah.

GROSS: And you're kind of like ambiguous figure during a lot of the film, you
know, like you go to...

Mr. RUFFALO: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: The viewer isn't sure where you are, like, who--like, where your mind
is.

Mr. RUFFALO: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

GROSS: So, like, were you concerned about that then? Were you a father then
when you made it?

Mr. RUFFALO: Yeah, well, that was a very kind of precious time in my life.
I was kind of not acting for a little while, and I needed a job, and then
here's Jane Campion. And it was something I'd never done. It was kind
of--would break me out of a certain kind of youthful kind of characters that I
was known for at the time.

GROSS: Right, so instead of being the brother, you're the cop.

Mr. RUFFALO: Yeah, and he's a man and he's sexy and he's very open and
forward...

GROSS: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

Mr. RUFFALO: ...about his desires. And it's something very, very far from
me. And a great acting part, just like, you know, pretty fantastic acting
challenge. And so, you know, that was a difficult movie to do, also one of
the most kind of enriching movies for me as an actor.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. RUFFALO: You know, I find that these places where you--are scary, that
seem difficult, usually are the most kind of fertile ground for you to grow as
an artist, you know. And so you're sort of constantly switching off of, you
know, OK, yes, there's going to be some discomfort with this, but also these
kind of things really pay off high dividends when you're looking at it just as
an artistic endeavor.

GROSS: Why don't we hear a scene from "In the Cut," and, you know, there's
this kind of like sexual mutilation murders taking place...

Mr. RUFFALO: Yeah.

GROSS: ...and you're investigating them. And one of the body parts is found
in front of a beautiful college professor's home, and in investigating her you
also become very flirtatious with her and involved with her.

Mr. RUFFALO: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: Let's hear a scene. And she's played by Meg Ryan.

(Soundbite of "In the Cut")

Mr. RUFFALO: (As Detective Malloy) You don't remember anything, didn't see
anything, didn't hear anything, no cries in the night?

Ms. MEG RYAN: (As Frannie) No. I don't remember seeing or hearing anything
unusual and I sleep with the windows open.

Mr. RUFFALO: (As Detective Malloy) Mm-hmm? You do that a lot?

(Soundbite of things being shuffled)

Ms. RYAN: (As Frannie) Can you tell me how it happened?

Mr. RUFFALO: (As Detective Malloy) Her throat was cut and then she was
disarticulated. Here's my card. My number's there. If you're going to
remember anything, give me a call, all right?

(Soundbite of footsteps)

Mr. RUFFALO: (As Detective Malloy) Do I know you from someplace?

Ms. RYAN: (As Frannie) I don't know.

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: That's Mark Ruffalo and Meg Ryan in a scene from "In the Cut."

So what impact did this film have on you after hours?

Mr. RUFFALO: Oh, that was a really interesting time.

GROSS: Well let's explain a little bit, if you don't mind my mentioning it,
this was a period--I believe this is the period--you had had a benign brain
tumor.

Mr. RUFFALO: That's correct.

GROSS: And had surgery for that, and had a, you know, an extended period of
recovery, and I think this was a movie you made first afterwards.

Mr. RUFFALO: Yes, there was a movie called "My Life Without Me" with Sarah
Polley that I did just before this.

GROSS: Mm-hmm. OK.

Mr. RUFFALO: I had a, you know, a sort of co-starring part in that, but it
was really her film. And then this was my next kind of big jump back into
acting after, you know, many months of, you know, these kind of side effects
and complications from the surgery. And I was very nervous. You know, they
go and they tinker around in your head and it leaves you slightly disoriented.
And any illness--I think I can speak for a lot of people--when you recover
from something like that, it leaves you a little--it sort of does a number on
your confidence. And you see your sort of--your mortality. And so I had fear
that maybe I had lost my ability to act. After brain surgery, you're kind
of--you're confused, it takes a long time. There's some cognitive
dysfunctions and all that sort of thing.

And I was very nervous, but also very desperate. Because, you know, you fall
out of the Hollywood scene, and I really felt like I'd fallen between the
cracks, and I was having a hard time getting work and even getting people to
meet with me. And, you know, by providence, I got a call from Jane Campion
that, at the time, was casting "In the Cut," and, you know, I'd put on 40
pounds from steroids that I was given to recover, and I went in and I met Jane
Campion and talked about the script. And it ended up terrifying me, but I
also felt very passionate about what I could do with it. And I was also very
raw and desperate and kind of vulnerable. And she reacted to that. And then
she basically, after three hours of discussing the part and arguing about the
part in certain places, she asked me to do it.

GROSS: You know, one of the things I imagine must've been strange doing the
part after this period of recovery is, I mean, when you're not feeling well,
you don't really want to be seen.

Mr. RUFFALO: No.

GROSS: You know, you feel vulnerable, you feel kind of broken, and you feel
kind of, you know, cut off from the rest of the world in some ways.

Mr. RUFFALO: Yes. Mm-hmm.

GROSS: And to go from that into like being on a large screen, you know, blown
up super sized, with people paying attention to your every gesture, you know,
every eye blink, it's such a completely different frame of mind. It must be
so difficult to go from the vulnerable recovery one to like, `I am on screen'
version.

Mr. RUFFALO: Thrust in.

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. RUFFALO: Yes, thrust right in to the world stage, kind of. Yeah, and in
a way a lot of that actually worked for the part.

GROSS: How?

Mr. RUFFALO: I mean, he's not exactly--he isn't a vulnerable guy, but there
was something that was edgy and dangerous about me at that time. And very
frightened. And a lot of that sort of, I think, manifested itself in that
performance, which I'm really, you know, at risk of sounding egotistical, I'm
really proud of that performance, you know?

GROSS: You should be. It's a very good performance.

Mr. RUFFALO: Well, thank you. Thank you very much. And so it meant so much
to me on so many different levels that that succeeded. It was sort of my
chance to come back, it was a chance to break away from my "You Can Count on
Me" role, Terry Prescott, which kind of broke my career.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. RUFFALO: I mean, broke me out. It gave me a chance to prove myself as a
man, and to prove myself as a character actor, which is the tradition that I
come from. So it had an enormous amount of immediacy and almost a desperation
about it that I think really sort of makes that piece special.

GROSS: My guest is Mark Ruffalo. His new film is "Reservation Road." We'll
talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Announcements)

GROSS: My guest is Mark Ruffalo. He stars in the new film "Reservation
Road." His other films include "Zodiac," "Collateral," "Eternal Sunshine of
the Spotless Mind" and "You Can Count on Me." When we left off, we were
talking about his role as a police detective in the film "In the Cut," which
was direction by Jane Campion.

You said "In the Cut" really changed your image from the way people knew you
in your breakout role in "You Can Count on Me." So why don't we hear a scene
from "You Can Count on Me" and talk about that a little bit. Now, this was
written by Kenneth Lonergan, who was a playwright and a screenwriter, and you
had worked with him before the movie. And you star with Laura Linney. You
play two siblings who, as children, were orphaned when their parents were in a
car accident. And you develop in different ways. She becomes this kind of
stable single mother, you know, raising her child in as good a home as she can
manage on her, you know, job in the local bank. Whereas you, you're really
like troubled, you're lost, you're drifting, you're broke, and you're needy.
And you come to see your sister for the first time in a long time, and this is
a scene where you're meeting at a restaurant after not seeing each other for a
long time, and you make a confession to her.

(Soundbite of "You Can Count on Me")

Mr. RUFFALO: (As Terry Prescott) I actually got to confess to you, Sammy,
that the reason that you may not have heard from me for a while is that I've
been unable to write on the account of the fact that I was in jail for a
little while.

Ms. LAURA LINNEY: (As Sammy) You were what?

Mr. RUFFALO: (As Terry Prescott) I served a little time, I guess, down in
Florida. It's just for a...(word censored by station).

Ms. LINNEY: (As Sammy) What?

Mr. RUFFALO: (As Terry Prescott) It was for bull...(word censored by
station).

Ms. LINNEY: (As Sammy) What did you do?

Mr. RUFFALO: (As Terry Prescott) I didn't do anything. Does it occur to you
that maybe I was wronged?

Ms. LINNEY: (As Sammy) No!

Mr. RUFFALO: (As Terry Prescott) Well, could you please let me...

Ms. LINNEY: (As Sammy) Oh my God!

Mr. RUFFALO: (As Terry Prescott) Could you please let me tell you what
happened?

Ms. LINNEY: (As Sammy) What happened?

Mr. RUFFALO: (As Terry Prescott) I got into a fight in a bar down in
Florida, which I was not the one who instigated it at all. Then they worked
up all this bull...(word censored by station)...against me and they threw in
the pen for three months, and I didn't write you because I didn't want you to
get all upset about it. I just figured that you would figure I was on the
road for a little while. It was stupid; I'm sorry. I didn't mean to make you
worry. But you want to know what? I can't run around doing stuff or not
doing stuff because it's going to make you worry. Because then I come back
here, I tell you about my...(word censored by station)...traumas and I get
this wounded little I've let you down bull...(word censored by station)...over
and over again. It just cramps me. I just want to get out from under it.
Yeah, back into...(censored by station)...I'll explaining myself to you again.

Ms. LINNEY: (As Sammy) Can you please stop cursing at me?

Mr. RUFFALO: (As Terry Prescott) I realize that I'm in no position to
basically say anything ever, but it's not like I'm down there in some redneck
bar in Florida, I'm have an argument with some stripper's boyfriend and I
suddenly say to myself, `Hey, this would be a great time to really stick it to
Sammy and get myself locked up for a few months.'

Ms. LINNEY: (As Sammy) Hey!

(Soundbite of clinking)

Ms. LINNEY: (As Sammy) You don't write me for six months, I don't where you
are!

Mr. RUFFALO: (As Terry Prescott) Sorry.

Ms. LINNEY: (As Sammy) I don't know if you're alive or dead, and then
suddenly...

Mr. RUFFALO: (As Terry Prescott) I'm sorry.

Ms. LINNEY: (As Sammy) You show up out of nowhere, you tell me you were in
jail.

Mr. RUFFALO: (As Terry Prescott) I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, Sammy.
I'm really sorry.

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: That's Mark Ruffalo and Laura Linney in a scene from "You Can Count on
Me."

That's a really great scene. And that's also really early in your film
career, right?

Mr. RUFFALO: Yeah. Yeah.

GROSS: Yeah. You just kind of captured a certain, like, you know, like,
defensive, lost, depressed kind of speech in that.

Mr. RUFFALO: It's almost like, it's iconoclastic modern brokenness.

GROSS: Modern brokenness, exactly. Can you talk about, like, getting to that
place, doing that scene?

Mr. RUFFALO: You know, it was introduced to me months, a year before, as a
one-act play...

GROSS: Oh.

Mr. RUFFALO: ...that Kenny gave to me. I had no idea it was part of a
movie, and we did it for a little one-act play festival. And I was so turned
on by the material. It spoke to my youth, people I grew up with, a certain
ennui and lost, these very clever, smart sort of gifted kids who just lost
belief. And I saw them all around me. And it was sad, because they were, in
many ways, stellar, but somehow lost their heart along the way. But they were
different than the kids who were straight-A students, and like the really
well-behaved kids, like the perfect kids who were like the models at that
time. And these kids were much more interesting, much more original, much
more alive in so many ways, but had somehow lost faith somewhere along the
way. And that was a big--it felt like a big part of my generation from where
I came from, you know? And they were the punk rockers and the artsy people
and so on and so forth. And so...

GROSS: Did you feel like you were in that category yourself?

Mr. RUFFALO: I was sort of on the edge of it. I didn't have the sort of
courage to rebel as loudly and deeply as they did, but I was in it enough to
witness it. And all of those `uhs,' `you knows,' `you, like,' `I mean,' it's
just, you know, all of that was spoken exactly as Kenny Lonergan wrote it. He
was a stickler for it. And he was able to capture a whole sort of patois of a
certain aspect of my generation.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. RUFFALO: And as I've traveled around, all my travels, people are like,
`That was my brother. That's me and my brother. That's the way my'--you
know, it seems like it's very American in its nature.

GROSS: Mark Ruffalo will be back in the second half of the show. He stars in
the new film "Reservation Road." I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Announcements)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross back with Mark Ruffalo. He stars
in the new film "Reservation Road." His other films include "Zodiac,"
"Collateral," "In the Cut," "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind," "We Don't
Live Here Anymore" and "You Can Count on Me."

You know, your career actually got off to a pretty slow start, right? You
were a bartender for nine years while you were trying to act.

Mr. RUFFALO: Yeah.

GROSS: So what was one of the highlights of your bartending years? What was
one of the most difficult incidents you had to handle?

Mr. RUFFALO: I had a friend of mine start a fight in a bar, and it was
mostly--all the highlights were the bar fights, really. Those were sort of
the man-making moments of a pacifist, a peace-lover, a peacenik like myself.
And, you know, I went into bartending very timid and very afraid, and I walked
out of it a little bit more of a man.

GROSS: What's a fight? Did you actually have to break up fights yourself?

Mr. RUFFALO: I had one--I mean, one guy like really started to get physical
with somebody, and I don't know why I did this, but I just--he was much bigger
than me, and I really knew the--I immediately just--I basically grabbed his
windpipe and dragged him out of the bar. And, you know, he was threatening to
kill me and all these things, and, you know, it was really out of control.
And it was terrifying to me, but I was, you know, it was just one of those
moments where something else kicks in that's survival-oriented. But it was
horrible, as well, and I didn't like that I did that, and I sort of, you
know--and I didn't hurt him ultimately, but it did stop him immediately, and
it stopped this whole very--what was turning into an incredibly ugly bar
fight.

GROSS: Did the fact that you could do that give you confidence that you could
handle roles as, for instance, cops?

Mr. RUFFALO: It opened up this thing that, yeah, that I had, I could handle
myself in that situation. You know, I got into a fight when I was a little
kid, and it must've only lasted a couple of minutes, but it felt like an
eternity, and I hated every second of it, and I was very terrified of
confrontation from that moment on. And then here I am as a young actor
struggling and closed down to--fearful of confrontation, which all modern
drama is based on.

GROSS: Right.

Mr. RUFFALO: And I was able to sort of break through it, you know, and
actually, I felt like, `OK, you know what? I have that in me. I mean, I can
do that. I can play those parts. I can access that.' You know?

GROSS: So that bartender thing was a good experience for you in the long run?

Mr. RUFFALO: Well, I mean, it was--you know, the whole bartending thing was
the last place, you know, I'm reading Rilke and, you know, Pablu Neruda's love
poems and then going in this really rough-and-tumble bar every night and doing
a play and passing out my little playbills. And, you know, with all these
guys, some of them were heroin addicts, some of them were just like never read
a book in their lives, you know, and here I was straddling these two worlds.
And it was very tough. I mean, a guy got killed outside our door one night, a
gangster, and there was some retribution. We were asked to wear bulletproof
vests and...

GROSS: Gee.

Mr. RUFFALO: You know, it couldn't have been, in many ways, more of a crash
course in just a macho, manly world of testosterone.

GROSS: Now, I think you started a theater company, the Orpheus Theatre, is
that right?

Mr. RUFFALO: Yeah, that's right. Me and a group of young actors that I went
to acting school with all got together and we were at the Stella Adler
Conservatory, and they had the school stage sitting empty every night, and so
I went to the administrator and I said, `Listen, I want to start a theater
company. We should be able to work out, you know, these tools that we've been
given.' So we were given Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights on the stage,
and that was kind of the beginning of what would be my Los Angeles theater
career.

GROSS: So what was the focus of the kind of theater you wanted to do?

Mr. RUFFALO: We were doing mostly some Chekhov, we did "Long Day's Journey
into Night," we did some Tennesse Williams. They were kind of American modern
classics, some of them, and then we'd, you know, try and dabble with some
Shakespeare. But a lot of it was the stuff that Stella was sort of teaching
at the time, which was a lot of the American classics or world classics, the
modern classics.

GROSS: It must be great to start your own theater company, because that way
you can--it's a small group and you give yourself parts. You decide what you
want to be and you give yourself parts.

Mr. RUFFALO: Yeah, I mean...

GROSS: You're not dependent on somebody else to confer acting on you.

Mr. RUFFALO: Exactly. And I could do a $5,000 production, a $2,000
production of...(unintelligible). So I could do a $2,000 production of
"Waiting for Godot." And no one came.

GROSS: But you got the experience.

Mr. RUFFALO: Yes. But I got to play some of the greatest parts for a young
actor in, you know, the history of world theater. So that was, you know, I
worked it out on a stage in front of a very, very, very, very, very small
group of people.

GROSS: My guest is Mark Ruffalo. His new film is called "Reservation Road."
We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Announcements)

GROSS: My guest is Mark Ruffalo, and he's now starring in the movie
"Reservation Road."

You know, a little earlier when we were talking, you were talking about "You
Can Count on Me" and "In the Cut" as being the movies that you made after
emerging from an extended period of recovery after having surgery for a benign
brain tumor. Would you mind if I just asked you a couple of questions about
that period?

Mr. RUFFALO: No, shoot.

GROSS: What were some of the things you had to regain when the surgery was
over?

Mr. RUFFALO: Well, certainly balance was immediate. I lost my hearing in my
left ear, and so my balance was completely shot. You know, so I was
falling--it was actually comical, I was just falling down all the time for the
first couple of months. Walk a few steps, fall down. And then, you know,
every hour you're under anesthesia they say it's a month of recovery, so
that's 10 months right there. And they say you have cognitive dysfunctions,
which, you know, can be simple things like finding your way home from one side
of Washington Square to the other, which I got lost doing one night.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. RUFFALO: And just, you know, kind of abstract sort of processes. These
kind of abstract creative ideas seem to get a little muddled, as well. So
there was a time of kind of getting myself back, you know, getting your sense
of self, sense of independence, sense of, you know, I had to completely
basically give my life over to my wife at the time.

GROSS: What about things like facial expressions that are so important in
your acting?

Mr. RUFFALO: Ah, yes. Well, during the course, I had--of recovery--my face
miraculously became paralyzed on the left side of my face.

GROSS: Mm.

Mr. RUFFALO: And no one seemed to really know exactly why that was
happening. They pretended like they did for a little while, and then slowly
but surely I caught onto the fact that they had no more of an idea than I did.
And they tried a bunch of different things and it didn't seem to be coming
back, and, you know, there was some speculation that it wasn't going to come
back at all, or it was only going to come back 20, 30 percent. And, as an
actor just starting my career, that was pretty devastating news. With a
newborn and recently married and, you know, everything ahead of me in so many
ways. And so a big part of the recovery was praying, hoping, going to
healers, doing all kinds of therapies.

GROSS: Did the tumor and period of recovery force you to change certain
patterns of behavior or ways of acting that you wouldn't have otherwise given
up, but in the long run like were happy you were forced to change?

Mr. RUFFALO: Yeah, I was someone who's always prone to deep, deep
depressions, and those seemed to come to an end. I mean, the length of them
certainly did. And that's something that I'm very grateful for. Also...

GROSS: You don't get them anymore?

Mr. RUFFALO: I get them--believe me, I get them--but I don't slide down the
well the way I used to.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. RUFFALO: And I just learned to appreciate acting in a way that I didn't
really understand what it meant to me at that time.

GROSS: What does it mean to you different now than it did earlier?

Mr. RUFFALO: It's kind of my way to be fully realized as a human being, I
feel like. You know, it's my relationship to the world that's just going to,
you know, make my life sort of as full as it could possibly be.

GROSS: Were you afraid, after you recovered, that other, like casting
directors wouldn't believe that you were fully recovered and they'd be afraid
to hire you?

Mr. RUFFALO: Well, I heard someone was like, `We heard you had AIDS. We
heard you were in rehab. We heard you're an alcoholic.' I mean, it just went
on and on and on. And, yeah, I mean, you're damaged goods. You know, even
today, I don't like to talk about it. But because it's you, Terry, I will.

GROSS: I appreciate that.

Mr. RUFFALO: Because I know you'll handle it well. You know, there's a
perception in our culture where, if you're ill, you're damaged. You go to the
damaged goods box.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. RUFFALO: With the, you know, with the misfit toys. And that was
frightening to me, and also people sensationalize these things into making it,
`Oh! It's the actor with the brain tumor!'

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. RUFFALO: And I'm not the actor with the brain tumor. I'm much more than
that. And any person who's been ill is much more than simply their illness,
so yeah. And it took a long time to--it didn't take as long as I thought it
was going to, but it took a long time to sort of get back into the groove that
I was in before the brain tumor.

GROSS: You know, I've noticed that there's--I wouldn't say this about
"Reservation Road," but there's some roles that you've had in the past few
years that are more kind of, like, the existential guy, the guy who, you
know--I'd say this maybe even about like "Zodiac," you know, the detective
that you play.

Mr. RUFFALO: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: He's kind of obsessed and everything, but there's a distance from
emotion, a fatalistic quality, accepting that life is dark and difficult and
that that's just the way it is.

Mr. RUFFALO: Well, someone who's much brighter than me--and I'm going to rip
off his quote--`the joyful participation in the sorrows of the living,' that's
Joseph Campbell. And, you know, I don't know why I see that, but I have a lot
of empathy for the human race...

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. RUFFALO: ...and its march through time and its connection to suffering
and hardship and difficulties, as well as joy and, you know, the beautiful
things in life. And there's something very poetic to me about that. And so
maybe I'm attracted to that when I see it. You know, it's something that I'm
always slightly aware of.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. RUFFALO: You know, there's just the epoch nature of our existence, you
know, that spans many, many, many, many decades, centuries, where the human
existence is universally sort of riddled with difficulty and exultation. And
so part of me poetically sees that. Now, maybe that's--and I admire it, and I
revel in it in a way. So maybe that's, you know, maybe that's what you pick
up on in some of the work, maybe.

GROSS: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. Now, here's just a completely different question.

Mr. RUFFALO: OK.

GROSS: I know your mother is or was a hairdresser and you have a couple of
siblings who became hairdressers.

Mr. RUFFALO: Yes. Yeah.

GROSS: So when you're getting like your hair and makeup done for a role, can
you converse with the person doing it on a real, like, technical level because
you grew up with it?

Mr. RUFFALO: They hate me, because, like, OK, `You know what? Get the
thinning shears out. That probably I'd go with the quarter-inch thinning
shears here, right up in here, just to like--actually, just give them to me,
I'll do it.' And, I mean, I know they hate me. And, you know, it would be
like me giving people line readings, I think, a director giving an actor a
line reading. I grew up in it, I watched it, I've been around it. And I've
had many, many, many, many, many haircuts. So it's kind of funny. I know
when I work on a movie I end up, at some point, cutting my own hair, to
everyone's horror, you know.

GROSS: What movies have you done your own hair for?

Mr. RUFFALO: I cut my hair for "In the Cut."

GROSS: Uh-huh.

Mr. RUFFALO: I cut my hair for "Eternal"--the more kind of...

GROSS: You had a mustache on "In the Cut," too.

Mr. RUFFALO: Yeah, that's right. (Unintelligible).

GROSS: Was that your idea?

Mr. RUFFALO: Yeah, I wanted it, and there was a lot of fighting going back
and forth between Jane and the producer, like, `Nobody likes a man with a
mustache.' And I was like, `He has to have a mustache.'

GROSS: Why does he have to have a mustache?

Mr. RUFFALO: I was hiding behind it, you know?

GROSS: Uh-huh.

Mr. RUFFALO: It was my disguise, I think, to be able to inhabit that guy
without being self-conscious, I think, maybe.

GROSS: So you think you needed it more than he needed it?

Mr. RUFFALO: Probably, yeah. And then, you know, "Eternal Sunshine of the
Spotless Mind," which is a pretty wild hairdo.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. RUFFALO: I cut that, too. I mean, and eventually someone else comes and
cleans up the mess I make, but those were some.

GROSS: Well, Mark Ruffalo, it's really been great to talk with you. I like
your acting.

Mr. RUFFALO: You, too.

GROSS: Thanks so much.

Mr. RUFFALO: Thank you, Terry. It's a real pleasure and honor to talk to
you.

GROSS: Mark Ruffalo stars in the new film "Reservation Road." It opens
October 19th.

Coming up, rock historian Ed Ward plays some rockabilly music that makes him
wonder what "rockabilly" really means. This is FRESH AIR.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Review: Ed Ward on the Rhino Records box set "Rockin' Bones: '50s
Punk and Rockabilly"
TERRY GROSS, host:

"Rockabilly" is a term just about all rock 'n' roll fans are familiar with,
but after listening to Rhino Records' box set "Rockin' Bones," rock historian
Ed Ward has begun to wonder what it means, or if the term even makes sense.

(Soundbite of "Baby, Let's Play House")

Mr. ELVIS PRESLEY: (Singing) Oh, baby, baby, baby, baby, baby
Baby, baby, baby, baby
Mm-mm, baby, baby, baby, baby,
Baby, baby, baby, baby
Come back, baby,
I want to play house with you

Well, you may go to college,
You may go to school
You may have a pink Cadillac,
But don't you be nobody's fool

Now, baby, come back, baby, come
Come back, baby, come
Come back, baby,
I want to play house with you

(End of soundbite)

Mr. ED WARD: Everybody knows what rockabilly is. It's what we just heard,
Elvis singing "Baby, Let's Play House." It's got a stuttering vocal, a guitar
line--by Scotty Moore in this case--which is based on Merle Travis' pioneering
style, and lyrics taken from the blues, in the "you may go to college, you may
go to school" verse. Oh, and it's also dirty. "Playing house" as in, `you be
the mommy, I'll be the daddy, and let's make babies.'

But I've wondered about rockabilly since the 1970s, when Bob Christgau at the
Village Voice had me review a stack of British single-label rockabilly
compilations with names like "King Rockabilly" and "Decca Rockabilly." There
were usually a couple of tracks on these records which merited the term, and
the rest of the record would be taken up by second-string country artists who
were, they thought, catching a ride on this new rock 'n' roll fad. Among
other things, that's a perfect description of Bill Haley, a rock 'n' roll
pioneer with no staying power.

But it doesn't describe a lot of artists who get labeled rockabilly. Ronnie
Dawson, for instance.

(Soundbite of "Rockin' Bones")

Mr. RONNIE DAWSON: (Singing) Right on! Right on!
Rock on! Yeah, rock on!
Yeah, still got a lot of rhythm in these rockin' bones

I want to leave a half a memory when I go
I want to leave something that lets the whole world know
The rock 'n' roll daddy has done passed on
But the bones keep rockin' long after I'm gone

Well, rock on! Rock on!
Yeah...(unintelligible), yeah, rock on!
Yeah, there's still a lot of rhythm in these rockin' bones
Well, rock me, bones

(End of soundbite)

Mr. WARD: Dawson was a Dallas teen with a bleach blond flat-top haircut and
a solid appreciation for blues. So solid, in fact, that he also recorded this
under the name Commonwealth Jones.

(Soundbite of "Who's Been Here")

Mr. DAWSON: (As Commonwealth Jones, singing) Ooh, well, baby,
My baby's gone
Ooh, well, baby,
My baby's gone
Who's been knockin' on your front door
I wonder who
Who's been here, baby, since I been gone

(End of soundbite)

Mr. WARD: Whatever that is, it sure isn't the stereotypical rockabilly.

Another element that enters into these songs is teenage fads and the hope that
the singer can grab a hit by singing about them.

(Soundbite of "Duck Tail")

Mr. JOE CLAY: (Singing) Don't mess with my ducktails
Don't mess with my ducktails
If you mess with my ducktails,
I'll get so mad at you

You've got to jump like a jumper,
Moo like a moo cow,
Bob like a bobcat
But don't you...(unintelligible)...mess with my ducktails
Mess with my ducktails
If you mess with my ducktails
I'll get so mad at you

Yeah, don't mess with my ducktails

(End of soundbite)

Mr. WARD: Joe Clay was obviously taking his cues from both Carl Perkins,
warning about his blue suede shoes, and from Elvis, with the stutter and the
Merle Travis guitar. And if you ask me, I'd say he was definitely rockabilly.
But most of the singers recorded songs like this didn't understand the culture
they were singing about, and were immediately identified as the posers they
usually were.

Then, of course, there's sex. This was the big fear about rock 'n' roll, that
it encouraged lascivious behavior. And some of the records were, it's true,
really over the top in this department. Did John and Jackie, whoever they
were, seriously think this was going to get on the radio?

(Soundbite of "Little Girl")

JACKIE: (Singing) Uh-huh
Uh-huh
Uh-huh!

JOHN: (Singing) Little girl

Unidentified Men: (Singing) Hey, little girl

JOHN: (Singing) Little girl

Men: (Singing) Hey, little girl

JOHN: (Singing) Well, I love you, everything's good fine

Men: (Singing) Hey-oh

JOHN: (Singing) Well, I love you, everything's good fine
Little girl

JACKIE: Ooh, boy

JOHN: (Singing) Little girl

JACKIE: Ooh, boy

JOHN: (Singing) Well, you're cute, let's make some time

JACKIE: Uh-huh

JOHN: (Singing) Well, you're cute, let's make some time

(End of soundbite)

Mr. WARD: Most records weren't that overt, of course. But that didn't mean
they didn't smolder.

(Soundbite of "Woman Love")

Mr. GENE VINCENT: (Singing) Hey, woman love
Hey, hey, hey, hey
Hey, woman love
Hey, hey, hey, hey
Hey, woman love
Hey, hey, hey, hey

Well, I went to my good doctor
Not so long ago
A-walking in a circle
And moaning low
He looked at me and said,
Good God above, son,
You need a vaccination
Of woman love

Well, I'm looking for a woman
With a one-track mind
A huggin' and a kissin' and a smoochin' all the time
I'd build her a castle to the moon above
Because I sure am a needin' me some woman love

Let's rock!

(End of soundbite)

Mr. WARD: Gene Vincent's whole career revolved around records like "Woman
Love," which rarely got very far but made him a legend for future generations.

The main element which binds these records together, though, isn't stylistic
as much as it is that they all contain elements which threatened the way
things were. Instead of rockabilly, I'd just call them rock 'n' roll, which
most people thought had descended on them like some sort of alien plague from
outer space. Billy Lee Riley obviously agreed.

(Soundbite of "Flyin' Saucers Rock 'N' Roll")

Mr. BILLY LEE RILEY: (Singing) Well, the news of the saucer been flyin' around
I'm the only one that seen it over the ground
But then I seen when I saw it land
The cats jumped out and the...(unintelligible)

(Soundbite of screaming)

Mr. RILEY: (Singing) Flying saucer rock 'n' roll
Flying saucer rock 'n' roll
I couldn't understand
The things they said about that crazy beat
It just stopped me dead

(Soundbite of screaming)

Mr. RILEY: (Singing) Well...

(End of soundbite)

Mr. WARD: It was also a secret club. Very few of the records on "Rockin'
Bones" were played even on regional radio stations. The performers were local
heroes for the most part, but they were inciting a rebellion and never thought
for a moment it might become the status quo.

GROSS: Our rock historian Ed Ward lives in Berlin. The music he played is
from the box set "Rockin' Bones."

You can download podcasts of our show by going to our Web site,
freshair.npr.org.

(Credits)

GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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