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Mark Ruffalo and Christopher Thornton Discuss ‘Sympathy for Delicious’

 
Christopher Thornton and Mark Ruffalo in 'Sympathy for Delicious'Christopher Thornton and Mark Ruffalo in ‘Sympathy for Delicious’

© Maya Entertainment

  Oscar-nominated actor Mark Ruffalo makes his feature film directorial debut with Sympathy for Delicious, an independent drama he co-wrote with his friend Christopher Thornton. Ruffalo and Thornton also star in the film which follows an up-and-coming DJ named Dean O’Dwyer (who goes by the name of ‘Delicious D’). When a horrible motorcycle accident leaves Dean paralyzed, his dreams collapse and he’s left struggling to get by while living out of his car.

Ruffalo plays Father Joe Roselli, a passionate priest who reaches out to help Dean. Dean learns all about the world of faith healing from Father Roselli, and discovers he has the power to heal other people – however he can’t heal himself.

Ruffalo and Thornton met and became friends while studying acting with Stella Adler, and they’ve been working on Sympathy for Delicious for the past 10 years. And throughout the decade-long process of tidying up the script and preparing to shoot Delicious, there were many times it appeared as though their joint passion project would never be anything but an unproduced script left to languish on the shelf.

“Right now I’m in the pinching myself stage,” said Christopher Thornton at the film’s LA press day. “For so long this didn’t seem like it was going to get made, which is really depressing after putting work into a script for so long. I’m just really thrilled that it’s coming out. It still hasn’t sunk in yet that all this is really happening. I’m just really grateful that the planets lined up and I’m just hopeful that people like the film and see in it the things that we see in it. As cliché as it is, I’m happy to be here.”

Mark Ruffalo and Christopher Thornton Sympathy for Delicious Roundtable Interview

On the story’s lengthy journey to the big screen:

Christopher Thornton: “[It took] a long time. Of course when it took as long as it took there were many times along the way that, no, I thought it wasn’t going to happen. One thing that kept happening is that the movie kept coming together and falling apart, which I guess a lot of independents go through. But that’s really soul-crushing. It’s very difficult when you think it’s finally actually going to happen and then for whatever reason the money goes away or someone falls out of it or whatever. So, for a long time it didn’t seem like it would ever actually come together for real.”

Mark Ruffalo: “It was a long journey and when we started working on this I don’t think I was even actually able to support myself as an actor. I think I was still bartending, actually.”

Christopher Thornton: “When we first started, yeah.”

Mark Ruffalo: “I was just starting to get work, actually, but over that time period so many things had happened. I had my own brain tumor and just the struggle of our lives started to seep into the script. Our own journeys were oddly in it, about redemption and looking for faith, trying to make meaning of really meaningless things. So it was a strange thing. There was this collaboration going on throughout those 10 years of rewrites where our own lives were actually seeping into the script in a strange way. I like to say about the movie that none of it happened, but it’s all true.”

On the 10 year process of writing the script:

Christopher Thornton: “I wrote a draft, the first draft, and gave it to Mark. He was really enthusiastic about it and suggested himself as the director. I said yes immediately to that, and then so we sat down and talked about it and hashed it out. I went away and did a draft. Then he’d give me a ton of notes and then I’d do another. Eventually we kept getting closer and closer to where we were really on top of it at a table, hashing it out page by page. Out of those long sessions just came tons of notes, or we would improv dialogue to try and get to the point of what we were doing. We’d tape it. He’d say, ‘Okay, take that and clean that up.’ So he was very hands on, especially towards the later part of it, the rewrites.”

On setting the film in LA:

Mark Ruffalo: “It was really important to me. LA brings a certain kind of person to it, unlike any other place. It brings people with big dreams. I felt that was real important, that all those people had dreams that they’re sort of struggling to achieve, whether it’s Joe with the dream of a homeless shelter or Dean with the dream of fame and to be walking. Each of them had their own agenda that causes them to do things that are questionable at times. But that’s what dreams do. The fact that we have a very big homeless population here, but it is like it’s own city there. It’s totally segregated from the rest of the city. I used to live down there and so I knew it very well. When we mulled it over and thought about it, I just couldn’t see it being shot anywhere else. I couldn’t see these kinds of people being anywhere else.”

Christopher Thornton: “It’s such a specific place and then the band stuff, too. That band would be in LA.”

Mark Ruffalo: “That band was in LA, is in LA.”

Christopher Thornton: “They are. There’s like 10 of them in LA.”

Mark Ruffalo: “It’s ripped off from a real band.”

Christopher Thornton: “We stole most of that from a real band.”

On directing his first feature film:

Mark Ruffalo: “I really was scared. Once I got over the trepidation and fear and self-loathing, I actually really loved it. It was kind of everything that I thought that it would be and more. I realized that I had actually learned something in all those years that I’d been on sets with really great directors. I hope that it’s something that they’ll allow me to keep doing. It felt much easier for me than acting does, to be completely frank with you.”

“I could see why actors like directing. I love actors and to be able to work with them the way that I was is something that I’d like to keep doing. Only an actor really understands the way that another actor ticks. I think it’s an interesting transition and it feels like a natural transition to me.”

On starring in his directorial debut:

Mark Ruffalo: “Part of this game is like to cancel myself out as a first time director I had to act in the movie. No one will sign onto a movie until you have a movie going. No one’s agents will let you do it. I had to sign on first before I could get anyone else’s agents to even take me seriously. So my plan was to get them all in and then jump off and bring in someone who I thought would be great for the part. The day that I went in to do that we had to change our schedule and I had lost two of my lead actors because of scheduling conflicts.”

Christopher Thornton: “We had to push the movie seven weeks which really screwed us up. We lost a lot of stuff.”

Mark Ruffalo: “That’s when I got Orlando Bloom and Laura Linney. But the movie was falling apart in my hands and I came in to quit and they were like, ‘You’re not doing any such thing, dude. You’re all we have left.'”

Christopher Thornton: “He loved the part, but he just didn’t want to do them both at the same time.”

Mark Ruffalo: “It was a lot. It was a big thing to take on.”

On casting Orlando Bloom:

Mark Ruffalo: “Orlando probably wasn’t my first choice for this movie. I sat down with him and we talked about it and he said, ‘I really need for me, I’m kind of broken right now and I need an acting experience. I need something where I can really dig in change myself.’ As a director you sort of fall in love with your talent a little bit, with the talented people around you. It’s very vulnerable, the act of acting. I think that for people to be great they need a lot of trust and they need a lot of encouragement and they need love, kind of. I’ve seen everybody sort of at their best and their worst in this movie. They’re all incredibly talented people and they have a lot to offer and all of them have a huge reservoir of things to give. It’s just the material, creating the right work environment in order to bring it out of them.”

On why we should sympathize with Delicious:

Christopher Thornton: “Well, he’s having a hard time, isn’t he? He’s had a terrible thing happen to him and it’s very early on from it, which is a particular stage. I think probably the hardest part is the early days. He’s down and out and he’s struggling with it, and I think that more than anything affects his bad behavior – or his bad choices, I should say. He’s just had a tragedy in his life and he’s reeling from it.”

Mark Ruffalo: “I think he’s very human. I think that in time, maybe, we come to sympathize with him. The story is about a selfish man who makes a journey to do one selfish act, a selfless act. People would say that this character is unlikable on the page, but I’d say, ‘Yeah, but you don’t get the visual affect of seeing a guy in a wheelchair.’ I don’t know about you, but I see someone in a wheelchair and I immediately sympathize with them. I immediately say, ‘That person has it a little bit tougher than I do and somehow they got to that point where they’re in that chair.’ That visual cue, I hope, carries us through some of the more unsympathetic things that the character does.”

Christopher Thornton: “I don’t think it’s that important to sympathize with a character in a film as long as you empathize with them. Some of the great characters have been really unlikable to me, but empathy is important in that you understand, like, ‘Yeah, that’s a really hard place to be.’ Who knows what we’d do in that situation? I think that empathy is the most important thing.”

On their shared history of learning acting skills from Stella Adler:

Mark Ruffalo: “We were on the work study program there.”

Christopher Thornton: “He’s got the best anecdote. The thing that you have to know about Stella Adler is that even though she was 92 when we were studying, literally, she was the biggest flirt and would hit on the all the boys. She hit on all of us, but I think his story is probably the best.”

Mark Ruffalo: “She came walking by me. I would tape her classes. I was there to help her come into the theater on a cane and I put my arm out and she stopped and goes, ‘Darling, how old are you?’ I said, ‘I’m 23, Stella.’ She said, ‘Oh, too old.’ And she went by me. That was classic Stella. The thing about her is that more than anybody she really believed that as an actor you were a great artist and that you had a huge responsibility to make yourself better and to lift the ideas of the playwrights. She used to quote George Bernard Shaw quite often. She said, ‘You should have to pay to go to church and the theater should be free, darlings,’ because she really saw storytelling as one of the great teaching tools. People don’t talk about acting like that anymore, which is a shame, but it’s something that as a 22 year old you don’t hear people talking like that about anything. It really turned me on, turned a lot of us on.”

Christopher Thornton: “You could count on one hand [people] that you would say actually changed your life, but she did. And to be that young, we were really young when we were first started in that class and to hear somebody speak like that… I had never heard anybody with the wealth of experience and knowledge that she had about acting and what it meant, the importance of it. None of that was even in my head. I left that class wanting to read Chekhov. That’s a big change at that age.”

On preparing to play The Hulk in The Avengers:

Mark Ruffalo: “We have to get the script. We’ve been working on the script, which has been fun. I’ve lost 15 pounds. They didn’t want me all ripped up, but they want me to do be lean and mean. It’s been trying to get the psychology of somebody who knows at any moment they could literally tear the roof off of wherever they are. I’m trying to bring – I don’t know – something real to that and totally fantastic. Like I said, I’ve been working with Joss Whedon on the script with the rest of the cast. We start rehearsals soon. So, hopefully we’ll have the mother of all comic book movies for you soon. [We start shooting] the first week of May.”

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April 30, 2011 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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