Mark Ruffalo’s breakthrough role as Laura Linney’s estranged and road-wearied brother in You Can Count on Me had critics and fans abuzz with comparisons to a young Marlon Brando. And while his name became a staple of independent flicks with dramatic roles in XX/XY, Isabel Coixet’s My Life Without Me and 2004’s We Don’t Live Here Anymore, Ruffalo has been able to straddle the line between indie and mainstream success, moving between genres with ease and working with some of the greatest directors of the time. His acting credits include Ride With the Devil, directed by Ang Lee, Michel Gondry’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Zodiac by David Fincher, Michael Mann’s Collateral and Shutter Island, an upcoming thriller starring Leonardo DiCaprio and directed by Martin Scorsese. After years spent in front of the camera it’s clear: The name Mark Ruffalo is synonymous with versatility.

To see evidence of his flexibility as an actor, look no further than the theatrical line-up in the coming months, where Ruffalo has leading roles in two anticipated movies. In The Brothers Bloom, directed by Rian Johnson, Ruffalo is one half of a con-artist team (the other half played by Adrien Brody) whose new target (Rachel Weisz) forces their plans for getting rich through unexpected hoops. His second role is in Fernando Meirelles’ Blindness, based on José Saramago’s novel of the same name, in which he plays the Doctor (the only name attributed to the character in the novel) who suddenly, in a worldwide epidemic, goes blind. As Ruffalo’s character is quarantined, his wife, played by Julianne Moore, fakes her own blindness to accompany her husband in what becomes a savage look at a society that cannot see the atrocities they are committing upon themselves.

For Ruffalo, the role’s intrigue was in its dual nature. “What I found interesting is that the Doctor comes to find out that he is not who he thought he was and then, in one heartbreaking moment, he also finds out that his wife is not who he thought she was,” Ruffalo says. “The interesting truth of the matter is his wife is who he had hoped he would be under these circumstances. And he is the type of person he assumed his wife was. That’s a very difficult moment for anybody, to have all their perceptions completely shattered.”

To prepare for the role, many of the actors, including Ruffalo, had to take “blindness workshops” where they were blindfolded for several hours to gain a greater understanding of their characters. While a daunting task, Ruffalo came away from the experience feeling it had a positive impact on his performance. “The most remarkable thing about being blind was the freedom I felt as an actor. When I couldn’t see, I wasn’t worried about what my hands were doing or how I looked during the scene. It was like little kids say, ‘I’m going to close my eyes and the world can’t see me anymore.’ You learned to trust what the director was seeing more than your own eyes.”

This trust is readily apparent and strongly reciprocated when director Meirelles says of his lead actor, “Mark has this quality of raw honesty, not only in his characters but personally. He brings great warmth to the Doctor and I think his performance is brilliant.” MM