Mark Ruffalo’s breakout role in Kenneth Lonergan’s “You Can Count on Me” almost didn’t happen.
In a Monday interview with Jason Bateman, Sean Hayes and Will Arnett on their “Smartless” podcast, the “Poor Things” Oscar nominee recalled “literally begging” the celebrated playwright and filmmaker for the role of Terry in the 2000 feature – even though it was initially offered to Ethan Hawke.
Ruffalo had previously worked on Lonergan’s blockbuster Broadway production of “This Is Our Youth” in 1996 with costars Missy Yager and Josh Hamilton, so he had a leg to stand on when demanding an audition with Lonergan for his debut feature film.
Retelling the incident on “Smartless,” Ruffalo said that he was out to lunch in New York City with Lonergan when they ran into Ethan Hawke, who was apparently in the running for the lead role in “You Can Count on Me.” Ruffalo said it caught him by surprise when Lonergan asked Hawke if he had read the script.
“We started to walk out and I was like, ‘What script?!’ Ruffalo said.
To hear Ruffalo tell it, Hawke wasn’t interested: “I just did this other thing that’s basically the same character, so it’s good, bro – it’s not for me right now,” the “Before Sunrise” star said at the time.
“And I was like, ‘Can I read it?’” Ruffalo recalled asking Lonergan, who was reluctant to let him throw his hat in the ring, despite their existing relationship.
“‘Just don’t get your f–king manager on me,’” Lonergan said, according to Ruffalo, who added: “And finally, he acquiesced.”
Ruffalo said Lonergan was concerned that he didn’t look similar enough to his “You Can Count on Me” onscreen sister Laura Linney. But even with those concerns, Lonergan gave him a shot.
Further recounting the audition process on “Smartless,” Ruffalo said he walked into the casting office days later and that it didn’t take long for Lonergan to be impressed. With a camera in one hand and his script in the other, a begrudging Lonergan was hooked on the first take. They immediately did the second.
Ruffalo laughed remembering how to Lonergan’s chagrin, he actually nailed the audition and got the role that would become his career breakout.
“That was really good. Goddammit. You might be good in this part,” Lonergan said. “You’re really f–king good in this. Just great.”
Listen to the full podcast interview with Ruffalo here. His story about “You Can Count on Me” begins around the 17-minute mark as Bateman and he share their love of Linney, who costarred with Bateman on Netflix’s “Ozark.”