Three-time Oscar nominee Mark Ruffalo has returned to Broadway this season in a revival of Arthur Miller’s The Price. The actor received a Tony nomination for his Broadway debut in Clifford Odets’s Awake and Sing! back in 2006. In The Price, Ruffalo takes on the character of Victor Franz, who is estranged from his brother, Walter (Tony Shalhoub). NY1 entertainment reporter Frank DiLella recently caught up with the actor to chat about his latest project.
Mark, when were you first introduced to The Price?
My first experience with this play was seeing two entirely young actors working on it in a theater class at Stella Adler in L.A., which is where I went to school. And at that moment I didn’t totally get the piece. It was a big scene they were doing, and it was pulled out of context. I was also so young. But finally, getting the chance to discover it like I am now, I just see it’s such an important piece of Miller’s work. It’s probably in some ways his most mature piece. Death of a Salesman has so much flash to it and it’s easy to point out the protagonist — the antagonist — it’s easy to hold on to that play more than this. The Price is much more nuanced; it’s much more of a dialectic between two truths — the rat race and our humanity. Which in a lot of ways I think Miller was struggling with: How can we remain human in a capitalist system?
You kind of willed this role, this play, your return to Broadway, into existence.
I was supposed to be shooting Avengers and it got pushed back four months. So I was asked to direct a film I’ve been trying to get made for a while, but it was too rushed. And a friend of mine said to me, “What would you like to be doing now?” And to be totally honest with you, I said, “My dream of dreams is to be in a play with some really seasoned actors. That wasn’t built around me. That wasn’t an ego piece.” I wanted an ensemble play with a short run and where I could start rehearsal in a week. And lo and behold, look what happened! [Laughs.]
Can you talk about director Terry Kinney’s concept for this revival?
The set is more abstract but the play is still traditional. This play in particular was Arthur Miller’s response to Theater of the Absurd — 1968, where people were breaking free from traditional theater and moving toward avant-garde. What he referred to as “theater without history and plays without history.” And so in some regards he’s digging in his heels against a theater that suddenly had become more about the spectacle and less about the ideas.
In your mind, why is Miller one of the greatest playwrights of all time?
His language is poetic and honest — and working-class — but it’s also incredibly erudite. And in a lot of ways he’s the working-class playwright. And no one captures such big ideas, like the struggles of humanity vs. humanity, more than he does with so much beautiful language. But he also makes it accessible to everyone. This is a theater that’s made for the people.
We’ve seen a lot of Miller on Broadway of late: The Crucible, A View From the Bridge, even Death of a Salesman. His work seems timely, no?
It’s true. And he’s talking about a lot of the problems that we’re facing today, especially with this play. 1968 can easily be compared to 2017 — they were eruption years, culturally, politically — and they’re similar in a lot of ways. One thing that was clear in 1968: Capitalism had run totally out of control and you saw this kind of dystopia developing in our cities, and it was the height of a cultural revolution and civil rights movement. And Miller’s key focus was: How do we stay human in these systems? How do we keep our humanity?
What’s your favorite Miller work?
The Price. It’s become my favorite. I’m a real Arthur Miller fan. But working on it and seeing the quality of the work and the craftsmanship of the piece, I think it’s his masterwork in some ways. It’s his most difficult work as a playwright as well. It’s so mature.
You’re playing Victor Franz in The Price. Any other dream Miller roles?
All My Sons is a beautiful play. Chris was always a part I wanted to play. I might be too old for Biff now, but I would love to play the old man one day in Salesman.
What’s one thing you can’t put a price tag on?
Love. The very thing that is our saving grace in the world and what that entails. I’m not talking about some hippie-dippy idea; I’m talking about what love really means. It’s sacrifice, it’s commitment, it’s responsibility, it’s care, courage, and joy.
You’re a theater guy at your core. In fact, you’ve told me before that if you could do theater for the rest of your life, you would be 100 percent content. Does that still stand true?
It’s been a long time since I’ve been back on stage; I’m definitely a little rusty. [Laughs.] You do sacrifice a little something for something else. But I love acting and I would do it anywhere. But there is something about walking into a theatre and working it out on a stage that just feeds me. I was telling my dad it’s the difference between a flower, which is a movie, and the Sistine Chapel. One is very quick and beautiful and explosive; the other one takes time and thought and design and construction.
Any priceless moments in the theater that you’ve had that you can share?
[Laughs.] It’s always the mistakes that happen where something seems to be going wrong and it becomes something magical because you’re brought into the present. For example, last night we had a dress rehearsal run-through and we scrambled five pages! It turned into the most exciting on-the-edge-of-your-seat theater for the actors and audience because we were so committed to the play and where we had to go. And so we were all locked into this effort between all of us.
Arthur Miller’s The Price is currently playing at the American Airlines Theatre. Opening night is set for March 16.