The "radical move," in other words, paid off. Yet as one of Ruffalo's heroes, the Kentucky writer and farmer Wendell Berry, has pointed out, "The term radical has the same meaning in politics"—and in life—"as it does in mathematics or in the word radish. It simply means 'root.'" What Ruffalo's done in the past two years is strip himself back to the roots. "He's got his place upstate, he's committed to his family and kids and to the idea of a simple life," says Lisa Cholodenko, who directed The Kids Are All Right. In this new light, even his role in a comic-book franchise like The Avengers—which two years ago might have flooded him with existential dread—harks back to simpler, unagented pleasures. "It's like being back in the forest as a 7-year-old, living in my imagination and creating this other world," he says. While familiarizing himself with the Avatar-style computer-generated imaging that's being employed for his scenes as the giant, green Hulk, Ruffalo made the counterintuitive connection between motion-capture acting and the theater. "It's the absolute perfect marriage," he says, "because it relies on your imagination, your ability to project outside of yourself, to be the watcher and the watched. A stage actor has to be able to do that, because you're telling the story with your body as much as your face and voice."

Or with a greened-up, bulked-up, madly pixelated version of your body, anyway. "I walk in front of a monitor, and there I am as the Hulk," Ruffalo says, his amazement still fresh. "I raise my right arm, he raises it, but he raises it as a 250-pound right arm, with all that weight and mass." So that means, I ask, he hasn't needed to embark on some sort of clichéd crash workout regimen? "No, no, no," he says. "Look, I'm eating guacamole and fucking potato chips, man, and having drinks with you." The bar is slowly filling, and as someone slides a buck into the jukebox to hear "American Pie," Ruffalo waves at an old man who's just arrived. "You think Tom Cruise does this?"

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