NANTUCKET — Mark Ruffalo was at the Nantucket Film Festival last weekend to promote his new film, “Begin Again,” a romantic dramedy about the music industry written and directed by John Carney, best known for “Once.” Ruffalo stars as Dan, an alcoholic music industry exec who’s lost his way in the business — and his personal life. Like “Once,” the film is as much about the soundtrack as it is the story.
On Nantucket, Ruffalo did more than just screen his film. He arrived on the island early to do work for his organization Water Defense, a nonprofit that focuses on clean-water initiatives. He met with scientists at the University of Massachusetts Boston’s Nantucket Field Station and even slept on campus Friday night. Just a few days after his work on Nantucket, he was back in London filming the next installment of “The Avengers,” in which he plays Bruce Banner, a.k.a. the Hulk.
Ruffalo explained during an interview before his “Begin Again” screening that this has become his normal routine. He makes a small movie, then a big one. Throughout the process, he practices his environmental advocacy. It’s a lot of multi-tasking, but he likes the balance.
Q. “Begin Again” is many things. You can sing along with it and it’s a love story, but it’s also commentary about the state of the music industry.
A. It’s about being an artist today and selling out — but I think mostly it’s about people. All these people are in one way or another finding themselves. Their true selves. Dan, who’s lost it somewhere along the way, has to come back to rediscover it.
Q. Were you a “Once” fan?
A. I was a big “Once” fan, so when this came around I was very excited to see what [John Carney] had in mind and, of course, I read that part and, wow, what a beefy, fun, reckless, interesting, dynamic, not-what-he-appears-to-be type of role.
Q. Some of the movies you do are so big. I imagine that taking on a more independent project like this is . . . relaxing? Refreshing?
A. We shot it in 23 days, so they’re not generally relaxing. They are refreshing, though. I love that pace. I love the energy, the sort of camaraderie that has to develop. You have to get really comfortable with being uncomfortable.
Q. Tell me about the songs in the film. I imagine they got stuck in your head.
A. I went to bed hearing them in my head last night. I was a fan of “Once,” and Gregg [Alexander] was doing the music for this again and I really trusted John’s taste, but at the end of the day, I didn’t hear the music until three days before we started shooting. I’m listening going, “This sounds really good. Am I biased? Am I delusional?” And it really aged really well. We shot it a year ago and I saw the movie for the first time the other night and it just held up really well.
Q. Is it normal for you to wait to see a film until days before it opens?
A. I tend to wait to see it with an audience because that tempers my own self-loathing. My son has a little part in [“Begin Again”]. It was so funny. After he saw it he’s like, “Is that what I sound like? Is that what I look like?” He said, “Is that what it’s like for you?” And I said, “Yeah.” He’s like, “Does that ever go away?” And I said, “No, it never goes away.” He’s like, “I was awful. I sound horrible.” I was like, “No, buddy, that’s just you, that’s just you, but that’s not what the world is experiencing.”
Q. You’ve made it a priority to promote your causes [water quality, the effects of fracking] while you make films. How do you balance?
A. In some ways it becomes difficult, in some ways it becomes easier. After four or five years of doing this, people are starting to take me seriously. I think sometimes being an actor who has something that he’s passionate about, especially something that can be a little bit controversial, you take a bit of a licking, and you become an easy target. People might want to write you off for being either insincere or inexperienced or self-serving. I’m not fighting that so much anymore. And other actors see that it’s actually safe and OK — that [I’m] not being brutally attacked.
Q. Were people ever aggressive with you when you started to speak out about your beliefs?
A. What I find is that people with an intellectually dishonest argument pretty much go for character assassination first. They’ll go for, “What do you know? You’re just an idiot actor. Tree-hugger, libtard, asshat.” You know the flavor.
Q. I know we’re supposed to be talking about “Begin Again,” but I’m desperate to hear about the movie you shot in Rhode Island last year.
A. “Infinitely Polar Bear.”
Q. You play a man from Boston in the film.
A. I play one of the sons of a very prestigious Boston family who’s bipolar and raising his two mixed-race girls on his own in the ’70s. Based on a true story from Maya Forbes and her father and her sister China Forbes, the singer-songwriter.
Q. Do you do a Boston accent?
A. I do a little bit of a Boston accent, a very light-touch Boston accent.
Q. More Kennedy than Southie?
A. Yes, yes.