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Mark Ruffalo Thought Oscar Isaac Might Replace Him in ‘Poor Things’

This article first appeared as part of Jenelle Riley’s Acting Up newsletter – to subscribe for early content and weekly updates on all things acting, visit the Acting Up signup page.

cast and crew of “Poor Things” teased Mark Ruffalo about replacing him with Oscar Isaac — even bringing the other actor to set one day.

Despite having two Oscar nominations and starring in blockbusters such as “Avengers: Endgame,” Ruffalo sometimes grapples with imposter syndrome. The actor admitted this during a recent conversation with his “Poor Things” peers — director Yorgos Lanthimos, writer Tony McNamara and fellow cast members Emma Stone, Willem Dafoe and Ramy Yousef.

Ruffalo was offered the role of rakish attorney Duncan Wedderburn and recalled how he was sent the script. “I thought it was pretty amazing,” he noted. “But I doubted my ability to do it, to be honest with you. I was scared of it. Even to the point where I tried to talk Yorgos out of casting me for a second. And he just went, ‘It’s you.’” 

Asked if he went so far as to suggest other actors for the role, Ruffalo admitted, “I might have said Joaquin [Phoenix] because I think that he can do anything.” The two actors starred together in the 2007 film “Reservation Road.”

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Once Ruffalo signed on, his reticence became a running joke. “They were teasing me that Oscar Isaac was going to take the role from me when we were in rehearsal,” revealed Ruffalo as the others laughed. As it turns out, Issac — who starred in “At Eternity’s Gate” with Dafoe — was shooting in an adjacent studio.

“Willem brought him over at lunchtime and Oscar came up to me and he’s like, ‘Hey man, I’m sorry, but it’s just not going to work out’,” Ruffalo revealed.

While the actor laughed while recounting the story, he admitted there was moment he wasn’t totally sure it was a joke. “I was just kind of like: ‘Oh shit, is this really happening?’”

According to Ruffalo, the experience brought back memories of his first big theater job where “I literally got fired a week before opening. It was my big break, and I was literally so traumatized. So anytime I hit a bump, I’m like, ‘That’s it, they’re firing me.’”

Asked if he felt bad for participating in the prank and Dafoe laughed good-naturedly. “It makes you stronger,” he offered. And Ruffalo added that being replaced by Isaac wouldn’t be such a bad thing. “If it’s going to be anybody … I mean, Oscar is the guy,” he said. “I totally get it.”

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