NEW YORK – Is there any better team player in movies than Mark Ruffalo?
Whether running in a pack of superheroes, wrestlers or journalists, Ruffalo has a rare ability to slide seamlessly into an ensemble while nevertheless standing out for his talent in doing so. A year after Ruffalo received an Academy Award nomination for his supporting performance as Olympic wrestler David Schutlz in "Foxcatcher," the actor is again expected to be Oscar nominated for his key role as a dogged Boston Globe reporter in the newspaper procedural "Spotlight."
"I've been at the right place at the right time for these two movies, and been able to disappear into the beauty of an ensemble, to serve something that's bigger than any one particularly individual," says Ruffalo. "They say something at a moment when the culture's ready to hear it. A movie, if it speaks to people, it bubbles out of the culture and lands at a moment when we're ready to have a discussion."
Ruffalo, one of the movie industry's most outspoken advocates for environmental (and other) causes, rarely turns down a conversation. (He began a recent interview eagerly imploring a reporter: "Talk to me!") He has regularly poured his considerable energy into both political activism (most notably hydraulic fracturing) and passionate, striving characters, from the bipolar but exuberant father of "Infinitely Polar Bear" to his redemption-seeking music executive in "Begin Again." He does enthusiasm well, on screen and off.
"I see a lot of light on the horizon. I call it 'the sunlight revolution' and it isn't just about renewable energy," says Ruffalo. "It's about enlightening and bringing to light the wrongs of the past. Everywhere I look, I see this inquiry happening. I think people are conscious. I think people are sick of it. They want righteousness. They want to know that's there's justice in the world, and they tend to move toward that when given the choice."
"Spotlight," which expands to theaters nationwide this weekend, dovetails with that mission. The film, directed by Tom McCarthy, is about the Pulitzer Prize-winning reporting by the Boston Globe's team of investigative reporters — named Spotlight — that uncovered the widespread sex abuse of Catholic Church priests and subsequent efforts to cover up abuse cases.
The cast, including Michael Keaton, Liev Schreiber, Rachel McAdams and Stanley Tucci, is uniformly excellent. And the film, one of the year's most acclaimed, has been hailed for its verisimilitude in depicting the step-by-step digging of investigative journalism. Ruffalo, 47, plays Spotlight reporter Mike Rezendes.
"These are the people we want to celebrate. These are the people that deserve our admiration," says Ruffalo. "You can't have a free world without journalism, and it takes resources."
To prepare for the role, Ruffalo spent time with Rezendes, observing him at work in the Globe newsroom and getting to know him at his home.
"As I told him, I said, 'You found out things about me I didn't want to know,' says Rezendes. "He worked very hard and he got it."
Rezendes, whom Ruffalo calls "a master" at his craft, continues to report on sex abuse and the church.
"The Catholic Church has taken some steps in the right direction, which I don't think it would have taken were it not for us. But it has a ways to go," says Rezendes.
Ruffalo, his movie-star counterpart, is more emphatic.
"I hope it's a chance for the church to put people like Cardinal Law in jail," says Ruffalo, who was raised Catholic in Kenosha, Wisconsin. "That guy shouldn't be living in a palace in the Vatican. He should just be in jail."
Ruffalo, of course, is continuing his duties as a member (Bruce Banner/The Hulk) of the "The Avengers," the last of which was the summer's box-office behemoth "Age of Ultron." He'll be a part of a planned "Thor" sequel, and co-stars in next year's magic caper "Now You See Me 2."
But Ruffalo, who's married with three children, is often busiest off-set. Earlier this month, he gathered other stars in Beverly Hills to protest Gov. Jerry Brown's use of fracking in California.
"We live in this special time where you can't hide anything anymore," says Ruffalo. "All of the past wrongs are going to come to light."
Follow AP Film Writer Jake Coyle on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/jakecoyleAP