Mark Ruffalo

04/20/2004 at 03:17 PM EDT

Mark Ruffalo
"There was a time when I thought I may not be able to act anymore," Ruffalo says about being diagnosed with a benign brain tumor in 2000. "I really missed it."
Chris Wahl/
Mark Ruffalo| 13 Going on 30, Mark Ruffalo

Ruffalo spends his off time getting down and dirty – with his 2-year-old son, digging "holes in the back yard looking for worms."

Tina Fineberg / AP

What about girls?
You know what? The summer of my 13th year I met this girl and was with her for six years. And that was, like, my great first love. She was in her early 30s. (Laughs) She was one of my mom's friends. No, seriously ... She was my age and I can't say enough about how great she was. But I blew it.

You blew it?
We moved away and I didn't stay in touch.

Seems like lots of actors moved around as kids.
When my family moved and I started in a new school, I didn't have any identity. ... So I made up this lie that I was a great wrestler. And the next thing I knew, when I got into practice, I turned out to be a great wrestler. So the good thing about moving around is that you get to recreate yourself everywhere you land.

Did you ever wrestle Jennifer Garner?
No. But she tried to throw a couple of moves on me.

Was it hard to work opposite her when she was acting 13?
She is that. That is Jennifer Garner. When I met her, I was expecting a girl in a leather bustier with chopsticks sticking out of her hair. And then she walked in and she had a ponytail, no makeup and sweats. I was like, "Who's that girl?" I was expecting this ass-kicking Alias girl.

You had surgery a couple of years ago to remove a brain tumor. How has that changed your perspective?
You become very acutely aware that one day you are going to die. At the time things were going very fast for me. I had just been cast in Signs, I did The Last Castle. I was focused on success and getting big studio movies ... I didn't care about acting as much anymore. During that year off, there was a time when I thought I may not be able to act anymore. I really missed it. It was like, whose life am I living?

Are you okay now?
Yes, completely. They took it out and it was benign and there is very, very little chance of it coming back.

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