Mark Ruffalo debuted his latest film “Dark Waters” to an eager audience on Monday night at Harmony Gold in Hollywood, sitting amid the audience as he watched the fully finished project for the first time himself.
After the screening, the Oscar nominee and film’s producer was joined for a conversation, led by moderator Pete Hammond, with director Todd Haynes, co-star Tim Robbins and the man Ruffalo calls “the real superhero” Rob Bilott, the lawyer who fought DuPont to bring to light the environmental hazards of unregulated chemicals like PFOA (C8). After reading a New York Times magazine piece about Bilott, Ruffalo reached out to the attorney about adapting the story.
“I felt like the article probably couldn’t get into really all of the details,” he explained, saying he was curious about the tension created by a corporate defense attorney taking on the corporations they are meant to protect. “I just thought that’s particularly powerful, we haven’t seen that story ever before.”
Ruffalo portrays Bilott during his 20-year legal battle with the DuPont company over a contaminated water source in West Virginia. Since the actor founded the non-profit organization Water Defense in 2010, the partnership seems like the perfect pairing.
“I wanted to take film and tell those stories of real people on the front lines fighting for their lives every single day, we never hear from, never hear about,” Ruffalo said. “And this was a way for me to take my art form and be not political, but human.”
Like Ruffalo, Robbins is known for his political activism, stumping for causes like prison reform, but he also had a personal connection to the story.
“I just want to publicly thank Rob because 15 years ago, when my kids were really young, I got rid of all my Teflon pans and all of the carpeting in my own place because of you, because of this,” Robbins shared. “And hopefully my children are healthier because of that, and this is a great public service you’ve done for all of them.”
Haynes emphasized the production’s dedication to being as accurate as possible with adapting the story, shooting the film in Cincinnati (the production had access to the Taft law office where Bilott is a partner), casting local Ohio actors, and featuring cameos from Bilott, his wife Sarah (played in the film by Anne Hathaway) and more real-life players in the case.
“It is the truth,” Bilott said, assessing how accurate he feels the film is. “They did an amazing job condensing [20 years] into two hours. I was a little skeptical at first…about whether I should do something like this, but it was clear that [Mark] was doing it for the right reason: to bring the story out, to do it accurately and [he] wanted to show what really happened.”
“It started with one farmer and we figured out it was an entire community and now we know this chemical is in water all over the country, now, all over the planet. And it’s in every living thing on the planet,” he added. “We’re talking about a contamination on a global scale that I think we haven’t seen before.”
The film debuts Nov. 22 and is arriving at what Haynes says is a very important moment. “We’re in an election year… everything is at stake right now, our environmental future is at stake right now and this tells a very specific, poignant and astonishing story about environmental abuse,” he said.
Ruffalo also noted why the movie should resonate today: “I hope that this kicks off broader conversation and I want people to know what’s happening to them, why, you know, their aunts and uncles and cousins and people, everyone all over their family are getting cancer and sick all the time.”