The Thriller Dance Almost Made Mark Ruffalo Quit ’13 Going on 30′

Released in 2004, 13 Going on 30 brought us Jennifer Garner in a star-turning role and offered a charming blend of comedy, romance and drama. Let’s dive headfirst into the movie’s most unforgettable moment: the “Thriller” dance scene — a pivotal sequence that almost drove co-star Mark Ruffalo to abandon ship.

At the heart of 13 Going on 30, is Jenna Rink, a teenager who wakes up one morning as a 30-year-old woman. Garner’s character, Jenna, finds herself working in a glamorous world of fashion, for Poise Magazine, facing challenges and experiences she could only dream of in her adolescence. A turbulent journey unfolds, and a unique dance sequence acts as its emotional linchpin.

Jenna and Matty

In 13 Going on 30, we’re introduced to best friends, Jenna Rink (Jennifer Garner) and childhood friend Matty Flamhaff (Mark Ruffalo), who are in their early teens. Matty, more sensitive and somewhat nerdy, contrasts the vivacious and popular Jenna.

Despite their differences, they share a deep bond — a connection that’s tested when Jenna, desperate to fit in with the popular girls at school, abruptly dismisses Matty on her 13th birthday. This harsh rejection shatters their friendship.

Fast forward to adult Jenna. In the height of her chaos, she reconnects with Matty, who has matured into a successful photographer. Even though he’s hesitant and guarded initially, due to the pain of their past, their chemistry is undeniable.

Jennifer Garner and Mark Ruffalo star in the beloved rom-com, "13 Going on 30".
(Photo by Carlo Allegri/Getty Images)

Their dynamic further evolves when Jenna realizes that the adult version of herself has not been kind or true to her own values, leaving her feeling lonely and estranged. It’s Matty who stands as her moral compass, reminding her of the warm, genuine person she used to be. This, combined with her resurfacing feelings for Matty, pushes Jenna to try and mend their relationship.

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However, Jenna’s revelations come at a cost. The adult Matty is engaged to another woman. Still, Jenna’s renewed understanding of love and friendship encourages her to confess her feelings.

Dancing the Night Away

The “Thriller” dance scene, set at a dull work event, energizes the entire room and with Jenna leading the way, turns the evening around. Garner and Ruffalo hit the dance floor, launching into Michael Jackson’s signature ‘Thriller’ dance, which, in turn, breathes life into the party. The enthusiasm of the group of people who join them in the dance, makes this moment, one of the best in the movie.

Mark Ruffalo and the ‘Thriller’ Hurdle

However, this dance scene posed an unexpected challenge for Mark Ruffalo. The actor, known for more serious roles and his work in big-budget blockbusters like the Avengers, found himself in uncharted territory.

During a recent interview with Kevin McCarthy, Ruffalo admitted that he almost quit the film due to the dance sequence. The thought of having to learn and execute Michael Jackson’s iconic ‘Thriller’ routine was overwhelming. As he told McCarthy, the first rehearsal was a “really beautiful experience” — a jest, of course, as he described the struggle with mastering the dance steps.

“I’m a bad dancer,” Ruffalo confessed in the end of interview clip, “but I thought, it’s not a professional dancer’s role, it’s the role of Matty, Jenna’s childhood friend, who just happens to be at the right place at the right time to share in the moment with her.”

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Dancing Through the Difficulties

The rehearsal process was long and arduous, with Ruffalo spending hours trying to perfect the dance, while Garner had the dance down in mere minutes. The actor’s Instagram posts from the time reflect this laborious journey, as he worked diligently to step into the rhythm.

Even Jennifer Garner, in a talk with Good Morning America, recalled, “Poor Mark was out of his comfort zone. But he pushed through, and it was a testament to his dedication to the role of Matty.”

Jennifer Garner: The Light on the Dance Floor

If Ruffalo was the diligent student, Jennifer Garner was the effortless performer. She brought genuine excitement to the dance floor. Garner’s character Jenna is a magnet for positivity and naivety, her vibrant personality radiating through her dance moves. In an interview with The Skimm, Garner expressed that filming the dance scene was one of her most cherished moments.

The Legacy Lives On

Looking back, it’s clear why 13 Going on 30 remains so popular. It captures the spirit of the 80’s, a snapshot of youth and the rollercoaster of emotions that come with growing up.

Yet, amidst its humor and heartfelt moments, it’s the ‘Thriller’ dance that shines brightest. After all, it’s not just about hitting the right steps, but about moving to the beat of our own drum. And that’s a lesson worth dancing to, every time.