One piece of THE INCREDIBLE HULK that has endeared the saga to fans for so long is the love story between Banner and his former Harvard co-ed/girlfriend (and wife in certain chapters of The Hulk series), brilliant biologist Betty Ross. It’s the tragedy of their romance—the fact that they’re doomed to be apart until he finds a cure—that makes Banner’s pain so much more unbearable. Betty’s love and empathy for Bruce has never wavered and, though the relationship is complicated, she has a connection to him that allows her to find humanity in his green alter ego.
Leterrier responded to the fact that Betty’s empathy would equal Bruce’s downfall at the hands of his nemesis, Betty’s father, General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross. He offers, “Banner would not have fallen back in Ross’ claws if it wasn’t his love for Betty and the mistakes he makes because of her, and I loved that dynamic.”
To play the pivotal role of Betty, the filmmakers turned to Liv Tyler, a fan favorite since her memorable casting as the immortal Elvish princess Arwen in Peter Jackson’s epic The Lord of the Rings trilogy. “Liv is not only a classic beauty, but an undeniable talent,” comments Feige. “Her roles in such blockbusters as The Lord of the Rings and indie favorites like Stealing Beauty have helped her develop a unique blend of dramatic and action-adventure experience that is perfectly suited for taking on the role of Betty Ross.”
“We really needed someone who could step up to the role—someone who could bring the right combination of intelligence and strength to the character,” adds Hurd, who worked with the actor in the ’90s juggernaut action hit Armageddon. “She had to be fearless but, at the same time, have a vulnerable side. Liv is perfect; she’s smart, accessible and beautiful—the embodiment of the character.”
Something Tyler didn’t know she was getting herself into was the physicality the role demanded, especially acting against what would become a 9’ creature inserted into the film through CGI. The actor, however, was up for the challenge. She laughs, “Even on The Lord of the Rings, I didn’t really do this. I was reacting to things that weren’t there, but I wasn’t necessarily interacting with things that weren’t there. I was never physically carried off by something.”
Once the star-crossed lovers were cast, Leterrier and the producers looked for a performer to play the man who has dedicated his life to capturing The Hulk, General “Thunderbolt” Ross. Says Leterrier: “Once we had Edward and Liv, we had to find Liv’s father. Since Liv is a beautiful, tall woman, we couldn’t get a little, round general. I had to find a mountain of a general, as Thunderbolt Ross was this big, scary mountain of a man in the comic books. I wanted somebody who is rare, somebody you are not expecting and who hasn’t been in these parts before.” Oscar® winner William Hurt proved to be the ideal choice.
As he is also a big fan of The Hulk comics, it wasn’t a difficult decision for Hurt to tackle the role. “I found the comics deeply moving,” recalls the actor. “I believe in The Hulk, absolutely. That’s why I did the movie. My son is an even bigger fan—he knows everything about the series. We spent hours talking about Ross’ development and the relationship between Betty and Banner.
“Thunderbolt Ross is a conflicted man,” he continues. “He’s caught between his love and loyalty to his daughter and to his country. And he’s obsessed with stopping Bruce Banner and his alter ego.” This fixation, explains Hurt, ultimately takes his character to the point of putting his daughter in danger. “Ross starts to lose understanding of what he’s doing, and why,” says the actor. “He ends up ignoring his primary instinct as a parent and, ultimately, he’s humiliated by the fact that the thing he hates most in the world saves his daughter’s life. That’s a heavy emotional toll.”
Every good hero needs a villain and, while Banner has General Ross, Banner’s alter ego needed something more visually monstrous—especially to battle a powerhouse as awesome as The Hulk. In THE INCREDIBLE HULK, The Hulk finds himself taking on one of the most formidable adversaries from the comic series. General Ross may be Banner’s greatest nemesis, but he’s not alone in his quest to destroy The Hulk—The Abomination has him in his sights as well.
Elaborates Feige: “When we first encounter Banner, he’s been on the run for five years, looking for a cure to this thing he fears within him. He is being a hero in the way he thinks is best—by staying on the run, in the shadows, away from those he loves and those who want to harness his power for evil. It isn’t until he reencounters the love of his life, reencounters his old foes and a powerful new one, that he realizes that perhaps the monster within is actually a hero within.”