When it came to casting THE INCREDIBLE HULK, Leterrier and the producers were determined to assemble a troupe of actors who would deliver an adrenaline-fueled summer film distinguished by solid performances. “Audiences these days are extremely discriminating,” says producer Hurd. “It’s no longer enough to have great CGI characters and really terrific visual effects. You have to have a story that’s powerful and characters that you care about and a journey that’s worth taking. Even though we have great source material to draw from, from the many years that ‘The Incredible Hulk’ comic has been running, you have to sift through that and find the best story to tell and the best actors to tell it.”
To help present this chapter in The Hulk’s saga, the team would search for a performer who was not only capable of conveying scientist Bruce Banner’s brilliant intellect and dark conflict, but an actor who understood everything about The Hulk’s universe and would contribute creatively over the course of production. After the filmmakers met with two-time Academy Award®-nominated actor Edward Norton, the search was over.
“Bruce Banner is a very complex character, and therefore a very complex role,” offers producer Feige. “When Edward came on board, it totally upped the ante; we knew he’d be able to bring a whole new dimension to the character. He’s one of the most exciting actors of his generation. His immense talent and his ability to transform into a particular role made him the ideal choice to take on the character of Bruce Banner/The Hulk.”
For Norton, lending his interpretation of one of the world’s most beloved Super Heroes was something he took quite seriously. He has been intrigued by the Banner/Hulk story since he was a kid. The actor notes: “Bruce Banner is the guy who monkeys with the secret forces and gets burned by them in a way that ends up isolating him, exiling him to this lonely existence. There’s something in the story of a lonely, moral guy in this self-imposed exile, trying to protect the world from this terrible thing inside himself that I think people relate to. They like the story of the oppressed, chased, hunted man who has this righteous bite-back when you push him too hard.
“When you’re a teenager, there’s a terrific fantasy in that,” Norton continues. “It’s that feeling of being lonely, of being outside, and the fantasy that if people push you too hard, you’ve got this thing that’s going to rise up out of you and defend you. That taps straight into the way you feel as a teenager, and that’s where it starts.”
Offers Hurd: “When Edward Norton came on board, he brought not only his terrific acting ability and the dramatic sensibility we’ve seen in his Oscar®-nominated performances, but he also brought great insight and love for this character and these stories. Edward is not one-dimensional. He likes things that aren’t necessarily on the surface. He likes to go deeper and find things that are mythic. With a larger-than-life character like The Hulk and a larger-than-life villain like The Abomination, he’s got a really terrific canvas to explore the material in a really enormous way.”
Fortunately, her director agreed. Leterrier provides, “Edward was a perfect actor for a film in which there is a race against the army, a race against himself and his feelings. He brings in that emphatic sadness and intellect without being too big with his acting. It was really good to have somebody who was very internal, because that’s what Bruce Banner is. The Hulk is external and his primal self. Coupled with the substantial creative direction Edward provided throughout our production and postproduction, we wouldn’t have our Hulk without him.”
Norton returns the compliment to the filmmaker, and he looked forward to their collaboration. He offers: “When Louis and I talked about it, he was aesthetically drawn to the same things I was. His reference points were more films like Alien and other films that were not too bright and glossy—that had some grit to them. He talked about using handheld cameras a lot and about having the visual experience be dirty. By that he meant not always perfectly composed, but there’s a certain sense of chaos and horror-film aspect to it. I liked that a lot.”