The filmmakers cast British actor Tim Roth as Emil Blonsky, a special ops soldier with a thirst for domination and glory. After Blonsky volunteers for General Ross to become exposed to the same gamma radiation that transformed Banner, Blonsky eventually becomes The Abomination—a foe dwarfing The Hulk in both temperament and power. The soldier morphs into the creature through two different procedures. The first is through a series of injections of Super Soldier serum from General Ross, which begins his evolution into a military machine. The final, full transformation into The Abomination is as a result of a transfusion of Bruce Banner’s blood from the unethical Dr. Sterns.
While The Hulk can revert into Banner when the adrenaline that courses through his arteries subsides, there is no going back for Blonsky once he accepts the inoculation. His body eventually reacts to the radiation by mutating into a monstrosity whose spinal column and other bones (which he can use to skewer his enemies) protrude outside his body, resulting in a pale-green, color-reflecting mutant that has powers greater than those of The Hulk.
Emil Blonsky, suggests producer Avi Arad, is the perfect antagonist: “People who want to be villains are good villains. What happens to Blonsky is no accident; he brings it on himself. He sees the power The Hulk has; he wants it, and he takes it. He looks at The Hulk as a personal challenge. It’s like the fastest gun in the West—if you take this guy down, you are the ultimate bad ass. That’s Blonsky’s mind-set, and he’ll stop at nothing to destroy him.”
“Blonsky is an action man who is unimpressed by anything,” says Roth. “He’s seen it all; he’s tired, and then he sees The Hulk. He realizes that there is a whole new game, and he wants to be part of that. He wants to own the power.”
Roth likens Blonsky’s thirst for power to an addiction. “Once Blonsky figures out there’s an adventure to be had, he goes for it. He lives for the buzz,” explains the actor. “The injections start small, but when he realizes that they give him an ability to use his body in a way he hadn’t been able to, he goes after the big hit: ‘Enough of these little shots. I can run fast; I am bigger, stronger, smarter…I want more.’”
Bruce Banner’s condition has complicated his longtime romance with Betty Ross and, after five years with no real contact with him, we find Betty trying to put the past behind her. The man who is competing for her affections is fellow suitor Leonard. (In one of THE INCREDIBLE HULK’s many nods to fans, this character is named after the infamous psychiatrist who attempted to cure Banner while saving Betty’s life [after her unfortunate encounter with Spider-Man’s archnemesis Sandman]. His dabbling in gamma technology would eventually turn him into the 6’ 6”, 380-pound Doc Samson. But that’s another story...)
Leterrier knew that he needed the competition for Betty’s affection to be someone who “was a little older, somebody that Banner could respect.” The director comments of Leonard, “That’s the problem; the guy is amazing. He’s a great doctor; he’s handsome; he’s funny. It was tough to find somebody with all these qualities.”
The search ended when Norton suggested the producers and Leterrier meet with actor Ty Burrell, a performer with whom he had worked in 2003 in Lanford Wilson’s off- Broadway play Burn This. Recalling his conversation with Norton, Leterrier laughs, “I was like, ‘Wait a minute. Ty Burrell, wasn’t he the jerk in Dawn of the Dead?’ I met him, and he was so funny and charming. I told him, ‘You are Leonard. Banner and you can interact; you can have the right connection.’”
Pivotal to the story of THE INCREDIBLE HULK is Banner’s search for a cure that will allow him to rejoin society. Tim Blake Nelson was cast to portray Professor Samuel Sterns, a cellular biologist who may hold the key to Banner’s quest (and, in Marvel lore, eventually becomes the massive-craniumed evil Leader, future foe of The Hulk). Sterns and Banner have been in communication throughout Banner’s exile. While they have never met, Banner believes that Sterns’ research could lead to an antidote. What Banner doesn’t know is that Sterns really wants to create more versions of the infected physicist. The audience is asked to question, once again, just who are the monsters?
“Sterns is brilliant, but he is also ethically challenged,” explains Nelson. “I think that’s what’s really appealing about a lot of the characters in THE INCREDIBLE HULK; they get to explore this sort of id within themselves, this dark side that comes out as a kind of monstrosity. I don’t think Sterns considers himself a villain whatsoever. In fact, because he is so brilliant and so convinced of his own brilliance, he’s beyond any sort of opprobrious morality. As long as he’s discovering and breaking new ground, he feels his life is worthwhile. He doesn’t get too concerned about what’s good, and I love that kind of character.”
With the cast locked and cameos secured for both The Hulk’s creator and the bodybuilder who is forever associated with the character, it was time to begin building a creature that was half-man, half-beast…and the world he would attempt to not destroy.