The Incredible Hulk star and uncredited screenwriter Edward Norton took a shot at the Marvel Studios production during his turn at the lectern roasting Die Hard star Bruce Willis at Comedy Central’s upcoming televised roast.
Norton told attendees he was difficult on set because “I wanted a better script,” reported THR senior staff writer Ryan Parker in a tweet.
The 2008 Hulk reboot, just the second entry in the then just-started Marvel Cinematic Universe, was scripted by Elektra and X-Men: The Last Stand screenwriter Zak Penn, who received sole credit despite a Norton reworking because — per Writers Guild of America rules — Norton had not drastically altered the script enough to warrant a credit.
The three-time Academy Award nominated actor further clashed with Marvel Studios, then in its infancy, when Norton wanted a say in the film’s final theatrical cut. According to a 2008 report from Deadline, insiders close to the situation said Norton was “promised tremendous involvement and access” after he was invited by Marvel to take a crack at the script.
“There’s a lot of posturing going on between Edward’s camp and Marvel over how you edit the final version,” said one insider. Said another, “There’s a problem. Marvel won’t listen to Norton about the cut.”
Another unnamed source warned to “never let an actor write a script,” saying “Marvel made a mistake letting the wolf into the hen house.”
A big draw at the time, the acclaimed but famously fussy actor was replaced by Mark Ruffalo moving forward. The recast Ruffalo would make his debut four years later in The Avengers, Marvel’s first $1 billion-plus grosser, the mega-hit that pulled in five times as much as Incredible Hulk’s worldwide total: a lowly $263 million.
Once it was learned Marvel was moving away from Norton — not because of his fee but because of his attitude — the movie studio issued an official statement condemning Norton’s inability to play well with others, a key factor in the assemblage of Earth’s mightiest heroes and movie stars in The Avengers:
We have made the decision to not bring Ed Norton back to portray the title role of Bruce Banner in the Avengers. Our decision is definitely not one based on monetary factors, but instead rooted in the need for an actor who embodies the creativity and collaborative spirit of our other talented cast members. The Avengers demands players who thrive working as part of an ensemble, as evidenced by Robert, Chris H, Chris E, Sam, Scarlett, and all of our talented casts. We are looking to announce a name actor who fulfills these requirements, and is passionate about the iconic role in the coming weeks.
In return, Norton’s agent issued a biting response:
This offensive statement from Kevin Feige at Marvel is a purposefully misleading, inappropriate attempt to paint our client in a negative light. Here are the facts: two months ago, Kevin called me and said he wanted Edward to reprise the role of Bruce Banner in The Avengers. He told me it would be his fantasy to bring Edward on stage with the rest of the cast at [San Diego Comic-Con] and make it the event of the convention.
When I said that Edward was definitely open to this idea, Kevin was very excited and we agreed that Edward should meet with [Avengers writer-director] Joss Whedon to discuss the project. Edward and Joss had a very good meeting (confirmed by Feige to me) at which Edward said he was enthusiastic at the prospect of being a part of the ensemble cast. Marvel subsequently made him a financial offer to be in the film and both sides started negotiating in good faith. This past Wednesday, after several weeks of civil, uncontentious discussions, but before we had come to terms on a deal, a representative from Marvel called to say they had decided to go in another direction with the part. This seemed to us to be a financial decision but, whatever the case, it is completely their prerogative, and we accepted their decision with no hard feelings.
We know a lot of fans have voiced their public disappointment with this result, but this is no excuse for Feige’s mean spirited, accusatory comments. Counter to what Kevin implies here, Edward was looking forward to the opportunity to work with Joss and the other actors in the Avengers cast, many of whom are personal friends of his. Feige’s statement is unprofessional, disingenuous and clearly defamatory. Mr. Norton talent, tireless work ethic and professional integrity deserve more respect, and so do Marvel’s fans.
In 2014, Norton explained the parting to NPR, saying he didn’t want to be tied to the role anyway, and Marvel franchise commitments would have prevented him from taking on other projects.
“My feeling was that I experimented and experienced what I wanted to. I really, really enjoyed [The Incredible Hulk]. And yet, I looked at the balance of time in life that one spends not only making those sorts of films but then especially putting them out, and the obligations that rightly come with that. There were just a lot of things — I wanted more diversity,” Norton said.13comments
“I sort of chose to continue on my path of having a diversity of experiences. Maybe on some unconscious level, I didn’t want to have an association with one thing in any way degrade my effectiveness as an actor, in characters. I think you can sort of do anything once, but if you do it too many times, it can become a suit that’s hard to take off, in other peoples’ eyes. And if I had continued on with it, I wouldn’t have made Moonrise Kingdom, or Grand Budapest, or Birdman, because those all overlapped with [Avengers]. And those were more the priority for me, but I continue to be a fan and I’m really, really happy I got to do it once.”
The Comedy Central Roast of Bruce Willis airs July 29. Ruffalo next returns as Bruce Banner and the Hulk in Avengers 4, out May 3, 2019.