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THURSDAY, MAY 29, 2008


Edward Norton admitted he got a few funny looks when he told people he was interested in starring in The Incredible Hulk.

"But I thought it was an amazing opportunity to put our hands on one of the really classic modern mythologies," Norton said. "And take it seriously."

Turns out Norton was very serious about the film. Not only does he star in The Incredible Hulk (arriving in theaters on June 13), he rewrote Zak Penn's original script.

And while The Incredible Hulk is not a continuation of Ang Lee's Hulk film from 2003, the movie reboot draws deep upon the character's roots, perfect for Norton, a self-described "Marvel kid."

"I loved Hulk, the early incarnation of the Hulk, and the television show when I was a kid," Norton said. "And then in later years, I really liked where they took it in the 'Return of the Monster' story and the Bruce Jones series. I thought those were, the writing and the graphics, really contemporary."

In addition to the comics, a stronger influence on the second movie than the first was the television series, with Banner always on the run -- as opposed to Lee's identity issues in Hulk. Norton said, despite what some might perceive as 1970's kitsch, the TV series had a lot going for it.

"When you watch that show, it really doesn't talk down to the idea of the story," he said. "It takes it very seriously. And Bill Bixby, when you watch him acting in it, he's really amazing in it. He brings this incredible, lonely pathos to the character.

"That was what drew me to it, this idea of a mortal person at war with this thing inside of me, sort of the lonely fugitive aspect to it."

Banner's definitely a fugitive in the movie. Early on, he's hiding in South America while working via e-mail as "Mr. Green" with the mysterious "Mr. Blue" on a cure before General Ross and crew -- including Emil Blonsky -- catch up to him.

The above elements should indicate strong comic-book influences to the story.

"One thing Louis (Leterrier, director) and I talked about when we were sitting down to re-approach this as a script was, let's grapple with what our own version of the history in this story is, but spool it out in an artful way throughout the story," Norton said.

"We've had a deep exploration of the Bruce Jones series and Hulk: Gray and a lot of different incarnations of Hulk that all have a lot to offer. The fun in this was not to remake anything, but to just spin our own sort of fantasy of the interface between all these things.

"I will say there are many characters that have nothing to do with the television show but are deeply rooted in the comic, like Leonard Samson. So anyone who's familiar with the books will definitely find it rooted in those as well."

It appears even to tie into other Marvel films. When a series of events leads to Banner's blood coming into the hands of Ross, he uses it on the Super Soldier Serum (from Captain America lore), which a power-hungry Blonsky, having already seen what the Hulk can do, quickly volunteers for.

"What Blonsky becomes is the embodiment of what Banner doesnšt want to have happen, which is for this thing inside of him to be replicated and turned into a weapon in a way," Norton said. "And yet the only thing they can put up against it is the equal and opposite force in a way, which is Hulk."

Before the finale battle, Blonsky confronts the Hulk in pre-Abomination form in a big scene in the middle of the movie, a skirmish between the Hulk and the U.S. army as shown in the various trailers and ads.

"Act 2 is like that thing when you were a kid is the absolute gold standard of Hulk in the comics, the Hulk vs. the U.S. army," Norton said. "We felt like that was something that had been missing from other incarnations of it, just a full-on, in the daylight, knockdown, drag-out brawl between Hulk and all the hardware of the U.S. army, and so thatšs what we tried to deliver in that part of the movie."

Helping Banner on his mission to find a cure is his love interest Betty Ross, played this time around by Liv Tyler. Although Betty has apparently moved on with her life following the events that created the Hulk, hooking up with Leonard Samson, she never really let go of Bruce and their reunion adds another level of emotion to the film.

"Liv seemed to me just like a really, really perfect choice for Betty," Norton said. "Liv has this fantastic quality of empathy. In many, many films Išve seen her in, the thing Išm most drawn to about her is she just seems to have a very palpable connection to other peoplešs pain or emotions. Shešs got this great kind of wordless sensitivity.

"If there was one thing you needed in Betty, in our version of it, Betty has the totally unique quality of being able to look at Hulk and still see Bruce. Everybody else sees this horrific force of rage. And she basically still keeps looking for her friend in there and she ultimately is the only one in the film whošs able to connect with him by relating to him as Bruce."

Much has been made about post-production arguments involving Norton, quickly smoothed over by the actor in a statement and comments from producers. Norton was complimentary toward his director, Louis Leterrier.

"Louis thinks big. He really does think big," Norton said. "You sometimes think of the personalities that make these types of film as kind of big personalities making big movies. Louisš the total opposite of that. Hešs incredibly gentle, very soft-spoken, very collaborative. Hešs great. I really have profound admiration for his cool head."

And those initial werid looks Norton got? They quickly changed.

"I was shocked at how excited people in my life were who I had no idea liked the Hulk," he said. "I have one friend, she's a really soft-spoken environmental lawyer, very cerebral, very intense. And when I told her, she almost started crying, she was so excited. She was like, 'Oh, my God! That was my favorite, favorite super-hero!'

"It sounds like a lark in the beginning, but then you start realizing there's a big responsibility with it. People are invested in this character and in this story and the spirit of it. And it goes from being a whim to being something that you've got to start making sure you take it seriously and bring all the stuff you bring into every other film into it."

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