Chief among the many “What If?” scenarios hovering over the live-action Marvel Cinematic Universe is the question of what would’ve happened if Edward Norton had continued to play Bruce Banner after 2008’s The Incredible Hulk. For a quick refresher, Norton played the big green role in the first MCU film following the franchise-spawning Iron Man. Incredible Hulk made a perfectly fine $263 million worldwide, but was immediately followed up with Norton either leaving or getting booted from the role, then Marvel Studios head Kevin Fiege releasing the shadiest of statements noting the studio would prefer an actor “who embodies the creativity and collaborative spirit of our other talented castmembers.” Mark Ruffalo was soon afterward cast as Bruce Banner for Joss Whedon‘s Avengers, and the rest is history.
But that Hulk-history could’ve looked a lot different if Norton got his way. Or so he says in a new interview with the New York Times, in which the actor revealed a two-film plan he conceived for the character that Marvel originally supported.
“I laid out a two-film thing: The origin and then the idea of Hulk as the conscious dreamer, the guy who can handle the trip,” Norton said. “And they were like, ‘That’s what we want!’ As it turned out, that wasn’t what they wanted.”
The pitch, in Norton’s own words, was for something “long, dark, and serious”, but when Marvel returned with their own ideas, they weren’t the type of concepts he was willing to commit MCU-amounts of time to.
“We had positive discussions about going on with the films, and we looked at the amount of time that would’ve taken, and I wasn’t going to do that. I honestly would’ve wanted more money than they’d have wanted to pay me. But that’s not why I would’ve wanted to do another Hulk movie anyway.
“I’m saying that Kevin had an idea of a thing that you could do, and it was remarkable,” he said. “Now it didn’t happen to be on a tonal, thematic level what I wanted to spend my time doing.”
Now this is, of course, one side of the story speaking a decade after the fact, so take it all with Hulk shorts-sized grains of salt. But it’s not hard to imagine a Marvel Studios in its earliest stages of planning out years and years of their sunnier comic book content not wanting to get too grim and gritty with the Hulk. (Especially considering Universal still primarily owns the rights to the character.) For a full breakdown on all the sloppy sloppiness that went down behind the scenes of The Incredible Hulk, check out Adam Chitwood’s entry on the film in his “How the MCU Was Made” series.