The Hulk has received the big screen treatment three times over now – first with Ang Lee’s Hulk in 2003 (starring Eric Bana), then with Louis Leterrier’s The Incredible Hulk in 2008 (starring Edward Norton), and finally with Joss Whedon’s The Avengers in 2012 (starring Mark Ruffalo). And while The Incredible Hulk was a reboot of the Hulk property, Incredible and Avengers shared the same iteration of the character – though he was played by two separate actors.

Because The Incredible Hulk was not a very successful film – it made approximately the same amount of $$ as Ang Lee’s film – it made a certain amount of sense to recast the role. And then, of course, the Hulk turned out to be one of the more praised elements of The Avengers.

Edward Norton, who’s co-starring in Birdman and making the rounds promoting that film, recently talked to NPR’s Fresh Air about his work as The Incredible Hulk and why he didn’t reprise the role in The Avengers.

Said Norton:

“My feeling was that I experimented and experienced what I wanted to. I really, really enjoyed it. 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. 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 [‘The 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.”

Norton’s take on his departure from Marvel is far more diplomatic and cordial than it was a few years ago.

Back when Marvel Studios announced that they were looking for a new actor to take on the role, president Kevin Feige said: “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.” Way harsh, Kev.

The Incredible Hulk 2008 Avengers Discussion Edward Norton on Not Playing Hulk in The Avengers

The Edward Norton version of The Hulk


A little while later, Edward Norton said in response: “I found it a cheap and unnecessary representation that [the decision] was about things other than money. [Marvel] came to me avidly to talk about it and then at the end of the day it was just flat out a business decision.” He also called Marvel’s move “low, unprofessional, and very dishonest.”

The word on the street at the time was that Marvel’s decision was based on money, at least in part, and that they didn’t want to pay Norton a hefty paycheck (which squares with other stories about Marvel’s tendency to lowball actors whose names aren’t Robert Downey Jr.). Though, in fairness, the fact that Norton has been rumored to be difficult to work with probably didn’t help.

And of course, prior to Marvel’s decision, Edward Norton seemed very into the idea of returning to the role of the Hulk for The Avengers. In one interview, he even said, “Well, if people want it all to come together, they’ve got to email Marvel and say, ‘This is what I want.’

So while the Edward Norton of 2014 makes it seem like he was totally on board with Mark Ruffalo taking over for him – and that it was really his idea not to return in the first place – what was said back in 2010 paints a very different picture.

WATCH: The Hulk VS. Iron Man in The Avengers 2 Trailer

What say you, Screen Ranters? Did you prefer Edward Norton as Bruce Banner a.k.a. The Hulk? Or do you like Mark Ruffalo for the role? Drop us a line in the comments.

Birdman is in limited release currently. The Avengers: Age of Ultron hits theaters May 1st, 2015.

Follow me on Twitter @benandrewmoore.

Source: NPR’s Fresh Air, Hit Fix, The Independent