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In the past decade, there have been two attempts to bring Marvel Comics' "Incredible Hulk" to the big screen. And neither fully satisfied critics or comic-book fans with how they portrayed Bruce Banner, the mild-mannered scientist who grows into an uncontrollable green monstrosity when he gets angry.
So when writer/director Joss Whedon (creator of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer") was brought aboard "The Avengers" -- next year's movie that teams up the Hulk with fellow superheroes Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor -- he had both the opportunity and the challenge of giving the character a fresh start. Luckily for Whedon, he had a great Oscar-nominated actor, Mark Ruffalo, to help him redefine both Banner and Hulk.
In a phone interview with me this week, Whedon told me that he met with all the actors in "The Avengers," -- including returning stars Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth and Samuel L. Jackson -- before he started working on the script to get their perspectives on their roles. But Whedon said that he did the most character work of all with Ruffalo, "because we really were starting fresh, but we were starting with something that had been embodied several times."
Whedon told me that he and Ruffalo both agreed that they wanted their version of Dr. Banner to follow the model established by Bill Bixby in the '70s TV version of "The Incredible Hulk," rather than how he had been portrayed in the more recent films. The character on the show, they felt, "was busy helping other people.... That was more interesting to us than the Banner in the first two movies who was always fixated on curing himself."
Once the actor and director found a common vision for how they would handle Bruce Banner's personality, they had to work out the other side of the role: the lumbering, destructive, out-of-control Hulk. Whedon admitted that he and Ruffalo fought over this. Physically. He said, "I mean literally we actually got some pads out and did some tussling. Just to talk about the physicality of somebody who has to control this thing, and the way he moves in space and the way he relates to the people and the objects around him. It was extremely fun."
Together, Whedon and Ruffalo worked out not just the dual nature of Banner's personality, but also the two sides to the Hulk's physical presence. Whedon said, "What we found was that he could be very bumbling and kind of awkward, but at the same time very graceful and in this almost transcendent control of himself." Their efforts should show on screen as well. While the Hulk will be a digital creation like in the last two films, this time it will actually be Ruffalo playing the big green guy. Using motion capture technology like in "Avatar," all of the Hulk's movements and expressions will come from Ruffalo.
You can get a brief look at Ruffalo hulking out in the teaser trailer for "The Avengers" below. Then click over to read the full text of my interview with Joss Whedon, where we covered working with Robert Downey Jr., Samuel L. Jackson, and why he spent as much time writing the big stunts in the movie as he did on the dialogue. "The Avengers" opens May 4, 2012.