Over the weekend, HitFix broke the news that Marvel had decided to replace Edward Norton in The Avengers, the Joss Whedon-directed superhero team-up that it’s been patiently assembling over the last decade, featuring an all-star ensemble cast that would finally bring together Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man, Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury, Chris Evans’ Captain America, and Chris Hemsworth’s Thor. Hitfix reported that, despite encouraging meetings between Whedon and Norton, Marvel said it would prefer to find someone else to take over The Incredible Hulk—and it only gets nastier from there.
Marvel followed up Hitfix’s report with an official statement confirming the decision, and—despite speculation that all this came down to money—it avers that Marvel simply didn’t like the way Norton (who’s notorious for demanding script rewrites) played with others:
“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."
That’s pretty straightforward, with nary a standard PR department amelioration to be found—not even a vague statement about “differing creative visions” or an obligatory expression of gratitude for Norton’s service thus far. And as you can expect, Norton’s camp isn’t too thrilled that the actor is basically being called out (not for the first time) as a pain in the ass to work with. His agent has already issued this response, which argues that it is, in fact, about money, and that Marvel is the real asshole here, etc.:
“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 ComiCon 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 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.”
Whatever the actual reasoning behind the studio’s decision, one thing is clear: Edward Norton is no longer playing The Hulk. Furthermore, from this statement it appears that the rumors about the entire Avengers cast being revealed at this year’s Comic-Con are true, at which point we’ll learn who’ll be taking on the role. In the meantime, speculation has begun about who’s replacing Norton, with CHUD already exploring the fringes by reporting that an offer went out to Joaquin Phoenix. (Because, you know, nothing says “creative and collaborative spirit” like a guy who pretended to be a rapper and let someone take a huge shit on his chest just to make a two-hour inside joke.) That’s just a rumor right now; you can probably expect to hear many more of them in the coming weeks.