PARK CITY, Utah — William Hurt is a consummate actor and a closet (until now) comic book geek. Both of which explain his excitement in revealing a bit about one surprise scene he shot for this summer’s “The Incredible Hulk.”
“I have a scene with Iron Man, with Robert Downey Jr.,” the Oscar-winning actor told MTV News Friday at the Sundance Film Festival. “It’s a funky scene.”
For those who haven’t heard the news, superhero house Marvel Comics is aggressively cross-pollinating its superheroes, most likely in preparation for an eventual “Avengers” movie. That means Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury will make a cameo appearance in May 2’s “Iron Man,” and ol’ metalhead himself will drop into “Hulk.” Little has been said about the scene — until now.
“I don’t know how it’ll work,” Hurt admitted, saying it was a thrill to appear as General Thaddeus Ross during Downey’s scene. “I know it’s weird [to work with a character from another movie], and to know it’s a device. We did something; I don’t know what that’s going to be like [to watch].”
In town to unveil the cross-generational romantic drama “The Yellow Handkerchief” to a packed theater of weepy, applauding moviegoers, Hurt was happy to discuss the transition from making that independent film to one of the year’s most anticipated blockbusters . “[Marvel] has a lot of guts,” he said of the June 13 flick that recast all the characters of 2003’s “Hulk.” “I hope the film works. I have no idea, because it’s so out of my hands now.”
Still, Hurt has one particular scene — and several plot revelations — that he can’t wait to watch on the big screen.
“Liv Tyler, I play her father, General Ross,” he explained. “There’s a scene, and during that scene there are a number of things happening. [Hulk] has beaten Abomination, and then there’s a crowd that gathers around, and they realize that he’s beaten Abomination. That Abomination was the one who was killing for just the joy of killing; Hulk is not the one.
“It’s the moment of turn,” Hurt added, “when society’s relationship with Hulk stops being so stupid.”
Unlike Ang Lee, director Louis Leterrier (the “Transporter” films) is intent on laying off the “Hulk as misunderstood monster” angle, thereby making him more heroic. “I want to see the relationship between Hulk and a world that realizes he’s not the villain,” Hurt said. “Hulk and [Tyler’s Betty Ross] have their moment, and the crowd realizes he’s not the bad guy.”
While Edward Norton has perfected his portrayal of such good-guy/bad-guy conflict in films from “Fight Club” to “American History X,” Hurt can’t comment on his co-star’s performance. “I don’t know. I only have two scenes with him,” he sighed, sounding a bit disappointed. “That’s not enough to get a whole taste of it.”
He is convinced, however, that the reboot flick is fully unrelated to Lee’s initial installment. “I saw that film. This is, stylistically, a completely different film. They just don’t relate,” Hurt insisted.
Hurt said Norton worked hard behind the camera to keep the new flick from either becoming too cerebral or falling back on a “Hulk! Smash!” mentality. “[Norton did] a lot of writing, and came up with a lot of ideas. I can’t relate them now, because there’s not enough time, but he had a lot of ideas.”
The script, which was penned by Norton, along with writer Zak Penn, “has to do with the fact that [Banner’s] conscience still exists in a body that is a manifestation of power and is greater than his own ability to control it — and how he’s learning that relationship,” said the veteran actor, who can currently be seen in the awards-season favorite “Into the Wild.” “Because that’s what’s happening to us. That’s the central metaphor for all of us, that we’re learning these powers — technological powers, whatever — that we don’t know if we have enough conscience to control in a wise way yet. And that’s what he’s doing.
“[Hulk] is managing to save his humanity inside that, while people like General Ross can’t,” he said of the tension between Bruce Banner and the man who wants to take him down. “That’s a main theme throughout many of the comics, and in ’Hulk,’ it seems to be [primary]. … I love him.”
And when Hurt makes a statement like that, he isn’t just another Hollywood actor hopping on the superhero gravy train. “I believe in Hulk. Absolutely. That’s why I did the movie,” he revealed. “I’m a Hulk fan, and he was always my favorite. I keep asking my son why he’s both of our favorites. I read the comic books, but he’s a real fanatic. I didn’t even know he was a fanatic for Hulk until after I agreed to do the film — and we’re father and son.”
Ultimately, with actors like Norton, Tyler, himself and Tim Roth (as Abomination) on set every day, Hurt said he was amazed at how small the massive film felt. “The interesting thing about making ’The Incredible Hulk’ was how audacious they were in having such a hugely expensive movie, but at the same time creating this sense right at the core — for me, Liv and Ed — that we could experiment,” he grinned. “You’re on a hell of a budget, and you’re on a hell of a time schedule, and you know this. But when you get inside the little tight circle of the hurricane, there’s a very small space of great freedom.
“I was tremendously grateful to Marvel for letting that happen, because sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes a studio film is just pure anxiety; accountants and everybody saying, ’Oh God, oh God, I’m going to get fired,’ but that wasn’t the case here,” said the star, looking forward to the cinematic return of the gamma-fueled antihero. “It was an immense production. But once you got into your scene, it was relatively free.”
Wait, the credits haven’t rolled yet! See our complete coverage of the 2008 Sundance Film Festival — including breaking news, celebrity interviews, red carpet photos, movie clips and tons more.