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The Marvel Cinematic Universe’s sprawling multiverse has been the launching pad for long-running roles for many of Hollywood’s top actors. One notable exception has been Edward Norton’s role in The Incredible Hulk. This early foray into the MCU was largely panned as a misstep, and Bruce Banner/the Hulk was recast. The way that decision was handled, however, left Norton feeling a bit miffed. Here’s why the actor called the move “unprofessional.” 

Edward Norton played the Hulk in 2008

Back in 2008, the MCU as we know it today did not yet exist. As a glance at the current Marvel‘s sprawling lineup makes clear, The Incredible Hulk premiered when the multiple Phases and the flagship films of the MCU were just a glint in Kevin Feige’s eye. Following 2008’s Iron Man, the official first film in the MCU, The Hulk debuted released the same year. The films ushered in what would become a tidal wave of top-grossing films, redefining action flicks for a generation. 

While Robert Downey Jr.’s portrayal of Iron Man would continue through multiple sequels, that was not the case for Edward Norton’s appearance as The Hulk. Instead, Norton’s time in the MCU was cut short. The role of the Hulk  — who would become a major part of future films — went to Mark Ruffalo

Casting changes are a standard part of the Hollywood landscape. And sometimes an actor just isn’t right for a part (or doesn’t have the schedule that allows for such an ongoing commitment). But Norton’s removal from the role was abrupt and seemingly left the actor feeling snubbed. 

Edward Norton called Kevin Feige’s handling of the Hulk recasting ‘unprofessional’

Ahead of the first team-up film, The Avengers, Marvel President Kevin Feige made it clear that Edward Norton would not return to the role of Bruce Banner. As Vulture reports, the statement focused on Norton’s interpersonal relationship with the rest of the team rather than salary.

“We have made the decision to not bring Ed Norton back to portray the title role of Bruce Banner in The Avengers,” reads the statement. “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.”

In other words, Feige made it clear that Norton was fired because he didn’t play well with others. And Norton bristled at the announcement. The actor’s agent made an official response on his behalf, calling the act “unprofessional, disingenuous and clearly defamatory.” 

However, Norton also went out of his way to make it clear that he wasn’t going to let the move bother him too much. As The Independent reports, he said, “My life’s way too good on too many levels to be over-intense about things like that.” 

Edward Norton has gone on to other projects

edward norton
Actor Edward Norton arrives at the 21st Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards at The Shrine Auditorium on January 25, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. | Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic

Edward Norton’s Grandfather James Rouse Coined the Term ‘Urban Renewal’

It’s impossible to know the full impact Feige’s comments may have had on Norton’s career. But it’s also clear that the Oscar-nominated star hasn’t struggled to pick up new work. Norton’s IMDb profile shows a host of films since the announcement that he wouldn’t be returning to the role of the Hulk. 

In 2014, Norton was in The Grand Budapest Hotel. He took on a starring role in 2014’s Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance). Other notable films include Collateral Beauty (2016) and Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch (2021). He also starred in, wrote, and directed Motherless Brooklyn (2019). 

While these indie and more quirky films certainly strike a different tone than the flashy blockbusters of the MCU, it’s clear that Norton has found a groove for this stage of his acting career that has led him to notable and meaningful work.