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Now it’s impossible for fans to picture anyone else playing Iron Man other than Robert Downey Jr. But just as the Marvel Cinematic Universe nearly had a different Tony Stark, another actor almost starred as Bruce Banner in The Avengers. And no, we’re not talking about Edward Norton.

Rather, actor Mark Ruffalo — who has played Banner/Hulk since 2012 — initially turned down the role. Although he was later worn down, he first balked at the offer to join the MCU. And in hindsight, his hesitation makes complete sense, given Ruffalo’s career up to that point.

Robert Downey Jr. and Mark Ruffalo at an 'Avengers: Age of Ultron' press conference | Visual China Group via Getty Images/Visual China Group via Getty Images
Robert Downey Jr. and Mark Ruffalo at an ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’ press conference | Visual China Group via Getty Images/Visual China Group via Getty Images

The Incredible Hulk is one of the only major MCU recasts

In 2008, Marvel Studios had only just rolled the dice on the potential of building to The Avengers when The Incredible Hulk hit theaters. The latter film served as a reboot of the 2003 Hulk and replaced Eric Bana with Oscar-nominated actor Edward Norton. But Norton’s relationship with Marvel soon soured, and the actor stepped away from the franchise.

Remarkably, the role of Bruce Banner is one of the few major ones Marvel has recast since the MCU’s kickoff. Like Norton, Terrence Howard came into conflict with Marvel Studios. And when it came time for Iron Man 2, Don Cheadle joined the cast as James “Rhodey” Rhodes. Over the years, the details behind both MCU recasts have gradually come to light.

But whatever the case may be, Marvel Studios needed a new actor to join writer/director Joss Whedon’s The Avengers. And both Whedon and Downey believed they had found their man in Mark Ruffalo. Downey had previously starred alongside the actor in 2007’s Zodiac, after all. All they needed to do was convince Ruffalo he could pull off the technically challenging role.

Mark Ruffalo tried to get out of joining ‘The Avengers’

Playing Banner is straigtforward enough. But the Hulk is another story. The green goliath requires heavy use of CGI and motion-capture technology to bring an actor’s performance to life. Although Ruffalo had been making movies since the early 1990s, he had never dealt with such an effects-heavy role. That’s precisely why he didn’t want to take it, Ruffalo told Variety.

I did try to talk them out of casting me. I said, “I don’t know if I’m the right guy. I’ve never done anything like this.” Between Joss and Robert, they were pretty convincing that I could do it. I was scared. I was really scared. I’m still scared. The technological aspect of it makes it really hard to work that way. I struggle with it all the time. But my motto is to make fear your friend. Just keep pushing yourself into those places where you feel scared or challenged.

Of course, casting Ruffalo worked out for everyone. His Hulk is easily the most popular among fans. And bringing on someone who hadn’t played a CGI character fed into Banner’s own anxiety and awkwardness. Moreover, Ruffalo has embraced the character’s evolution. As fans know, Banner has changed a lot since moviegoers first met Ruffalo’s version in The Avengers.


Mark Ruffalo and Edward Norton’s Hulks Are Secretly Linked Through a Deleted ‘The Incredible Hulk’ Scene

Even the actor doesn’t know what the future holds for the Hulk

Particularly with his arc in Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame, the Hulk has flourished as a compelling character. Much of that has to do with Ruffalo’s performance. But despite his role in saving the universe, Hulk’s next appearance remains a mystery. Ruffalo has revealed he may have a role in the upcoming Disney+ series She-Hulk though.

That show will follow Jennifer Walters, Banner’s cousin, as she develops her own Hulk-like powers. In the comics, Banner is a key part of her origin story. Since a standalone Hulk movie probably isn’t happening anytime soon, She-Hulk could be the ideal way to explore the character’s mythology. Perhaps Marvel Studios will soon confirm the plan for Hulk’s future.