EXCL: Zak Penn on Norton as Hulk !

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When it comes to bringing Marvel Comics characters into the movies, you can’t get much more knowledgeable than Zak Penn, who’s written or been involved with the last two “X-Men” movies, both “Hulk” movies, Elektra and a bunch of the Marvel movie-related video games. In two weeks, Penn’s second movie as a director, the poker comedy The Grand, will be premiering at the Tribeca Film Festival, and by pure chance, ComingSoon.net/Superhero Hype! had a chance to talk to the writer less than 24 hours after the casting announcement that Edward Norton would be starring in the upcoming The Incredible Hulk. Of course, we had to ask him for a few words about the news.

“I couldn’t be happier about Ed Norton,” he told us. “I worked on the first ‘Hulk’ movie and I remember talking about how awesome it would be if we got Ed Norton to play this part. He really was up for it the first time. I think Ed Norton’s one of the best actors working, and even I was pretty shocked that he wanted to do it. It’s one of those rare things where it turned out better than I [expected]. Look, there’s a lot of really good actors who wanted to do it even before I wrote my script. I’m not just saying this, but I cannot think of a better person to play Bruce Banner. In this case, Ed Norton would have been at the top of my list.

“To me, the thing about Bruce is that he’s a physicist, he’s a super-smart guy who has a lot of repressed anger. To me, that is the essential thing you need to know about him. He could be tall or short, but you have to believe that he’s a physicist, you have to believe that life is frustrating for him physically. Ed went to Yale. He’s a really smart guy. He has an intelligence that you can see on-screen, which a lot of people who are great actors don’t project that. He projects the guy that is smarter than you, and he also projects anger in a lot of his movies, ‘Fight Club’ being the most obvious example. If you think about ‘Fight Club,’ he has a lot of similarities to the Hulk as a character. Tyler Durden is his Hulk.”

We also asked Penn to describe his take on the movie in terms of whether it’s a sequel, a revamp or something different. “It’s not going to be a sequel, but it’s hard to describe,” he admitted. “The best description I would say is something like ‘Batman Begins’ where it’s not necessarily out of continuity with the other movies, though that was more of an origin story. It’s much more of a reboot, the way that ‘Aliens’ is a sequel to ‘Alien,’ but the kinds of movie are different. It keeps the mythology of the worlds, but it’s a totally different structure. It’s more of an action movie than the first one was. This one is much more of a thriller, I would say. I don’t think it’s unfair to say like a ‘Bourne Identity’ type feeling to it. Certainly I’ve mentioned that the Bruce Jones comic book run were very influential or the TV series. It definitely harkens back much more to that, emphasizing a guy on the run with a secret, who cannot feel emotion and cannot risk having any close relationships with people for fear what it’s going to do to them.”

“The first movie is not about Bruce Banner dealing with the repercussions of being the Hulk, it’s much more about him becoming the Hulk,” he continued. “He gets taken to a base and put under observation pretty quickly. This movie is about Bruce Banner on the run and what life is like. There’s stuff that I didn’t want to deal with that was in the first movie. You’re not going to see anything about his father or his experiments or anything, because to me, as a fan, that was the part that I found most frustrating and nooooooo dogs. I liked the fight, but I didn’t like the poodle.”

“There’s a lot of skepticism towards this project, particularly online, despite the first movie, it’s not just that,” Penn opined to us, realizing the hurdles the second movie has to face. “Every time I go online and I read these people talking about ‘X-Men 3.’ I mean some of the vitriol I hear about that, which I think is just crazy and out of proportion to what they’re watching. It makes it hard on me sometimes, because I’m the only one in the process who really goes online and reads all that sh*t. I grew up as a comic book geek, so it’s kind of hard for me not to stay interested in what the fans are interested in. I love the Hulk. I think it’s a great character. I’ve always loved the comic book and I loved the TV series. There was things about the first movie that disappointed me, too, or confused me or frustrated me, and there’s some sh*t that I thought was awesome in it, too. But why give up on the franchise? If there’s a weird issue of the Hulk, I don’t stop writing it. I understand people’s skepticism, that makes for a good story or a good post online, but I always believed in the idea, and I’m really psyched to see someone like Ed Norton [doing this]. To me, that’s very validating in my belief in the project.”

With the second piece of casting in place for Marvel Films, they theoretically have actors to play two of the heroes who might end up being part of an Avengers movie, which conveniently enough, Penn has also been assigned to write. We asked Penn what he thought about having the actors now cast to play Iron Man and the Hulk appearing in Marvel’s first team-up movie. “The truth is that would be ideal. The original plan when I talked to Kevin Feige [Marvel Film's President of Production] was that when we make an ‘Avengers’ movie, it should be the first time that the characters cross-over. It’s what every fan has always wanted to see, is where you’re watching the movie and there’s Robert Downey Jr. and the Hulk intersects with the story. To be totally honest with you, I’m not even going to get started on that for a while. We’ve talked about it, but there’s no point in dealing with it until after these movies even come out. What’s great is that with Marvel, they own all the properties, so they can do it if they want to. I think a lot of it will depend on how ‘Iron Man’ and the ‘Hulk’ do. I’ve written a lot of comic book movies, and I need to take a little bit of a break first before I start writing that one.”

“I’ve seen a lot of the ‘Iron Man’ stuff and that movie is going to kick ass,” Penn raved about Jon Favreau’s Iron Man movie, which is scheduled to come out a month before Penn’s movie. “I’m not like someone who would tell you that if I didn’t think it, but I was pretty impressed with what I saw down there and Favreau seems to be really on top of his sh*t. I think the cast of that movie is amazing.”

“Marvel has done an incredible job of casting their first two movies so far, and I hope fans see that, too,” Penn concluded. “To me, as a comic book fan, that is tremendously good news. Marvel’s success would be an incredibly good thing for fans of comic books and sci-fi, because it would be good in terms of how much of the canon would continue to get turned into films, which to me, is exciting.”

Check ComingSoon.net in the next couple weeks for a full interview with Penn talking about his new movie The Grand, premiering at the Tribeca Film Festival on April 27, which should do for poker tournaments what Best in Show did for dog shows. Iron Man is scheduled to open May 2, 2008 while The Incredible Hulk is scheduled to open a month later on June 13, 2008.

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