In 2008 Edward Norton starred in The Incredible Hulk, the second film in phase one of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe. The Hulk is doubtlessly one of the greatest Marvel characters ever, and the film made tons of money with Norton doing some impressive acting in it, but there was a power play happening behind the scenes of The Incredible Hulk that ended up pushing its star out of the MCU. There are plenty of stories about how Edward Norton is hard to work with, but is that the only reason why he was fired from his job as the Hulk? It’s true that there are a plenty of difficult actors that manage to keep their jobs, but as you’ll come to discover Norton really takes the term “difficult” to an entirely new level.
While it would have been great for there to have been another veteran actor working in scenes with Robert Downey Jr. and company, it turns out there were just too many difficult Edward Norton stories from his first foray in to the Marvel Universe for the company to want to work with him again.
Prior to appearing in The Incredible Hulk, Norton starred in the critically acclaimed American History X, in which Norton played a white supremacist trying to undo his racist programming. The post-production of the film was rife with the actor attempting to step in and take over. The film's director, Tony Kaye, wanted to create a short, gut punch of a film. Norton thought the film should be a longer, more emotional affair with as much Norton as could fit in a feature film.
Norton fought tooth and nail for his edit and the studio allowed him to cut the movie how he saw fit - something generally unheard of in Hollywood. This story wasn't relegated to whispers in Los Angeles backrooms, either; it was a well known story and yet Marvel still decided to go ahead and cast Norton.
It seems that Mark Ruffalo has been on the short list for Bruce Banner for quite some time. Before Norton was signed up for the role, director Louis Leterrier wanted Ruffalo to appear in the movie. At the time Marvel wanted to work with Norton because he was coming off the career highs of Fight Club, American History X, and The Italian Job. Despite Leterrier citing his reluctance to work with Norton because of the actor's proclivity for taking over a film, Marvel decided to hire him anyway.
Norton doesn't just walk onto a set and start bossing people around - he has it written into his contract that he gets final say in certain matters. On The Incredible Hulk he was given permission to perform rewrites on the script and he took full advantage of contractual option. According to his co-star, Tim Roth, "There were rewrites every single day."
Furthermore, Anne Thompson from Indiewire claims that Norton didn't rewrite a page or two a day - he performed a "page one rewrite" on the script with the knowledge that some sequences had already been story-boarded and their sets were built.
Accounts of Norton's work on the film make it clear that he wanted The Incredible Hulk to be a very serious film. Case in point: his rewrite of the script opened with Bruce Banner attempting to commit suicide in the Arctic. The scene sounds like it would be pretty cool, and it could add some depth to Big Green, but understandably Marvel didn't want kids watching the movie to think about how the protagonist of the film wanted to die rather than save the day.