The Hulk’s had many nemeses, but the one character who persisted in being the
bane of his big green existence for so many years is General Thaddius
“Thunderbolt” Ross. When the character hits the big screen Sam Elliott
will fill the shoes of Bruce Banner’s military adversary and would-be
Elliott recently sat down with the press to talk about his work in the movie. At the roundtable interview, members of the press took turns asking questions
about the development of the film. Comics2Film/CBR News is please to present
this edited transcript of that interview.
Q: Were you familiar with the Hulk before you took on this role?
Sam Elliott (SE): I don’t think there is any being unfamiliar with The Hulk,
whether you’re in this business or any other business. After it’s been around
for forty-three years in one form or another, you’d probably have to have your
head in the sand to not know about it.
Q: Were you a comic book readers?
SE: I never was a comic book reader.
Q: Not even as a kid?
SE: I had, oddly enough, a couple of real close friends that were college roommates,
that were avid “Hulk” readers. Southern California boys. This was up
in Oregon. So that was kind of my first awareness of the character.
I looked at a couple of them, but never got hooked by it.
I spent time on the set of the TV show [“The Incredible Hulk”] a
couple of different times. I was up here at Universal doing some long-form
television, back in those days and got to know [Bill Bixby] and went by and
visited him a couple of times, but, as with the comic books, I never got hooked
into the show.
Q: Where did you go for inspiration for your character?
SE: I actually went to to the comics. When you get a job, it changes a lot of
things. You do things that you might normally not do in your normal life, real
life. It was like the only resource, beyond Ang, and beyond the material in the beginning.
When I first got got connected with this thing there was no material for me
to look at. I had my initial meeting with Ang and left there without a script. I
hadn’t had read the script before I had the meeting. He said, “There’s a
script that I can give you, but I’d rather you wait because one of the things
that we’re working on that needs more work than anything else happens to be your
character, Ross’ character.”
So I said, “I’m gonna wait.”
Q: But you said yes to the part.
SE: Yeah. The truth of it is that I would have come and done this without a
script, to work with Ang.
Q: What about him is so appealing to actors?
SE: You know, I don’t know anything about Ang that isn’t appealing, on a lot
of personal levels and a lot of other levels in terms of his filmmaking
capabilities. I didn’t see the work that he did before he came to the states and
worked here. It’s not like I was a great Ang Lee fan before he came into the
States. It was when he came here and started making films that I became aware of
I should probably give you a little back story on how it came to me. I did a
film called “The Contender” a few years ago with Joan Allen who worked
with Ang and [“Hulk” producer/screenwriter James Schamus] in “The
Ice Storm,” and I was up for another film that was being cast out of New
York by this gal Avy Kaufman, who is a casting woman.
That film fell apart but Avy Kaufman was also casting “The Hulk”
and at that point in time all the principal characters had been cast with the
exception of the Ross character. Avy took it upon herself to show Ang this
footage of me with Joan from “The Contender.” When it was done Ang
says, “That’s the guy. That’s the guy I want.”
I think it was by virtue of the fact that I have grey hair, like Ross does in
the comic book form, and there was pretty explosive scenes, which Ross in the
comic books he’s always often got steam coming out of his ears and that kind of
stuff. So it worked well. It was right place at the right time.
Then coming in and listening to Ang’s take on the whole thing, about the Hulk
kind of residing in all of us and this being kind of his continuation of his, as
he referred to it, “the green destiny” which is something written on
the sword in “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.”
It was all really exciting for me to be a part of.
Q: How does Ang communicated the scope and vision of what he’s working on?
SE: Ang has, and I think there’s only one reason we’re all sitting here as
far as I’m concerned, I think it’s the vision that Ang had and what he brought
This movie probably would’ve gotten made but it wouldn’t have come to be what
it is in anyone else’s hands, I don’t think. I think that Ang had this entire
film in his head. I certainly I don’t mean every frame-by-frame, but it was a
clear vision that he had.
The incredible part of it is, he amassed this incredible support group around
him. People at the top of their game whether it’s producers, writers, people at
ILM. He got a good bunch of actors to work on it. He had the cream of the crop
in every craft.
He also has, even though he’s got this kind of…I’d find myself, I’d say,
“what was that,” a couple of times in this four month process. But he
has such a clear vision and the ability to be so specific in what it is he’s
wanting to get out of you, whether it’s these computer guys or a performance
from an actor. It’s ideal.
Q: What make’s Ang Lee’s vision of “Hulk” particularly interesting?
SE: I think this overriding view that this thing resides in all of us, this
potential, for starters is one thing that makes this thing so provocative.
But in terms of looking at it, and I saw it the other night, with you guys,
at the press screening. It was the first time I’d seen it, other than a couple
snippets of it.
It’s the melding of these two worlds. He has this one story of these humans,
which is a pretty powerful, dramatic tale, I think. At the same time he’s got
this guy who is totally created out of thin air, that he melds with those. I
think that the success of that connection that he made, with the two different
worlds, elevates this to a whole other plane. This is not typically of any
tentpole or any comic book that I’ve ever seen that made the transition from the
comic book pages to film.
I think this thing is so far and away beyond that. It’s not because I’m
involved with it. I truly believe that Ang is a brilliant filmmaker and that he
pulled it off. I’ve been in this business for thirty four years and I’ve never
been in a situation…I’ve been around big films before. I’ve never been in one
of these big, monstrous things, but I’ve never been in a situation where
everybody involved, regardless of their position in the project, where everybody
involved in this huge machine is deferring to the director so that he might do
what it is that he wants to do. It was mind-boggling in that sense to me.
Q: I thought, in most cases, the director is deferred to.
SE: In most cases they are but there’s always some of that “psst. psst.
psst,” going on behind his back or over to the side. “Well we’ll tell
him everything’s cool, but in the end…”
[flips the bird]
These guys gave this man everything that he needed, from beginning to end.
Right up until now. Right now. I mean it’s done now but two days ago he made
some changes in this thing. Two days ago, he worked on two reels of the film and
a scene with Jennifer and I. Mind-boggling that that would be the case.
Q: Did you know co-star Nick Nolte from years ago?
SE: I know Nick from years ago. I tested with Nick on a movie that he did
called “North Dallas Forty.”
Q: What are your memories of that?
SE: It was great. I was dying to get the part. I didn’t get the part. It was
Mac Davis ended up playing the part.
And I know Nick because he’s a contemporary of mine and I know Nick because
he’s a brilliant actor. Nick has always blown me away with his work. I think
he’s one of the few, truly man’s man in this business today. The guy’s a
survivor, you know. He’s had a long, hard road. Most of it his choice.
Q: But he’s honest about it.
SE: He is honest about it. That’s what I mean. I love that. He’s upfront,
honest, direct. You get what you get.
It was always that way. When we did this thing and you look at the page, man,
that was the part in the movie, in terms of the acting role, that was the part
in the movie. Once again, Nick just delivered a hundred percent and knocked it
out of the part.
We didn’t have stuff to do in the movie. We had stuff to do at a younger age
and I think there was like a fleeting moment at the beginning when both of this
had this fantasy that we were going to do it in younger man makeup. That was
Q: What are you working on now?
SE: I’m not working on anything right now. I’m enjoying this.
I did a little film in Taos, New Mexico last fall, which we just came back
from the Cannes film festival. It wasn’t entered in the competition but it was
there. We were invited to go and they just went crazy for it.
It’s a little, independent film called “Off the Map.” It’s based on
a play by a gal named Joan Ackermann that Campbell Scott went and looked at this
play. Campbell Scott: actor/director walked out of this play thinking, “I
gotta make a movie of that.”
Years go by. I get a call from Joan Allen last summer, when I’m working on
this thing. She says, “I’m doing this little movie with Campbell Scott in
New Mexico and there’s a part in it and I sure hope you’ll come do it.”
I feel about Joan like I feel about anything. I’d go anywhere to work with
It’s this little coming of age story. This little girl. These people that
live off the grid, off the map in the seventies in Taos. This couple with a
thirteen year old daughter who live kind of this self-sufficient existence. It’s
a beautiful thing.
Q: Are you and Joan married in the movie?
SE: Joan and I are married and a little girl named Valentina de Angelis is
our daughter and she is absolutely enchanting, man. We took it to Sundance. We
went through the Taos film festival. We took it to Cannes. I think there’re just
going to continue on through this circuit. A little company called Manhattan
pictures is going to release it two weeks before thanksgiving and give it a
The reviews have been incredible. It’s one of those blessed projects.
Q: You’re in the biggest movie of the summer…
SE: The biggest and one…it’s like the antithesis of this. It’s a real
interesting position to be in that and kind of have that overview…
Q: The role is completely different.
SE: The role is, this guy’s depressed. He’s very depressed and you don’t
really know why. Here’s this kind of strong, self-sufficient guy that’s led this
existence he has. He’s a Korean war vet, that’s nothing but back story, and he
lives with these two enchanting women, and this guy is wounded, you know.
It’s kind of about him coming out of it, but it’s really this coming of age
story about this little girl.
Q: What did you like about your character in “Hulk?”
SE: I like playing military characters. Oddly enough, I came off of what was
one of the most special projects ever, to me, in which I played a military
character, before I came to this, in a picture called “We Were
Soldiers,” playing a real life guy who, indeed, is still alive today. That
ended up being one of the most moving experiences for me ever, for a lot of
But I like playing these guys. I like playing these characters that have a
little moral fiber to them. They’re strong and there’s a certain amount of
goodness in them, although with Ross maybe it’s a little harder to see.
I think at the core Ross is a good guy.
Q: On “We Were Soldiers” did you meet the guy you played?
SE: I spent lots of time with Sargent Major Plumley and his family actually.
It was unbelievable. He could have been one of my dad’s friends. I’d spent time
around those guys, all my life, as a kid particularly, when my dad was still
Q: Did he like the movie?
SE: Yeah, he was quite surprised by it. They were all skeptical: all the guys
that were represented in that movie that are still alive today. There was a
reason that film hadn’t been done for a long time is because the two that wrote
the book, one of them being the Colonel that led that battle, Hal Moore, and the
other one being the Times writer, the UPI writer I guess he was. Barry Pepper
played him. Joseph Galloway was the guy’s name.
They didn’t want to make the deal. They’d had people coming to them and they
felt such an allegiance to those men and that story and they didn’t want to turn
it loose. Randall Wallace read the book and went to them and it was not long
I don’t know if you’ve ever been around Randall Wallace, but he is a special
cat. He’s one of very few of that ilk in this business. He went in and told him
that he wanted to do their story and do it as it was and he pulled it off.
Q: You say Ross has got some goodness in him, but doesn’t he want to
exterminate The Hulk?
SE: Well he wants to get rid of him, I think, by virtue of the fact that
that’s his job. The guy’s a threat to society, a threat to the public so…
Q: But he’s a humane being at the same time, isn’t he?
SE: Yeah, but so what? I mean…
Q: He hasn’t done any crime.
SE: But he’s reaped major destruction at that point and by that point I think
he’s hospitalized a few guys.
I think that’s kind of a follow-over from the comic book pages, when they
destroy the tanks and you see the guys spilling out and they run for the hills.
Nobody ever dies in the comic books except the bad guys, and then they come back
a couple of issues later.