Countdown To 'Hulk': Nick Nolte: father figure, mad scientist, actor

At a recent "Hulk" press junket, Nick Noltesat down to talk to the members of the media in a roundtable format interview.In the upcoming movie, Nolte plays David Banner, a multi-layered character whofather to Bruce Banner, inadvertent engineer of the big green star of the filmand ultimately one of the villains of the piece. Nolte followed his stint on the"Hulk" with a bout of substance abuse that landed him in rehab lastyear.

At the roundtables, members of the press took turns asking Nolte questionsabout his work. Comics2Film/CBR News is please to present this edited transcriptof that interview.


[Nolte enters wearing lime green designer clothes. An assistant hands himfour pages of hand-written notes.]

Q: What are the notes for?

Nick Nolte (NN): I just have notes because there was a lot of preparation that had to be donefor this. Ang Lee came out to the house and he said, 'I don't know how to make acomic book. I know how to make a Greek tragedy.'

And I said to him, 'Was 'Eat Drink Man Woman' partially based on 'Lear?'

And he said, 'Yes.'

So I took him upstairs into my lab and I pricked hisfinger, got blood, put it on a slide, slid it under the dark film microscope anda camera projected it onto the high-def television screen.

His red cells werefloating through. A white cell would come in and they looked like diamondjewels. Massive diamond jewels and they'd change shape as they wrap aroundbacteria. And the blood is vibrant. It's alive. The cells shimmer and shake.It's better than watching the universe through a big telescope because itsmoving all the time.

And you see bacteria and you see fibrinogen in thebackground, which is the clotting factor in the blood. Smokers have it a wholelot. And Ang looked at it for a little while and he said, 'can you do that incolor?'

So right away I realized he was way past the cellular level. His wifewas an agrobiologist and they were into neural transmission of geneticinformation. That's why you see them flying into the fields. He wanted to get tothe source of the change.

It's a Greek tragedy really based on Father/Son.It's not Oedipal.

Only 250 years ago, monarchs, kings killed their sons. Usuallythe first born was a pretender to the crown. They kept the second born, killed the third and forth. Many times the son killed the father.

So therewas...you know in modern times, the relationship between the father and the son,at some point the father has to let the son win. Now he usually does, because weget feeble, but as we all well know, we cannot get into each other's consciousness. 

We uniquely feel ourselves.It makes us a little lonely. Onlythrough communications can we feel a kind of connectedness, but ultimately wesingularly experience the world in our own way.

Q: But you have a son,don't you?

NN: Yeah.

Q: How old is your son now?

NN: He's sixteen, but I gave up that ghost a long time ago.He calls me Nick. I call him Brawley. He's in college. He started going tocollege when he was a sophomore.

Q: Did you always get along?

NN:Yeah. Yeah,always. We've always been closely connected. You know there comes a time, in histeenage years, where  he really fights. He really fights for hisindividuality. That's a crisis time. 

That's a real important time for both girlsand boys. I think the most distorted American myth is on the part of the waygirls are raised. 'Sugar and spice and everything nice. that limits theemotional range that females definitely have.

Q: And don't forget thatthey're supposed to be sexy before they're ten.

NN: Yeah. That's right. That's right. Butwe're getting way off the subject.

Q: So you were talking about fathersand sons and Greek tragedy.

NN: Yeah,the Greek tragedy. 

So the reason it becomes this is, instead of a monarchy, ourblood by blood connection, it's genetic alteration that binds [David and BruceBanner] forever. Inthe genes that I altered, in myself, he inherited in the full genome. Thesealtered genes...well, obviously the genome read these genes and unique anddifferent and a whole series of alterations were made so that he wouldn'texplode. That's the problem.

As a research scientist, and I know many ofthem...there's no money in it. They don't do it for the money. they justdo it because they have a passion and they usually have to farm out to a bigcorporation to make...the biggest chicken breast in the world, which has beendone. It's an American company that has captured the chicken breast market. Itused to be the Chinese. They made a chicken breast that was so big that thechicken couldn't stand up.  It's terrible.

I'm not necessarily againstgenetic alteration. Because I'll tell you the knowledge is coming. It's in ourhands and it won't be that long when we have to make a very big decision. I seeit as unstoppable.

Hawking says in 'Universe in a Nutshell,' we need a quarterof an inch larger a space for the brain. We need a quarter of an inch layer tothe brain to catch up to the information that's out there. He thinks that'sgoing to be within fifty years.

Q: What do you think about Ang saying,'We all have a Hulk inside of us?'

NN: See I tied the changes [in thecharacters' genetic makeup] so that they'd fire off to the limbic system. Thelimbic system is the oldest part of our brain. It's alsocalled the reptilian brain. It has two responses. It's an on/off switch: fightor flight. 

It's about survival. Anger is an emption of survival. Fear is anemotion of survival. But we've evolved past that. We have a huge cortex now.

Thelimbic brain, the reptilian brain is comfortable with maybe fifty faces thatit recognizes. Past that it starts to fire off, 'Warning! Danger, danger,danger, danger, danger!' 

You drive down the 101 you're gonna see a hundredthousand new faces. your limbic system is going crazy. Boom, boom, boom, boom boom.We rationalize it off. 'These are all people in the community. These are all....'

Butwhat we call that is anxiety. It's a constant state of anxiety because our brainhasn't caught up with the changes.

Q: What do you do when you're reallypissed off then?

NN: You get angry. If you don't express your anger, feel your anger, youcease to exist. You won't survive. You won't make it. All this anger thing is,you shouldn't displace your anger and be mad at that plastic cup. Your angeris meant for survival. In nature...

Oh you guys are going to go off on this:

Naturedoes not discriminate about any way it can get the passing of the genes forsurvival of a species, and rape is one of the natural ways in nature, thatexists. And since nature doesn't legislate rape, we as civilized beings have tomake strict, strict controls over it. Otherwise you can never be sure,genetically what can be passed. The reason rape works, is when a lifethreatened, when a woman's life is threatened, she has a very protectivemechanism, inside her mucus membrane, it's so tightly woven that actually onlyone sperm can get through at a time. 

When her  life isthreatened, everything breaks down and goes to adrenaline and survival of herbeing. So that's why many times there are pregnancies in rape. That's why it'sso heavily legislated. And it's something that's a social condition, becausenature doesn't make that distinction.

Q: Even though you're saying thisis Greek tragedy, watching you act in this movie makes me think of aShakespearian performance. 

NN: That's because we pulledpart of it from Shakespeare. Some 'King Lear', some 'Paradise Lost' was one of oursources. Ang let us work on it a bit. We'd give it to Schamus. Schamus is anexcellent writer. Sometimes we'd see a parallel to ancient times and we'drecognize what to modernize and we would go to that. It was always to achievethe same end to the story, not to alter it at all.

Q: Do you seeyourself as the villain of this story?

NN: No. Not at all.

Q: Whynot? You destroy this kid...

NN: NoI didn't destroy him. No, no no no. I had a curiosity, and a search for creating abetter immune system. I altered myself and my son inherited it. I took it onbiblical proportion. I first tried to figure out what I had done. I looked at hisblood and was amazed by the alteration of his chromosomes. And the militarystopped me.

What is [Sam Elliot's] character's name? Thunderbolt. That's Zeus.that's Zeus' name. 

He stops me and in stopping me, the only action I have is anAbraham-like move: kill the son because he cannot possibly survive in thissociety. Would a fellow that transmuted into 25 foot tall, that was green, thatwas so powerful...would we allow that to exist in society? No, our fear would besomuch we'd destroy it immediately. That's what I'm trying to tell my son. That's why I stick around.To tell him he must express it.

His first birth isnot because of gamma radiation. That proves that he can handle it. He has thecompensating genes. It would have killed a normal person but he's got all thiscompensation for free radical. 

I tell him he's different. He's different. Theresomething inside of me, and it's him too. That makes an abnormal connection tofather and son because now they can never part.

Q: So you don't thinkyour character is evil?

NN: No,no. He's not evil in the least part. He's super-human. He's past human. He'saltered. His speech at the end...

Can anyone here define the dictionary word'peace?'

Q: It's probably something like, 'the absence of war.'

NN:Yeah. Absence ofwar. 

In the history of mankind there's never been an absence of war. We do nothave a 'peace department' in the government. We have a 'war department.' 

So I don'tbelieve in the word any more. I use the word...somebody asks me if I'm peaceful,I use the word tranquil. Peace will never exist. We can hope for it and pray forit. 

Ninety-eight percent of the species have gone extinct. There's a real likelihood man will dothat to himself, unless we make some improvements to the brain, because we'restuck with this archaic limbic system of fight or flight to anything we don'trecognize in our own environment.

It's an awful situation. In my life'sexperience I've just seen too much war.

Q: Do you ever think aboutwriting a book?

NN: No, no I've never thought about that. 

But I saw my dad come back fromWorld War II who was a skeleton. See I was born in '41 and I didn't see himuntil '44 and he was a skeleton, six foot six.

I just remember seeing eyesockets, bones and transparent skin. He laid upstairs in bed and every daythey'd take me in to see this long thing. He had every tropical disease youcould imagine. It took him a year to recover. And I remember distinctly thinkinghe was into an experience that I never want to be in.

Q: Can you talkabout your experience from a few months back, getting arrested?

NN: Well, genetically...I've had my DNAstriped and there's twenty known addictive genes and genetically I'm an addict.Also behaviorally I'm an addict. I have long periods of sobriety. 

This last timeI had a slip of ... the substance when I started using it was legal. you couldbuy it at a health food store. The kids in the raves found it. It's part of thegamma system that 's naturally in our cells. It worked really well.

Q:What was it?

NN: GHB - gamma hydroxy butyrate acid. The gamma system, they're just learning about it.It regulates the neural transmissions. Too much dopamine, it starts shuttingdown the dopamine. It's an excellent pain killer. It doesn't fill the receptorsites and the endorphins. What it does is it stops the communication of pain tothe brain.

Q: After all that stuff...we saw your picture and allthat...

NN: Well that picture, the reason that picture looks that way is it was theweek after I finished shooting ["Hulk"]. 

I was unwinding from the film.Obviously Iwas abusing the substance. I was grateful that happened. My first words I saidis, 'The jig is up.'

Q: What did you do then?

NN: I went straight into rehab.

It's a mood alterer. Thefellow who invented it, a Frenchman that same year put together Throazine, the firstanti-psychotic, and during his acceptance of the Nobel prize...whatever that bigscience prize is, for Thorazine, he said, the discovery of gamma hydroxybutyrate acid in the function of the human body is far more important.

It's legal now,but you can only use it for certain conditions. It used to be used in all proteinpowders.

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