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Countdown to 'Hulk': Sam Elliott: Hulkbuster

The Hulk's had many nemeses, but the one character who persisted in being thebane of his big green existence for so many years is General Thaddius"Thunderbolt" Ross. When the character hits the big screen Sam Elliottwill fill the shoes of Bruce Banner's military adversary and would-befather-in-law.

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 questionsabout the development of the film. Comics2Film/CBR News is please to presentthis edited transcript of that interview.

 

Q: Were you familiar with the Hulk before you took on this role?

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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 aroundfor forty-three years in one form or another, you'd probably have to have yourhead 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 upin 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.

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I spent time on the set of the TV show ["The Incredible Hulk"] acouple of different times. I was up here at Universal doing some long-formtelevision, back in those days and got to know [Bill Bixby] and went by andvisited him a couple of times, but, as with the comic books, I never got hookedinto 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 ofthings. You do things that you might normally not do in your normal life, reallife. It was like the only resource, beyond Ang, and beyond the material in the beginning. 

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When I first got got connected with this thing there was no material for meto look at. I had my initial meeting with Ang and left there without a script. Ihadn't had read the script before I had the meeting. He said, "There's ascript that I can give you, but I'd rather you wait because one of the thingsthat we're working on that needs more work than anything else happens to be yourcharacter, 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 ascript, 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 lotof personal levels and a lot of other levels in terms of his filmmakingcapabilities. I didn't see the work that he did before he came to the states andworked here. It's not like I was a great Ang Lee fan before he came into theStates. It was when he came here and started making films that I became aware ofhim.

I should probably give you a little back story on how it came to me. I did afilm called "The Contender" a few years ago with Joan Allen who workedwith Ang and ["Hulk" producer/screenwriter James Schamus] in "TheIce Storm," and I was up for another film that was being cast out of NewYork 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 theexception of the Ross character. Avy took it upon herself to show Ang thisfootage of me with Joan from "The Contender." When it was done Angsays, "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 inthe comic book form, and there was pretty explosive scenes, which Ross in thecomic books he's always often got steam coming out of his ears and that kind ofstuff. 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 Hulkkind of residing in all of us and this being kind of his continuation of his, ashe referred to it, "the green destiny" which is something written onthe 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 asfar as I'm concerned, I think it's the vision that Ang had and what he broughtto this.

This movie probably would've gotten made but it wouldn't have come to be whatit is in anyone else's hands, I don't think. I think that Ang had this entirefilm in his head. I certainly I don't mean every frame-by-frame, but it was aclear vision that he had.

The incredible part of it is, he amassed this incredible support group aroundhim. People at the top of their game whether it's producers, writers, people atILM. He got a good bunch of actors to work on it. He had the cream of the cropin 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 hehas such a clear vision and the ability to be so specific in what it is he'swanting to get out of you, whether it's these computer guys or a performancefrom 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, thispotential, 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 couplesnippets 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 gotthis guy who is totally created out of thin air, that he melds with those. Ithink that the success of that connection that he made, with the two differentworlds, elevates this to a whole other plane. This is not typically of anytentpole or any comic book that I've ever seen that made the transition from thecomic book pages to film. 

I think this thing is so far and away beyond that. It's not because I'minvolved with it. I truly believe that Ang is a brilliant filmmaker and that hepulled it off. I've been in this business for thirty four years and I've neverbeen in a situation...I've been around big films before. I've never been in oneof these big, monstrous things, but I've never been in a situation whereeverybody involved, regardless of their position in the project, where everybodyinvolved in this huge machine is deferring to the director so that he might dowhat 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 tellhim 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 madesome changes in this thing. Two days ago, he worked on two reels of the film anda 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 didcalled "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 wasMac Davis ended up playing the part.

And I know Nick because he's a contemporary of mine and I know Nick becausehe's a brilliant actor. Nick has always blown me away with his work. I thinkhe's one of the few, truly man's man in this business today. The guy's asurvivor, 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 partin the movie. Once again, Nick just delivered a hundred percent and knocked itout of the part.

We didn't have stuff to do in the movie. We had stuff to do at a younger ageand I think there was like a fleeting moment at the beginning when both of thishad this fantasy that we were going to do it in younger man makeup. That wasquickly resolved.

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 backfrom the Cannes film festival. It wasn't entered in the competition but it wasthere. 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 ona play by a gal named Joan Ackermann that Campbell Scott went and looked at thisplay. Campbell Scott: actor/director walked out of this play thinking, "Igotta make a movie of that."

Years go by. I get a call from Joan Allen last summer, when I'm working onthis thing. She says, "I'm doing this little movie with Campbell Scott inNew 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 withher.

It's this little coming of age story. This little girl. These people thatlive off the grid, off the map in the seventies in Taos. This couple with athirteen year old daughter who live kind of this self-sufficient existence. It'sa 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 isour daughter and she is absolutely enchanting, man. We took it to Sundance. Wewent through the Taos film festival. We took it to Cannes. I think there're justgoing to continue on through this circuit. A little company called Manhattanpictures is going to release it two weeks before thanksgiving and give it apush.

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 realinteresting 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'treally know why. Here's this kind of strong, self-sufficient guy that's led thisexistence he has. He's a Korean war vet, that's nothing but back story, and helives 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 agestory 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 wasone of the most special projects ever, to me, in which I played a militarycharacter, before I came to this, in a picture called "We WereSoldiers," playing a real life guy who, indeed, is still alive today. Thatended up being one of the most moving experiences for me ever, for a lot ofpersonal reasons.

But I like playing these guys. I like playing these characters that have alittle moral fiber to them. They're strong and there's a certain amount ofgoodness 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 timearound those guys, all my life, as a kid particularly, when my dad was stillalive.

Q: Did he like the movie?

SE: Yeah, he was quite surprised by it. They were all skeptical: all the guysthat were represented in that movie that are still alive today. There was areason that film hadn't been done for a long time is because the two that wrotethe book, one of them being the Colonel that led that battle, Hal Moore, and theother one being the Times writer, the UPI writer I guess he was. Barry Pepperplayed him. Joseph Galloway was the guy's name.

They didn't want to make the deal. They'd had people coming to them and theyfelt such an allegiance to those men and that story and they didn't want to turnit loose. Randall Wallace read the book and went to them and it was not longafter "Braveheart."

I don't know if you've ever been around Randall Wallace, but he is a specialcat. He's one of very few of that ilk in this business. He went in and told himthat 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 toexterminate The Hulk?

SE: Well he wants to get rid of him, I think, by virtue of the fact thatthat'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 thinkhe's hospitalized a few guys.

I think that's kind of a follow-over from the comic book pages, when theydestroy 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 backa couple of issues later.

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