In ”Hulk,” Nick Nolte plays David Banner, the mad scientist dad of big green guy Bruce (Eric Bana). In the movie, the elder Banner spouts complex tirades about science and rage, sports a wacky hairdo, and lusts for super human powers. In real life, Nolte, 62, has much better hair. EW.com talked to the Oscar-nominated actor (”Affliction,” ”The Prince of Tides”) about the Hulk’s tragic undertones, why he doesn’t blow up like a microwaved burrito, and the beauty of ”Hulk” director Ang Lee’s blood cells. Really.
David Banner is partly responsible for turning his son into a big green monster. Is your character a good guy or a bad guy?
He thinks he’s like King Lear, more sinned against than the sinner. He made the original genetic alterations [that create the Hulk] to himself. He didn’t really think about the consequences of having a baby [and passing them on].
But he encourages his son to get his Hulk on. Isn’t that evil?
I don’t think that’s ultimately his thinking. Bruce wants to get rid of the Hulk, but one, it’s nearly impossible, and two, it’s something he should learn to live with. That’s why David tells Bruce experience will teach him how to live with the change. Anger and fear are very important emotions. To eliminate anger you might as well cut off your right arm. It’s a reaction of survival.
This movie talks a lot about gamma radiation and nanomeds (a microscopic healing technology) and other scientific stuff. Is any of this based in reality?
I worked with a guy at M.I.T. just to find out about the feasibility of this. The idea behind nanomeds is that they would speed up the body’s ability to heal by speeding up the entire immune system. The problem is, this would create so many free radicals in the body that you would blow up or disintegrate. But if you had a full set of genes that compensate for that process, which Bruce Banner has, then you wouldn’t. So it’s scientifically based, but stretched.
How did Ang Lee (”Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”) talk you into the Banner role?
When he came to my house to talk about it, he said, ”I don’t know how to make a comic book. I know how to make a Greek tragedy.” Right away my ears perked up. I asked him if he thought [his 1994 film] ”Eat Drink Man Woman” was based on ”King Lear,” and he said yes. So I took him up to my lab and I pricked his finger, put the blood on a slide, slid it under my dark field microscope, then projected the image through a camera onto hi-def. We watched his red cells floating around, and they look like jewels. Blood is very much alive; it shakes, it shimmers. It’s far more interesting to watch than the universe. It was silent in the room for a while, and Ang said, ”Can you do that in color?”
David Banner has some pretty expansive speeches about power and anger in the film. Were those your contribution?
Ang would let me bring in things. [Writer James] Schamus would look it over and say, ”Yes, that communicates the idea better.” It was always from the script, but we might find a better way to say it with a Shakespearean phrase or bit of Greek. The Hellenistic age influenced everything. Their ideas of science and philosophy have truly never gone away.
It’s not clear what happens to your character in the movie. Was the scene in the final cut the original ending?
Originally I exploded from a cellular kind of runaway cancer. But they didn’t do that. I don’t know why they ended it the way they did. I don’t know if I survived. I have no deal for a sequel, though.
You’re currently on probation since pleading no contest to last year’s D.U.I charges. How are you doing now?
I’m still ticking, you know? But quite good. I’ve got my problems under control. But I’ve had them under control before. It’s a lifelong disease.