"Ang and I have been in sync from the get-go. It was pretty clear that our dream was to be able to make a Hulk, to maintain humanity within him. So it's not, God forbid, the 'King Kong' of this generation," Arad says. " 'X-Men' dealt with some pretty deep emotional issues, and that was our first big, big hit," he continues. "And believe me, there were a lot of scared people at the time looking at [director Bryan Singer] saying, 'Watch the depth, man, it's a July movie.' And why? People get stupid between May and August? I never got that -- summer movie, let's make it nice and dumb. No, let's make a good movie."
Among the classics -- and Arad isn't shy about insisting Lee is making one -- the Marvel executive likes Lee's comparison to Greek tragedy and the Frankenstein story, but prefers "Beauty and the Beast." "Betty is trying to get through to Bruce to say, 'Hey, open up. Let me inside you.' And you know what's inside him is the Hulk."
As Lee arrives at the ersatz street, producers Gale Anne Hurd and Larry Franco stand nearby, available but not overly so. She's a Hollywood veteran of several pictures with James Cameron. The go-to producer can talk philosophy with an auteur one minute and order up the right crane the next. Franco's a classic line producer, a bearded, burly presence whom Bana credits as the production's amiable still center.
Lee and cinematographer Fred Elmes peer into a monitor as Bana and Connelly sit at a kitchen table in Bruce's house. (The Berkeley setting offered ready access to state-of-the-art labs where Betty and Bruce could be seen in their jobs as geneticists and happens to be where Schamus studied for a graduate degree in film.) Their dialogue has her trying to figure out what Bruce has to do with the previous night's chaos in the local lab.
"I had the most vivid dream," he tells Betty, who (true to a familiar Lee character subtext) has her own repressed feelings to deal with.
"Her science is about healing wounds," Connelly explains, "and that's what she's trying to do with him. I think anyone who is devoting all their time to that, it sometimes turns out she has a thought to healing herself."
The couple will be interrupted by veteran actor Sam Elliott as Gen. Thunderbolt Ross, Betty's father, who's hardly a hero but, in true Lee (and Marvel movie) fashion, not an outright villain. He's protective of his daughter and feels a duty to further the lab work on the Hulk (both the Army and the unscrupulous Talbott, played by Josh Lucas, want to exploit the creature's genetic mutation to create a soldier who can heal his own battlefield wounds). Ross will step overbearingly into the couple's life.
"It's a real growth for these two characters," says Elliott, who took some inspiration from his relationship with his own 17-year-old daughter. He says he was happy to do repeated takes, as all the actors did, for Lee.
"There's the story where William Wyler had Olivier doing a scene, and Olivier said, 'What is it you want?' and Wyler said, 'I want you to do it better.' Ang knows it when he sees it," the actor explains.
Nick Nolte plays Banner's morally compromised father in a performance praised by other cast members and the producers. Lee recalls visiting a somewhat disheveled Nolte in Malibu, who showed him blood-testing apparatus ("a gothic experience," says Lee) and said he'd need three months to get in shape: "I bit my tongue not to say just come like that."
When Betty goes to Bruce's father seeking answers, Connelly says, she has "that sort of childish, 'Here is my loved one's father, everything is going to get healed, and everything is going to be OK,' and the guy is, disappointingly, really creepy."
A look at some footage supplies all the proof her assertion needs. Watching the careworn but seethingly powerful old scientist move in on her is unsettling, and the reason he steals her scarf apparently has something to do with the Hulk dogs. These latter have been teased considerably on the Internet. Although we meet them as household pets, says Lee, they have been mutated in ways similar to the Hulk and there will indeed be a scene where their personalities are writ large. But Lee won't discuss details.
Meanwhile, Talbott, the sometime boyfriend of Betty and a greedy military scientist, can be found on the interior set at Universal getting ready to go to work on Banner with what the film's military advisor, Nick Teta, a former Navy SEAL, calls a "sexied-up" electric cattle prod.
As Talbott, Lucas does much of his work reacting to a taped mark or even a stick held at Hulk height. Arriving fresh from playing the likable country boy in "Sweet Home Alabama," Lucas found that acting opposite a mark "can be very lonely; a big chunk of my stuff is playing alone with a being that doesn't exist. It's the hardest kind of acting that you can do, and in certain ways the purest, because you're like a 4-year-old boy in a sandbox saying, 'OK, this is Godzilla.'