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Ed Norton out of The Avengers, Joaquin Phoenix Possible Replacement

It is official. After months of speculation about whether or not Oscar-nominated actor Ed Norton would join the all-star cast of The Avengers to reprise his role as Bruce Banner (The Hulk), we know have official confirmation that Norton will not be returning. But it isn’t scheduling, or money that is keeping Norton out: Marvel just doesn’t want him.

HitFix originally reported that Norton was interested in returning and joining the cast that includes Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans and Samuel L. Jackson, and despite past arguments with Marvel, negotiations were underway. The actor had a very public dispute with Marvel while filming 2008’s The Incredible Hulk. When first approached to appear in the Hulk, Norton reportedly had problems with the script and agreed to be in the film only after director Louis Leterrier and Marvel allowed Norton to rewrite sections of the script, and work with screenwriter Zac Penn to include more origin and character development. When the film had finished filming, Marvel insisted that nearly 20 minutes of footage be cut to keep the movie under two hours, and much of the edited material was Norton’s.

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Norton, who signed on to the film after being promised a great deal of creative control, was not thrilled. The dispute soon became public, and despite interviews and open letters stating the contrary, a wedge between Norton and Marvel had formed. Over the next two years, discussions of Norton reprising his role as the Hulk in the ensemble Avengers movie seemed to be stalled, and the future of the character was unclear, but earlier this year, Norton seems to warm to the idea. Negotiations were said to be underway, and Norton met with Avengers director Joss Whedon, and both supposedly left the meeting excited and ready to move forward.  The meeting and the negotiations were both reported, and things were beginning to look good for Norton’s return.

Then, in response to a story by HitFix stating Norton’s desire, Marvel replied and put an end to the rumors once and for all:

“We have made the decision to not bring Ed Norton back to portray the title role of Bruce Banner in the Avengers. Our decision is definitely not one based on monetary factors, but instead rooted in the need for an actor who embodies the creativity and collaborative spirit of our other talented cast members. The Avengers demands players who thrive working as part of an ensemble, as evidenced by Robert, Chris H, Chris E, Sam, Scarlett, and all of our talented casts. We are looking to announce a name actor who fulfills these requirements, and is passionate about the iconic role in the coming weeks.”

Ouch. In response, Norton’s agent, Brain Swardstrom of WME sent a reply to HitFix.

“This offensive statement from Kevin Feige at Marvel is a purposefully misleading, inappropriate attempt to paint our client in a negative light. Here are the facts: two months ago, Kevin called me and said he wanted Edward to reprise the role of Bruce Banner in The Avengers. He told me it would be his fantasy to bring Edward on stage with the rest of the cast at ComiCon and make it the event of the convention. When I said that Edward was definitely open to this idea, Kevin was very excited and we agreed that Edward should meet with Joss Whedon to discuss the project. Edward and Joss had a very good meeting (confirmed by Feige to me) at which Edward said he was enthusiastic at the prospect of being a part of the ensemble cast. Marvel subsequently made him a financial offer to be in the film and both sides started negotiating in good faith. This past Wednesday, after several weeks of civil, uncontentious discussions, but before we had come to terms on a deal, a representative from Marvel called to say they had decided to go in another direction with the part. This seemed to us to be a financial decision but, whatever the case, it is completely their prerogative, and we accepted their decision with no hard feelings.

We know a lot of fans have voiced their public disappointment with this result, but this is no excuse for Feige’s mean spirited, accusatory comments. Counter to what Kevin implies here, Edward was looking forward to the opportunity to work with Joss and the other actors in the Avengers cast, many of whom are personal friends of his. Feige’s statement is unprofessional, disingenuous and clearly defamatory. Mr. Norton talent, tireless work ethic and professional integrity deserve more respect, and so do Marvel’s fans.”

So that seems to end Norton’s involvement once and for all, but it does raise the question of who will replace the actor. The website CHUD was the first to dip into the rumor mill, and sources have told them that an offer has been made to actor-turned-rapper-turned-actor-again Joaquin Phoenix, who is considering the role, and all that goes with it. If Phoenix signs, he will likely be asked to commit to several movies, including possible Avengers sequels, as well as future Incredible Hulk movies. This may yet just be a rumor, but with Comic-Con looming later this month, it makes sense for Marvel to want to fill the role quickly in order to officially introduce the cast later this month.  Expect to hear more on this in the coming weeks.

The Avengers is due out May 4, 2012.

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