Marvel execs, actor engage in verbal jousting over move

Edward Norton has lost his temper for the last time. At least as the Incredible Hulk.

While Marvel is in the midst of assembling the Avengers for its Comic-Con presentation, one thesp who won’t be taking the stage in San Diego is Norton as the rampaging green meanie.

A war of words erupted between Marvel Studios topper Kevin Feige and WME over the weekend after it was revealed that Norton was being replaced as Bruce Banner in Joss Whedon’s “The Avengers,” which unites the Iron Man, Thor, Captain America and Hulk characters on the bigscreen. Pic bows May 4, 2012, with Paramount distribbing.

Marvel plans to present the cast — so far Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth and Chris Evans — playing the iconic superheroes when it wraps up Hollywood’s series of panels at Comic-Con on July 25.

In a tersely worded statement to the entertainment website HitFix, Feige touched on rumors that Norton had been difficult to work with while making 2008’s reboot of “The Incredible Hulk,” which Universal distribbed and Louis Leterrier (“Clash of the Titans”) helmed.

“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,” Feige wrote. “‘The Avengers’ demands players who thrive working as part of an ensemble, as evidenced by Robert, Chris H., Chris E., Sam (Jackson), Scarlett (Johansson), 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.”

The surprisingly loaded statement, coming from an exec who usually doesn’t discuss details on his slate of movies, triggered a rebuttal from WME, which reps Norton.

“This offensive statement from Kevin Feige at Marvel is a purposefully misleading, inappropriate attempt to paint our client in a negative light,” agent Brian Swardstrom wrote.

Swardstrom detailed plans by Feige to bring back Norton as the Hulk, saying meetings with Whedon had taken place and progressed to a financial offer. Negotiations got under way soon afterward.

But last Wednesday, “after several weeks of civil, uncontentious discussions, but before we had come to terms on a deal,” Marvel decided to move on and cast another actor. “We accepted their decision with no hard feelings,” Swardstrom said. “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. Feige’s statement is unprofessional, disingenuous and clearly defamatory. Mr. Norton’s talent, tireless work ethic and professional integrity deserve more respect, and so do Marvel’s fans.”

Either way, Norton is moving on after posting a statement Monday on Facebook.

“As most of you know, I don’t like to talk much about the business of making movies because it means a lot to me to protect the audience’s fullest enjoyment of the ‘magic’ that films can have,” he posted. “But I am so appreciative of the outpouring of support from fans of the Hulk and the Avengers that I feel it would be rude not to respond. So here goes: It seems it won’t work out for me to continue playing Bruce Banner for Marvel in ‘The Avengers.’ … I know this is disappointing to many people and that makes me sad. But I am very sincerely grateful to Marvel for extending the offer and even more so for giving me the chance to be part of the Hulk’s long and excellent history.”

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