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CANNES - "It just isn't very important to me."
While that may look dismissive in print, that's not the way it came across when I asked Edward Norton about "The Avengers" and the new Hulk in town during our time chatting at the "Moonrise Kingdom" press day.
In fact, far from it. I spent most of our conversation focused on his work with Wes Anderson in the new film, but I knew that I had to ask him if he'd seen Joss Whedon's film yet and, if so, what he thought of it. After all, we were the ones who broke the story when Norton first learned he might not be returning for a second go-round as Bruce Banner and his big green alter-ego. I felt like a quick comment from him would be the exact right button to put on things at the end of the entire process. If you don't remember, you can follow the story as it developed here, here, here, here and here.
Even so, the moment I asked, I felt a pang of remorse. I realized that I wasn't sure how fresh that wound was, or how Norton felt about the entire situation, and I feel like it's taken a while for him to get comfortable with me in interviews. He is a fiercely intelligent guy, and justifiably serious about his craft. He does not seem to love the press, but when treated with respect, he seems more than willing to have a real conversation about what he does and about film in general. As soon as the question was out of my mouth, it felt like I had crossed a line and pushed him into an uncomfortable conversational corner, but he handled it with grace.
"Mark is like a brother to me," he said, praising "Avengers" star Mark Ruffalo's commitment to his work overall. "Besides, he's got two kids, and I'm really happy he gets to have this moment with them," he continued. When I asked him if he'd actually seen the film yet, that's when he admitted that he had not, and that it hadn't been a priority. And while some might see that as a dodge, I can understand how that happens. When he was part of the Marvel universe, he took it very seriously, and our talks about his approach to things in 2008 were engaging and thorough. He's not part of that anymore, though, and he's got other things that occupy his attention these days, like Crowdrise, the Kickstarter-esque charity website that he and Shauna Robertson have helped build over the last few years, and like "Moonrise Kingdom" itself, where he does some lovely, delicate work.
I hope Norton does get a chance to see "The Avengers." I think he'd be proud of Ruffalo, and I think he'd have fun with how they handled The Hulk. He was passionate about the character and its history when it was his turn at bat, and I'm guessing that, removed from the hype of a film's release and the scrutiny of a press hungry for some sort of reaction, he'll find himself charmed by "The Other Guy."
"Moonrise Kingdom" opens in NY and LA on May 25, and goes wide on June 29.
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