Negotiations continued fast and hard between agents for Mark Ruffalo and executives at Marvel, with the expectation on both sides that the actor would be confirmed to play the Hulk in upcoming Marvel movies, replacing Ed Norton, TheWrap has learned.
The aim, according to one knowledgeable individual, was to wrap up negotiations on Friday so Ruffalo could fly in from the East Coast to join the cast of "The Avengers," the star-studded superhero ensemble movie that will be one of the crowning crowd-pleaser events Saturday at Comic-Con in San Diego.
Ruffalo has been rumored to be in the running for the role, which Norton fell out of recently in a spat with Marvel that went public. Norton had been the choice of David Meisel, the CEO who left the company in December after it sold to Disney in 2009.
Ruffalo was instead the favored choice of Marvel production chief Kevin Feige and is also the favorite of director Joss Whedon, who confirmed to a crowd of Comic-Con fans on Thursday that he would be directing the blockbuster.
Ruffalo, a dark, unmuscular and sensitive actor currently on screens in the indie comedy "The Kids Are All Right," could hardly be more different from the angular, intellectual Norton (though, to his credit, he does look more like Bill Bixby than Norton did).
"The Avengers" is a much-awaited action movie that wields a stunning collection of superheroes. Cast already are "Iron Man" Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johannsson, Samuel L. Jackson, and Chris Evans. Those actors were expected in San Diego for the big announcement on Saturday night.
The sticking point in negotiations is related to payment and the number of films to which Ruffalo would commit. According to the knowledgeable individual, Marvel wants Ruffalo to sign on for between four and six Marvel movies. And Marvel is famous for squeezing talent on salaries, despite the huge success of "Iron Man."
Ruffalo's agent, Tracey Jacobs, did not return a call seeking comment. A Marvel representative did not immediately return calls or emails.
Feige and Norton got into a public spat over the actor falling out of a Hulk sequel. In an unusual move, Feige issued a statement saying relations with Norton were the source of the dispute, rather than money.
Norton's agent responded that Norton had already indicated his interest in being part of Joss Whedon's ensemble cast, but abruptly learned he was being cut out even as "good faith" salary negotiations were under way.
Norton has strong opinions as an actor and director, and a history of being a force in the cutting room, even on movies where he is not the director.
Feige said the studio was seeking "an actor who embodies the creativity and collaborative spirit of our other talented cast members."