LEE, ANG: HULK
A modern myth in the guise of a horror film is how Ang Lee describes The Hulk, his latest film starring Eric Bana, adapted from the TV series. Itís his Ďgreen destinyÖhidden dragoní he reveals to Jenny Cooney Carrillo.
Many people were surprised to hear Ang Lee was directing The Hulk if they were familiar with your past work. How does a movie like this fit in?
To me, itís Ďhulking outí, so to speak. I was approached with this project just when we had fortunate success on Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon and I knew I could take on something with action on a bigger canvas and add some personal touch to it. At heart Iím a movie person. When I get my hands on something very different I get very excited. At that time I was very excited that I could do the split screen, that I could do colour and psychodrama and that I could take on something big. And it feels like this is my new green destiny, itís my hidden dragon. That was the next challenge I wanted to do. Of course going through that is a lot harder than I expected. I had so much to learn. I experienced a lot of fear and uncertainty and aggression. To make the Hulk, I had to have a taste of the Hulk. At the end of the day I still have to come to terms with the public, the critics, the genre, everything. Itís quite an experience for me.
How difficult was it for you to make the movie you wanted when the budget was so high? What did the studio want?
For a long time there was nothing. They said, ďshow us what you are thinking, visualize it, we are here to help.Ē The pressure really came in three months ago. The Ďplayabilityí started to inch in and it also became a realization to me that Iím delivering a big movie. It has an obligation to play at least at the surface level. It has to read as a story, it has to hold peopleís attention and the emotion has to prevail. The casting was not an issue at all. For obvious reasons I could judge on that, because itís a franchise movie. Length was almost an issue at one point. Music was always an issue. As experimental as it might be, it had to sound like a big movie.
How intense is the pressure then? Especially opening around the same time as The X-Men 2, The Matrix Reloaded and Terminator 3?
I have a lot of pressure when I think about the fact that the movie will face a mass audience. I donít have any experience with that because my films have always platformed. ďTo hit the market in a theatre near youĒ, I donít know what that is like. Iím worried that the movie might not perform on the surface value. Thatís my anxiety, but at this point Iím trying not to think about it too much. Whoever sees it, I think the Hulk will be speaking to their inner Hulk. I hope as much as the studio does, that it has playability. I hope it hits every mark of a summer blockbuster. Iím sure there will be a big first week, but after that it still remains to be seen.†
Eric Bana described you as a sledgehammer wrapped in cotton. How would you describe yourself as a director?
I guess I was pretty firm. But Iím a nice guy, so there you go. I think facing an actor as a director you should be a good seducer. You seduce, invite the best of their talent and then you have to guide them. I think a good actor/director relationship should be almost sadistic. They complain about it, but at the same time they like it. But you have to touch the right nerves; they have to like your idea, before you start. And then you go as far as they can and they have a satisfaction, I hope, of this exhaustion.†
How difficult was the casting?
Eric Bana won over by being somebody new. In the comic book nobody cares about Bruce Banner, itís all about Hulk. So I was looking for somebody who had a compelling demeanor, a nice guy look, who could also carry that Hulk side and Iíd seen Chopper so I had proof right there. Jennifer Connelly was an easy choice, everyone thought of her as first choice. And I specifically thought of Nick Nolte because to me heís a brilliant actor who can play a villain, but there is no way you can hate him.†
How did you come up with the look of The Hulk as a CGI character?
I imagined Hulk this way and that way from Ericís face. From stretching whom Eric is. We scanned his whole body and his face. Then I decided on the basic anatomy depending on what I wanted from the Hulk. A lot, the comic book already provided; big hands and forearms and a big neck. His jumping and lifting powers are unreasonably high, so I wanted a big ankle. But I wanted him to look different from a body builder. Then we made clay models, three clay models, because he has three different sizes. A lot of thinking went into it, a lot of dramatic considerations. The rest is computer work. In terms of muscle and bone structure, thatís ILM. They made him out of the basic sketch I gave.
Is it true you were acting out The Hulk for the animators to help them draw him?
Itís never been done before to have a character that is humanized and carry the movie in this way. You donít register the Hulk as something real, so emotionally itís very hard to invest the reality, the believability into him. And a computer doesnít have life; it doesnít go along with the natural. So every morning I came in and discussed with them, why it didnít look right. Whether it was the lighting or the shape or something, why we hadnít brought him to life yet. But the animators needed body references and so I began to put on that suit. Other than three-mile jumps I would practically do everything. And then the animators had to do their job.†
Most action heroes fight in big American cities like New York City. Why did you choose a barren desert for your backdrop?
Thereís something very western about this comic book. And the genesis of the film, the test of the nuclear bomb is all in a secret base in the middle of the desert. As I was location scouting potential places, it hit me in a very poetic way, that the desert is both a biblically father element and a nurturing one- the flower is the mother of the desert. So to me it is a very visual poetic medium. And it fits for military comic reasons. Also the red worked really well with his green skin tone!
Is it an action movie or a serious drama? How would you personally describe this movie?
Itís a psychodrama in spirit, but I will call it a modern day myth in the form of a horror film. To me a comic book is not a movie genre. I had to take my own translation from the original material and borrow the form of a horror film. To me itís a very intense movie viewing experience. Itís everything of myth.†
What are the moments in the movie that represent your idea of myth?
Personally I particularly like the scenes where heís fighting the high technology weaponry in the desert. Heís in a bed of sea bottom in pre-historical existence, where jelly fish and the original forms of life lives. Thereís a mythical quality in it.
How do you want the audience to feel about the Hulk? Love him or hate him?
I hope they have empathy with Eric, the man before he turns out to be the Hulk. And most of all I hope the Hulk is adorable. I want the guys to want to do what Hulk does and I want the women to want to feed him with chicken soup! I tried to make him the innocent unknown self, instead of somebody with just a destructive nature or a mean-spirited monster. I like Hulk because heís not a super hero. I like that the amoral ultra ego monster self comes out to a physical manifestation. Heís there to make a mess, not to save the world. When he gets annoyed, thatís when he gets mad. When heís not annoyed long enough, he starts to melt down, starts to de-Hulk. To me the excitement is to watch the repressions and exhilarations. Itís like breathing. Thatís how the universe works.
Published July 3, 2003
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Ang Lee on set with Eric Bana