Countdown To 'Hulk': Nick Nolte: father figure, mad scientist, actor

Tue, June 3rd, 2003 at 12:00am PDT

TV Film
Rob Worley, Columnist

At a recent "Hulk" press junket, Nick Nolte

sat down to talk to the members of the media in a roundtable format interview.

In the upcoming movie, Nolte plays David Banner, a multi-layered character who

father to Bruce Banner, inadvertent engineer of the big green star of the film

and ultimately one of the villains of the piece. Nolte followed his stint on the

"Hulk" with a bout of substance abuse that landed him in rehab last


At the roundtables, members of the press took turns asking Nolte questions

about his work. Comics2Film/CBR News is please to present this edited transcript

of that interview.


[Nolte enters wearing lime green designer clothes. An assistant hands him

four pages of hand-written notes.]

Q: What are the notes for?

Nick Nolte (NN): I just have notes because there was a lot of preparation that had to be done

for this. Ang Lee came out to the house and he said, 'I don't know how to make a

comic book. I know how to make a Greek tragedy.'

And I said to him, 'Was 'Eat Drink Man Woman' partially based on 'Lear?'

And he said, 'Yes.'

So I took him upstairs into my lab and I pricked his

finger, got blood, put it on a slide, slid it under the dark film microscope and

a camera projected it onto the high-def television screen.

His red cells were

floating through. A white cell would come in and they looked like diamond

jewels. Massive diamond jewels and they'd change shape as they wrap around

bacteria. And the blood is vibrant. It's alive. The cells shimmer and shake.

It's better than watching the universe through a big telescope because its

moving all the time.

And you see bacteria and you see fibrinogen in the

background, which is the clotting factor in the blood. Smokers have it a whole

lot. And Ang looked at it for a little while and he said, 'can you do that in


So right away I realized he was way past the cellular level. His wife

was an agrobiologist and they were into neural transmission of genetic

information. That's why you see them flying into the fields. He wanted to get to

the source of the change.

It's a Greek tragedy really based on Father/Son.

It's not Oedipal.

Only 250 years ago, monarchs, kings killed their sons. Usually

the first born was a pretender to the crown. They kept the second born, killed the third and forth. Many times the son killed the father.

So there know in modern times, the relationship between the father and the son,

at some point the father has to let the son win. Now he usually does, because we

get feeble, but as we all well know, we cannot get into each other's consciousness.

We uniquely feel ourselves.

It makes us a little lonely. Only

through communications can we feel a kind of connectedness, but ultimately we

singularly experience the world in our own way.

Q: But you have a son,

don't you?

NN: Yeah.

Q: How old is your son now?

NN: He's sixteen, but I gave up that ghost a long time ago.

He calls me Nick. I call him Brawley. He's in college. He started going to

college when he was a sophomore.

Q: Did you always get along?


Yeah. Yeah,

always. We've always been closely connected. You know there comes a time, in his

teenage years, where he really fights. He really fights for his

individuality. That's a crisis time.

That's a real important time for both girls

and boys. I think the most distorted American myth is on the part of the way

girls are raised. 'Sugar and spice and everything nice. that limits the

emotional range that females definitely have.

Q: And don't forget that

they're supposed to be sexy before they're ten.

NN: Yeah. That's right. That's right. But

we're getting way off the subject.

Q: So you were talking about fathers

and sons and Greek tragedy.

NN: Yeah,

the Greek tragedy.

So the reason it becomes this is, instead of a monarchy, our

blood by blood connection, it's genetic alteration that binds [David and Bruce

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Banner] forever. In

the genes that I altered, in myself, he inherited in the full genome. These

altered genes...well, obviously the genome read these genes and unique and

different and a whole series of alterations were made so that he wouldn't

explode. That's the problem.

As a research scientist, and I know many of

them...there's no money in it. They don't do it for the money. they just

do it because they have a passion and they usually have to farm out to a big

corporation to make...the biggest chicken breast in the world, which has been

done. It's an American company that has captured the chicken breast market. It

used to be the Chinese. They made a chicken breast that was so big that the

chicken couldn't stand up. It's terrible.

I'm not necessarily against

genetic alteration. Because I'll tell you the knowledge is coming. It's in our

hands and it won't be that long when we have to make a very big decision. I see

it as unstoppable.

Hawking says in 'Universe in a Nutshell,' we need a quarter

of an inch larger a space for the brain. We need a quarter of an inch layer to

the brain to catch up to the information that's out there. He thinks that's

going to be within fifty years.

Q: What do you think about Ang saying,

'We all have a Hulk inside of us?'

NN: See I tied the changes [in the

characters' genetic makeup] so that they'd fire off to the limbic system. The

limbic system is the oldest part of our brain. It's also

called the reptilian brain. It has two responses. It's an on/off switch: fight

or flight.

It's about survival. Anger is an emption of survival. Fear is an

emotion of survival. But we've evolved past that. We have a huge cortex now.


limbic brain, the reptilian brain is comfortable with maybe fifty faces that

it recognizes. Past that it starts to fire off, 'Warning! Danger, danger,

danger, danger, danger!'

You drive down the 101 you're gonna see a hundred

thousand new faces. your limbic system is going crazy. Boom, boom, boom, boom boom.

We rationalize it off. 'These are all people in the community. These are all....'


what we call that is anxiety. It's a constant state of anxiety because our brain

hasn't caught up with the changes.

Q: What do you do when you're really

pissed off then?

NN: You get angry. If you don't express your anger, feel your anger, you

cease to exist. You won't survive. You won't make it. All this anger thing is,

you shouldn't displace your anger and be mad at that plastic cup. Your anger

is meant for survival. In nature...

Oh you guys are going to go off on this:


does not discriminate about any way it can get the passing of the genes for

survival of a species, and rape is one of the natural ways in nature, that

exists. And since nature doesn't legislate rape, we as civilized beings have to

make strict, strict controls over it. Otherwise you can never be sure,

genetically what can be passed. The reason rape works, is when a life

threatened, when a woman's life is threatened, she has a very protective

mechanism, inside her mucus membrane, it's so tightly woven that actually only

one sperm can get through at a time.

When her life is

threatened, everything breaks down and goes to adrenaline and survival of her

being. So that's why many times there are pregnancies in rape. That's why it's

so heavily legislated. And it's something that's a social condition, because

nature doesn't make that distinction.

Q: Even though you're saying this

is Greek tragedy, watching you act in this movie makes me think of a

Shakespearian performance.

NN: That's because we pulled

part of it from Shakespeare. Some 'King Lear', some 'Paradise Lost' was one of our

sources. Ang let us work on it a bit. We'd give it to Schamus. Schamus is an

excellent writer. Sometimes we'd see a parallel to ancient times and we'd

recognize what to modernize and we would go to that. It was always to achieve

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the same end to the story, not to alter it at all.

Q: Do you see

yourself as the villain of this story?

NN: No. Not at all.

Q: Why

not? You destroy this kid...

NN: No

I didn't destroy him. No, no no no. I had a curiosity, and a search for creating a

better immune system. I altered myself and my son inherited it. I took it on

biblical proportion. I first tried to figure out what I had done. I looked at his

blood and was amazed by the alteration of his chromosomes. And the military

stopped me.

What is [Sam Elliot's] character's name? Thunderbolt. That's Zeus.

that's Zeus' name.

He stops me and in stopping me, the only action I have is an

Abraham-like move: kill the son because he cannot possibly survive in this

society. Would a fellow that transmuted into 25 foot tall, that was green, that

was so powerful...would we allow that to exist in society? No, our fear would be


much we'd destroy it immediately. That's what I'm trying to tell my son. That's why I stick around.

To tell him he must express it.

His first birth is

not because of gamma radiation. That proves that he can handle it. He has the

compensating genes. It would have killed a normal person but he's got all this

compensation for free radical.

I tell him he's different. He's different. There

something inside of me, and it's him too. That makes an abnormal connection to

father and son because now they can never part.

Q: So you don't think

your character is evil?

NN: No,

no. He's not evil in the least part. He's super-human. He's past human. He's

altered. His speech at the end...

Can anyone here define the dictionary word


Q: It's probably something like, 'the absence of war.'


Yeah. Absence of


In the history of mankind there's never been an absence of war. We do not

have a 'peace department' in the government. We have a 'war department.'

So I don't

believe in the word any more. I use the word...somebody asks me if I'm peaceful,

I use the word tranquil. Peace will never exist. We can hope for it and pray for


Ninety-eight percent of the species have gone extinct. There's a real likelihood man will do

that to himself, unless we make some improvements to the brain, because we're

stuck with this archaic limbic system of fight or flight to anything we don't

recognize in our own environment.

It's an awful situation. In my life's

experience I've just seen too much war.

Q: Do you ever think about

writing a book?

NN: No, no I've never thought about that.

But I saw my dad come back from

World War II who was a skeleton. See I was born in '41 and I didn't see him

until '44 and he was a skeleton, six foot six.

I just remember seeing eye

sockets, bones and transparent skin. He laid upstairs in bed and every day

they'd take me in to see this long thing. He had every tropical disease you

could imagine. It took him a year to recover. And I remember distinctly thinking

he was into an experience that I never want to be in.

Q: Can you talk

about your experience from a few months back, getting arrested?

NN: Well, genetically...I've had my DNA

striped and there's twenty known addictive genes and genetically I'm an addict.

Also behaviorally I'm an addict. I have long periods of sobriety.

This last time

I had a slip of ... the substance when I started using it was legal. you could

buy it at a health food store. The kids in the raves found it. It's part of the

gamma system that 's naturally in our cells. It worked really well.


What was it?

NN: GHB - gamma hydroxy butyrate acid. The gamma system, they're just learning about it.

It regulates the neural transmissions. Too much dopamine, it starts shutting

down the dopamine. It's an excellent pain killer. It doesn't fill the receptor

sites and the endorphins. What it does is it stops the communication of pain to

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the brain.

Q: After all that stuff...we saw your picture and all


NN: Well that picture, the reason that picture looks that way is it was the

week after I finished shooting ["Hulk"].

I was unwinding from the film.

Obviously I

was abusing the substance. I was grateful that happened. My first words I said

is, 'The jig is up.'

Q: What did you do then?

NN: I went straight into rehab.

It's a mood alterer. The

fellow who invented it, a Frenchman that same year put together Throazine, the first

anti-psychotic, and during his acceptance of the Nobel prize...whatever that big

science prize is, for Thorazine, he said, the discovery of gamma hydroxy

butyrate acid in the function of the human body is far more important.

It's legal now,

but you can only use it for certain conditions. It used to be used in all protein


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