Marvel Studios brought a jaw-dropping amount of announcements and reveals at San Diego Comic-Con 2022. Somehow, they kept that momentum going into D23, a convention that had its own massive moments when it came to the MCU. One of the biggest tidbits of new information was that The Incredible Hulk's Tim Blake Nelson would be returning as The Leader in Captain America: New World Order.
The last time audiences saw the character was in the 2008 film starring Edward Norton as Bruce Banner. In its final act, Nelson's character, Samuel Sterns, is seen lying on the floor with Hulk blood dropping into an open wound on his head—visibly changing the unlucky scientist.
Since then, not a single word has been spoken about the character in any of the following MCU movies (or series). So when Marvel Studios announced his return in New World Order, it was a big deal, to say the least.
But what does the actor behind the character have to say about returning after such a long time?
The Leader Speaks
During Marvel Studios' D23 presentation, the actor behind the newly announced antagonist for Captain America: New World Order, Tim Blake Nelson, broke his silence about returning to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
The actor admitted that he is "delighted" to come back into the role and shared how it "is an absolute honor:"
“I’m delighted. Marvel is part of cinema history and that I get to be a part of of that is an absolute honor and thank you for for sticking with the Leader.”
In a previous interview all the way back in 2018, Nelson spoke with GQ about his time in The Incredible Hulk.
He revealed that he actually met with the film's director, Louis Leterrier, in "the lobby of the Mercer Hotel:"
“The Incredible Hulk. That movie came at me in a funny way, because I was about to direct this film I’d written called Leaves of Grass with Edward Norton and he and I were producing it together as well and I got called down to, I think the Mercer Hotel, the lobby of the Mercer Hotel to meet Louis Leterrier, the director of Incredible Hulk and Gale Anne Hurd, his producer. And they said, 'We want you to play ‘this scientist character,’' and I had read the script. He was a wildly eccentric guy, mainly in the second half of the movie. And I thought, ’Well, yeah, alright, ‘That’s interesting to me, I haven’t been in one of these movies before.’
Nelson revealed that they warned him how he was basically "signing up for three movies," which obviously never came to pass:
"And then they said, ‘Well, you’re gonna become the villain in the next movie. So, you’ll basically be signing up for three movies. And you’re gonna be this character called The Leader.’ And I thought, ‘Oh my God, this is fantastic.’ I said, ‘Well, whom else have you cast?’ And they said, “Well, weirdly, you’re our first offer.’ Which was, I thought was strange, because nobody was gonna come see the movie because I was playing this scientist, or even because I was gonna be the villain. They needed a guy to play Banner. And I said, ‘Who’s…?’ And they said, ’Well, it’s either gonna be ‘Mark Ruffalo or Edward Norton.’"
Apparently, he was also going to be directing a movie with Edward Norton, and while that ended up still happening, it had to wait until they were both done on The Incredible Hulk:
"And I think I even said, ‘But wait a minute! Edward’s supposed to do my movie and I’m no contest for you guys, of course he’s gonna wanna play Banner.’ And I called Edward and he said, basically, ‘Tim, get real, of course I’m gonna play Bruce Banner. That’s gonna be fantastic, you’re possibly gonna be in the movie with me, it’ll be a blast. And then we’ll do your movie, I’m not going anywhere.’"
Nelson shared that he "learned so much about shooting from Louis Leterrier," something he applied to his next small project:
"And Edward’s a man of his word. And so we got to act, I got to act in a movie with Edward right before directing him. For both of us, we did Hulk and then Leaves of Grass was our next movie… I learned so much about shooting from Louis Leterrier. As I often do, because I direct my little movies, I hang around on sets, even when I’m not needed and just watch what the director’s up to because all these guys with whom I get to work know so much more about it than I do."
How Big of a Future Does The Leader Have?
Now, the big question is, will Nelson's villain be around after New World Order comes to a close? After all, it seems the original plans included the big villain to return more than once.
The Leader's big connections to the Hulk seem like a natural bridge to the long-rumored World War Hulk film. Also, it would be a shame if the character comes back after fourteen years and never gets the chance to cross paths with Bruce Banner once again.
Maybe the big bad is even pulling strings in She-Hulk. Goons have already tried to get some of Jennifer Walter's blood; could Samuel Sterns potentially be the man behind all of it? Perhaps he has an obsession with the blood's effects on people, especially given how much it's almost probably changed him.
Only time will tell how The Leader will factor into the MCU's bigger picture, but hopefully, his return is everything fans could ever hope for.
Captain America: New World Order hits theaters on May 3, 2024.