Tim Blake Nelson “Never Imagined” That the MCU Would Bring Him Back as The Leader

The O Brother, Where Art Thou? star explains why he was surprised by his casting in Captain America: New World Order

Tim Blake Nelson The Leader
The Incredible Hulk (Universal Pictures)

    Tim Blake Nelson, veteran character actor and upcoming Poker Face guest star, has a long resume with packed with wild credits, but there’s one role he tells Consequence he “thought about all the time”: playing Dr. Samuel Sterns in 2008’s The Incredible Hulk. While he never thought he’d ever get to play him again, despite what he was told when he was originally cast in the second-ever film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, things are coming full circle thanks to the upcoming Captain America: New World Order.

    In The Incredible Hulk, Samuel Sterns is the scientist who connects with Bruce Banner (Edward Norton) as Bruce attempts to find a cure for his… condition. Of course, comic book fans will recognize the name of Samuel Sterns as that of the alter ego for The Leader, a longtime Hulk nemesis, and according to Nelson, that was a part of the first conversation he had about taking on the role.

    “That was understood,” he says. “I was actually cast before Edward, so I went down to meet Louis Leterrier and Gale Anne Hurd, and they said, ‘We want to offer you this part, he’s going to appear toward the end of this movie. And then you’ll be set up to be The Leader, the villain in Hulk 2.'”


    During production on the film in Toronto, Nelson says, “they didn’t end up shooting the scene in which his head is irradiated and starts to expand, that is at the end of the movie. They said, ‘Well, we’ll get it later.’ And I said to myself, ‘Well, if they really do pick this up later, I’ll know that they really meant it.’ And they did. I was flown out to Los Angeles, and we spent the day doing the shot that they hadn’t gotten in Toronto.”

    But while Sterns’ transformation into The Leader did make the film’s final cut, a second Hulk movie never happened — recast as Mark Ruffalo, the Hulk has made regular appearances in other MCU films, but has never been featured in another stand-alone adventure. “I was saddened by the fact that they weren’t going to do a second Hulk with Edward,” Nelson says. “And I didn’t imagine they’d cross me over if they were going to do one with Mark. So I wasn’t imagining I’d get to do The Leader 18 years later.”

    Other actors have found themselves in similar situations over the years — for example, in the 1989 Batman, Billy Dee Williams plays Harvey Dent, a casting choice which was originally intended to lead to a sequel featuring Williams as Dent’s villainous alter ego, Two-Face.


    But in Nelson’s case, it just took a little more time than expected: As announced in September 2022, he will be returning to the MCU in 2024, facing off against the new Captain America (Anthony Mackie) in New World Order. “While I never imagined it would happen. I will tell you — absolutely, I thought about it all the time,” Nelson says. “I was blessed to get the call, and I really have to thank Kevin Feige and everyone at Marvel for believing in that character enough to bring him on.”

    Captain America: New World Order premieres May 3rd, 2024. Nelson can next be seen guest-starring in Episode 7 of Poker Face — learn more about his appearance in the Peacock mystery drama here.