Marvel Cinematic Universe actors: Tim Blake Nelson


A prominent Hulk villain was teased way back in The Incredible Hulk. Will Tim Blake Nelson ever return to the Marvel Cinematic Universe as The Leader?

With such a minor part in the gargantuan universe, Tim Blake Nelson could easily be overlooked when considering the 100-plus actors in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, yet his role as Samuel Sterns is pivotal to the plot of The Incredible Hulk. The movie even teases the potential for a future appearance, one which would be in a more significant capacity (if it ever unfolded). This is unlike the Doc Samson character, played by Edward Norton’s long-time buddy Ty Burrell, who becomes another Gamma powered hero in the comics, but shows no signs of taking that leap in The Incredible Hulk.

As Sterns, Nelson is a leading expert in Gamma studies and is fascinated by Bruce’s predicament; he is one-thirds obliging medical professional and two-thirds mad scientist. Sterns is the reason Bruce risks coming back to New York, which kicks off a series of events leading to the climactic Hulk vs. Abomination showdown. Tim Roth’s Blonsky was already injected with an unstable super soldier serum when he pumps some of Sterns’ powerful Gamma juice into his blood, which permanently transforms him into A-Bomb.

Sterns does caution Blonsky against the unpredictable concoction and the scientist gets his head split open for his efforts, with Gamma blood spilling into his open wound. The scene more than hints at the beginnings of his own metamorphosis into the Leader, a major Hulk villain with a bulging cranium in the Marvel comics. If Abomination is the brawn, Leader is the brains – he needs such a big head to contain his genius level intellect.

That was the last time we saw Nelson in the MCU and part of the reason why is certainly because there has never been another solo Hulk film. If he were to make a comeback as the full-fledged evil mastermind, it would likely be as a puppet master pulling strings since he would not make a formidable punching bag for Hulk. When Kevin Feige was recently asked if he would consider revisiting characters like the Leader, he mentioned that he loved to bring back characters that people think they’ve seen the last of.

Tim Blake Nelson has a habit of playing a little man with a big mouth and that holds true for his Marvel performance. And similar to his character’s level of importance in The Incredible Hulk, he tends to be a second or third string cast member. A few notable exceptions are in his Coen Brother movies.

In the Coens’ deep south Odyssey tale, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Nelson is right alongside George Clooney and John Turturro for every step of the trek. Nelson may be playing a simple-minded convict, yet that only makes him even more lovable as he skips along with the Soggy Bottom Boys. His encounter with the sirens is Nelson at his comedic best, especially his reaction when he thinks they turned his friend into a toad.

Eighteen years later, Nelson delivers another outrageously zany performance in the Coens’ The Ballad of Buster Scruggs. Even though he is only in one of six vignettes, one could argue he is the star of the show as the titular Buster Scruggs. He is so delightfully light in the role that he literally floats on air.

Tim Blake Nelson also sits in the director’s chair from time to time and has handed himself a few fine parts as a result. A year after The Incredible Hulk, Nelson and Edward Norton work together again in Leaves of Grass, with the latter playing twins. Nelson steps in as the earnest midwestern sidekick of the drug dealing Norton.

More from Marvel Cinematic Universe

More recently Nelson directed the ensemble indy film Anesthesia, where he plays a family man, working through the news that his wife has a tumor, in the middle of parenting teenagers who are experimenting with marijuana. Nelson juggles sensitivity with his wife and sternness about his son’s behavior all before rushing off in despairing concern over his father being the victim of an unexpected violent attack.

Tim Blake Nelson also appeared in several of James Franco’s literary adaptations such as Cormac McCarthy’s brutally gritty Child of God and William Faulkner’s poetically nonlinear The Sound and the Fury. Nelson stands out the most in Franco’s version of Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying. He is completely humorless as a selfish widower, ordering his family to transport his dead wife to her final resting place.

And for those MCU fans wondering how Tim Blake Nelson would fare if he returned as the villainous Leader, it is worth noting some of his most heinous movie moments – blackmailing Jennifer Aniston into sleeping with him in The Good Girl, kidnapping the helpless Grace Gummer in the western The Homesman, and delivering his memorable white-collar criminal “corruption is why we win” speech in Syriana.

Tim Blake Nelson’s Top 10 Movie Roles

1. Delmar O’Donnell in O Brother, Where Art Thou?
2. Buster Scruggs in The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
3. Adam Zarrow in Anesthesia
4. Anse Bundren in As I Lay Dying
5. Rick Bolger in Leaves of Grass
6. Bubba in The Good Girl
7. Sheriff Fate in Child of God
8. Richard Schell in Lincoln
9. Samuel Sterns in The Incredible Hulk
10. Danny Dalton in Syriana

While Tim Blake Nelson’s piece of The Incredible Hulk is not large, it still stands out enough to make it into his Top 10. It is much worthier than when he played pre-Mole Man Harvey in Josh Trank’s Fantastic Four; a forgettable role in a forgettable superhero movie. As the Marvel Cinematic Universe evolves into unchartered territory, it would be nice to see Tim Blake Nelson’s familiar face somewhere down the line.

Next. MCU actors: William Hurt. dark

Look out for Tim Blake Nelson in Damon Lindelof’s Watchmen adaptation on HBO this fall.