Bana: Screen's New Jolly Green Giant

06/19/2003 at 10:00 AM EDT

Kermit, move over. The screen has a new green leading man.

Australian hunk Eric Bana (pronounced BAN-ah), 34, plays the title character in "The Hulk," just an everyday guy named Bruce Banner who works in a laboratory and has parental issues.

But when Bruce gets angry, watch out. He turns into a big green monster who can leap from the New Mexico desert directly into San Francisco Bay in a single bound.

The introspective movie, directed by "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" director Ang Lee, opens Friday.

"It's not like he jumps into a phone booth and puts on a cape or goes into the Bat Cave, you know what I mean?" Bana tells the Associated Press. "Uncontrollably, he becomes the Hulk, and he's haunted by that."

Before taking the role, Bana (who lives in Melbourne with a 4-year-old son, a 1-year-old daughter and his wife, Rebecca), says he had little notion what director Lee had up his sleeve when it came to what the Banner's alter ego would look like, other than a scale model of the green figure from the Marvel Comic.

But Lee, 48, says he cast Bana because he wanted an unknown but good-looking face.

"In the comic books, I think nobody cares about Bruce Banner. He's a loser, he's a wimp," Lee says. "But a movie is photography, a realistic image. It's very hard to watch a wimp for that long."

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