'Alita: Battle Angel' Ending Cameo Was "Tough Casting" That Sets Up Sequel

There is a surprise waiting at the end of Alita: Battle Angel. The new sci-fi movie from Robert Rodriguez, based on Yukito Kishiro’s manga Gunnm, has a previously unannounced celebrity and former Marvel actor playing one of the movie’s biggest roles. But who? And, most importantly, why?

In interviews with director Robert Rodriguez, he revealed that the surprise casting is meant to lock in capable actors for big roles in future Alita sequels, which was a lot tougher to pull off than it looks. (Maybe not as tough as motorball, but still.)

Here’s the answer to exactly who it was that showed up at the end of Alita: Battle Angel. And, obviously, spoilers for Alita: Battle Angel are below.

At the end of Alita: Battle Angel, out now in theaters, the hundreds-of-years old warrior cyborg Alita (Rosa Salazar) doesn’t quite defeat her enemies. Fired up over the death of her boyfriend, Hugo (Kennan Johnson), Alita (now a star motorball player) enters the arena and points her sword toward the utopian city of Zalem, where the film’s main villain Nova awaits.

As Nova takes off his goggles, the face behind them is revealed to be Edward Norton. Yes, Fight Club and The Incredible Hulk star Edward Norton, who was previously not announced in the film’s casting. So, what’s the Hulk doing in Alita?

As director Robert Rodriguez told Entertainment Tonight, Nova “is such a big role for later that we can’t short-change it now, or we’re stuck with that person for later.” Luckily, both producer/co-writer James Cameron and Rodriguez knew Edward Norton, and they decided to capitalize on the opportunity to work together for the first time.

“He was like, the perfect choice for that mastermind-type brain guy,” Rodriguez said.

In another interview with Digital Spy, Rodriguez said he needed an actor who exuded “a real intelligence.” It was also “tough casting to do.”

“We went through a list of people that we could find who were worth bothering to do this, because there’s no dialogue or anything,” he said. “It’s really for the setup of, if there was a sequel. We want to put someone here who we would want in a sequel. So it’s kind of tough casting to do.”

It’s also really tough to pull off. Edward Norton’s cameo in Alita reminded me so much of Matt Damon’s appearance in Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar. While it’s welcome seeing a face you didn’t expect, that it’s such known faces like Damon and Norton is almost distracting from the film itself.

I remember seeing Interstellar in theaters and hearing other people mumble of “Is that…” under their breaths. Some even laughed! Thankfully, in the case of Alita, Norton’s appearance is at the very end. Still, audiences asking themselves “Was that Edward Norton?” probably isn’t the best way to finish a movie.

Alita: Battle Angel is in theaters now.

Watch: Producer Jon Landau explains how they adapted the manga 'Gunnm' into 'Alita: Battle Angel.'