It became as clear as day to me after watching American History X that Edward Norton was a real actor that I needed to pay attention to. I wasn't the only one who felt that way. It's not that The People vs. Larry Flynt or Rounders weren't on the top of my cinematic appreciation list, but his portrayal as a reforming skinhead -- the pure humanity that he exposed through the character -- remains unforgotten. His careful consideration of the roles he plays leaves him with a resume flowing with fulfilling roles both for himself and for his audiences. In a recent interview with the Guardian Unlimited the actor talked about everything from the digital revolution in filmmaking, to working with David Fincher, to the freedom that acting gives a person to experience their full range of emotional expression. Norton appears to be fearless ... he is not afraid that the accessibility of filmmaking materials will kill the art of creating cinema.
He's certainly not afraid of vulnerable roles that show the ugliness inside a person. Acting to him is "in some ways, a free pass to exorcise all kinds of emotional stuff without the consequences." In preparing for a role, Norton has no go-to method. In fact, he relies on no methodology but instead approaches each role with a new way of creating. "So in the beginning, I always feel like I'm fumbling for an entry point." It should be a relief to any actor that someone of Norton's stature still feels like a fraud the minute a new project comes to fruition.
He is also not afraid of choosing films because they are poignant to him at the time. In fact, that is the number one reason he has chosen to work on Fight Club, 25th Hour and The Illusionist. "Most of the films that I've ever really responded to are ones that I feel were really involved in their times. They were documents of a moment, or an exploration of what was dysfunctional, fucked up or painful about that moment in time." Those films spoke to him directly as reflections on what was happening around him. They also happened to be great scripts made by talented artists. This is what is responsible for the variety and range of the roles that he chooses. "I like a lot of things, I just like them well done."
Most interestingly I think was the fact that Edward Norton can be pinned down as being involved in indie filmmaking, which really isn't so. The only truly independent project he worked on was Down in the Valley. He makes a good point that his films were all big studio pictures that just never made any money ... big difference indeed. Norton obviously enjoys working with big studio houses, but there was one studio choice that he completely disagreed with -- the cutting of Kingdom of Heaven.
The film originally was an epic three-hour adventure but after the failure of other similar films that were released around the same time, the studio put their foot down to stop an impending flop. What resulted was a film destroyed; only to be redeemed by a re-release of a director's cut version that Norton had involvement in. Edward Norton is simply fascinating and his perspective and body of work cannot be summed up in a few sentences. His point of view is inspiring for anyone looking to create without concern or regard for whether the project will ultimate fail or succeed because in the end, the only thing that matters is if you enjoyed the experience.