Edward Norton - Actors and Actresses

Nationality: American. Born: Boston, Massachusetts, 18 August 1969; raised in Columbia, Maryland. Education: Yale University, B.A. in History, 1991. Career: Stage actor, early 1990s; appeared on Broadway in Waiting for Lefty , 1992; recorded audiotape of Tom Clancy's Ambush at Fort Bragg , 1997. Address: International Creative Management, 8942 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, CA, 90211, U.S.A.

Films as Actor:


Everyone Says I Love You (Allen) (as Holden Spence); The People vs. Larry Flynt (Forman) (as Alan Isaacman); Primal Fear (Hoblit) (as Aaron Stampler)


Out of the Past (doc) (Dupre) (as narrator); American History X (Kaye) (as Derek Vinyard); Rounders (Dahl) (as Lester "Worm" Murphy)


Fight Club (Fincher) (as Narrator/Jack); Forever Hollywood (doc) (Glassman and McCarthy) (as Himself); A Salute to Dustin Hoffman (doc) (Gowers—for TV) (guest)


Keeping the Faith (as Brian Finn, + d, pr)


By NORTON: articles—

Fuller, Graham, "The New Edwardianism," interview in Interview (New York), January 1997.

Fuller, Graham, "Fighting Talk," interview in Interview (New York), November 1999.

On NORTON: articles—

Hoban, Phoebe, "He's Hot but Cool to Lure of Fame," in New York Times , 19 January 1997.

Handelman, David, "Wanted: Edward Norton," in Vogue , January 1997.

Maslin, Janet, "Such a Very Long Way From Duvets to Danger," in New York Times , 15 October 1999.

* * *

Edward Norton is that extreme rarity among modern actors: someone who actually seems more interested in becoming an actor than becoming a star—though he seems destined for both. Having received two Academy Award nominations in his first six film roles, Norton has reason to believe that stardom can actually detract from an actor's ability to act, since the more the audience knows about an actor, the harder it is for them to suspend their disbelief.

An excellent example of this is Norton's first role, in Primal Fear (1996), where nothing stood in the way of the audience's believing in his Aaron Stampler, the mentally unbalanced Appalachian choirboy accused of killing an archbishop who is defended by a smarmy Richard Gere. Reviewers and friends always pride themselves on not giving away a film's surprise ending but, by doing so, they are giving

Edward Norton (left, seated) with Richard Gere in Primal Fear
Edward Norton (left, seated) with Richard Gere in Primal Fear
away the fact that there is a surprise ending; it's surprising to be surprised, but it's even more surprising if you're not expecting a surprise. Norton is right in saying that the makers of Primal Fear were lucky that this was his first film; if it were his second or third role and people were aware of what a good actor he is, they might be expecting some surprising twist at the end. But because they weren't expecting anything, the ending—and Norton's performance—blew them away. "The potency of the revelation about who my character really was in that film was in part reliant on the fact that people had absolutely no prior knowledge of me," he has said. Leonardo DiCaprio was originally cast as Stampler, but he pulled out fearing the intensity of the material. Over 2,000 actors tried out for the part, and while some were fine at playing one side of the character, no one could play both sides. Director Gregory Hoblit felt the role to be so crucial he was ready to abandon the film if a suitable replacement could not be found. Finally Norton submitted a screen test that was so impressive, it circulated around town and secured him his next two roles—in Woody Allen's Everyone Says I Love You and Milos Forman's The People vs. Larry Flynt (both 1996)—even before Primal Fear was released. The role of Stampler earned him a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award nomination.

In Everyone Says I Love You and The People vs. Larry Flynt , Norton moved effortlessly from a backwoods psycho to a singing and dancing boy-next-door, and then on to an idealistic attorney in a performance to which The New York Times said Norton brought "a Jimmy Stewart-like sincerity." In Rounders (1998), Norton reversed directions again, playing Worm, a fast-talking card shark addicted to the dangerous world of high-stakes poker. While working on his character—whom he saw to be like Bugs Bunny: a merry prankster with a chaotic impulse—he went with a friend to a Rolling Stones concert, and seeing Keith Richards on stage gave Norton that aspect of the role he had been missing: the strutting cowboy.

No role he has undertaken has caused as much controversy as the part of Derek Vinyard in American History X , in which Norton goes from a hate-mongering skinhead with a swastika tattoo to someone who has renounced his past and hopes to save his little brother (Edward Furlong). Norton realized that to be intimidating as a skinhead, he needed to be more of a physical presence, so (a la Robert De Niro) he worked out for three months, toning and sculpting his thin body and gaining 30 pounds of muscle. Meanwhile, he was reading hate literature and visiting on the Internet and in person with current and former skinheads. Most of the film's controversy centered on the fear that, by portraying a skinhead and making him seem more human, Norton would be glamorizing that lifestyle. The fears were misplaced. While his transformation, as written, may be a little too pat, there is no question that Norton's performance is frighteningly good and that the filmmakers' hearts were in the right place. For his work, Norton received a Best Actor Oscar nomination.

Fight Club also had its share of controversy, creating a generalized fear that this macho comedy was advocating anarchy. Norton plays the narrator, who is suffocating in a white-collar job until he meets his alter ego, Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt), and the two form a fight club where men pummel one another just so they can feel something. No longer needing his muscle mass, Norton lost half the weight he had gained for American History X. The movie received widely varying reviews; The New York Times reviewer wrote: "The teamwork of Mr. Norton and Mr. Pitt is as provocative and complex as it's meant to be. Mr. Norton, an ingenious actor, is once again trickier than he looks."

If Norton keeps playing roles extraordinarily well, he may find it harder and harder to avoid stardom, though few actors have been so eloquent in discussing its dangers. He has no interest in being fodder for the rumor mill because, on a personal level, it "can be corrosive topleading a good and happy life" and can cheapen personal moments through "the sharing of them randomly, arbitrarily, with everybody," and, as an actor, "it could corrode what I think I have to offer as an actor, who can do different parts that are as unrecognizable from one another as possible. Every little thing that people know about you as a person impedes your ability to achieve that kind of terrific suspension of disbelief that happens when an audience goes with an actor and character that they're playing." His goal is to create characters—like Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver or Ratso Rizzo in Midnight Cowboy —who seem to live on in the collective unconscious entirely independent of the actors who played them. If any actor today has a shot at creating such characters, it is probably Edward Norton

—Bob Sullivan

User Contributions:

Comment about this article, ask questions, or add new information about this topic: