What the Hell Happened to Edward Norton?
Edward Norton has been nominated for three Academy Awards; once for Best Actor and twice for Best Supporting Actor. He won the Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor in his first movie. In addition to acting, he has written, directed and produced movies. He even has a few song-writing credits to his name. Norton has worked with Miloš Forman, Woody Allen, David Fincher, Ridley Scott and Wes Anderson. He was even the Incredible Hulk. But ever since 2008, Norton is rarely seen or heard from and almost never as a leading man.
What the hell happened?
Norton made his film debut in 1996 with a juicy supporting role opposite Richard Gere in the psychological thriller, Primal Fear.
Gere played a sleazy defense attorney (in the movies, is there any other kind?) who chases headlines and wins cases on his abundant charisma. He jumps at the opportunity to defend an altar boy accused of murdering an archbishop. Norton plays the altar boy who speaks with a pronounced stutter. As Gere interviews his client, he begins to believe in his innocence. This angers his ex-girl friend (played by Laura Linney) who also happens to be the prosecutor in the case.
I can’t really discuss Primal Fear without giving away some spoilers. So if you don’t want to be spoiled, skip ahead to the next movie.
Over 2,000 actors auditioned for Norton’s role. It was offered to Leonadro DiCaprio and Star Trek’s Wil Wheaton, both of whom turned it down. Other actors who were considered include Edward Furlong, James Marsden and Dawson (aka James Van Der Beek). Norton won the role by staying in character throughout his audition. When he met with the casting director, he started off meek and stuttering before exploding into violence. He even went so far as to roughly grab her to the point where she feared for her own safety.
Norton and Gere were encouraged to improvise on the set. It was Norton’s idea to give his character a stutter. This aspect of the character was not included in the script or the book the script was based on. When Norton shoved Gere into a wall, Gere’s shock was genuine. That was another improvisation as was Norton’s slow clap at the end. The two actors were tasked with tightening the film’s last scene. They brought it down from six pages to only two.
Reviews were mostly positive and Primal Fear was a hit at the box office. Norton received numerous awards and nominations for his very first movie role. He was nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting actor which he lost to Cuba Gooding Jr. for Jerry Maguire. He also won a Golden Globe. Not bad for his first time out.
Later that same year, Norton appeared opposite Woody Harrelson in Miloš Forman’s bio-pic, The People Vs. Larry Flynt.
Harrelson played the controversial Hustler founder and free speech advocate. Norton played his friend and put-upon attorney, Alan Isaacman.
Norton’s role was a composite of several lawyers who worked for Flynt. The real Alan Isaacman was not with Flynt when he was shot. That lawyer is Gene Reeves Jr. But Norton’s final speech in the courtroom was taken verbatim from Isaacman’s actual closing arguments.
Despite mostly positive reviews, The People Vs. Larry Flynt was not a hit at the box office.
A lot of actors wait for years to work with legendary director, Woody Allen. But Norton got his chance to do so in 1996 – the same year as his big screen debut. Norton appeared in Alan’s musical, Everyone Says I Love You.
Everyone Says I Love You is a pretty typical Woody Allen movie in every way except for being a musical. The actors all performed their own songs with two exceptions. Allen thought that Hawn’s singing voice was too good to be believable as a normal person’s singing voice. So he told her to sing worse. And Drew Barrymore convinced the director that her singing voice was so awful it would have to be dubbed. Norton and Barrymore played a young couple in love in Manhattan. In a Woody Allen movie! Can you imagine?
Yes, the movie asks audiences to accept Allen as a romantic partner for both Hawn and Julia Roberts. Although given that Roberts married Lyle Lovett, maybe that isn’t so far-fetched. The trailer doesn’t include any singing because musicals were out in 1996 and Miramax wanted to hide the fact that Everyone Says I Love You was in fact a musical. So here’s a clip of Norton singing.
Okay, Norton doesn’t have the best pipes and his dancing is abysmal. But when Woody Allen says “sing”, you sing. Allen didn’t tell the actors that the movie was a musical until after they had signed their contracts. The star-studded cast also included Alan Alda, Natalie Portman, Tim Roth and Natasha Lyonne.
Reviews were mostly positive and the movie did the kind of box office you expect from a Woody Allen movie. Not great, but enough to make a profit.
So by the end of his first year I movie, Norton had been nominated for an Oscar, won a Golden Globe and worked for Miloš Forman and Woody Allen. Wow.
Posted on November 12, 2013, in Movies, What the Hell Happened?, WTHH Actor and tagged American History X, Edward Norton, fight club, incredible hulk, Primal Fear, red dragon, rounders, The Italian Job. Bookmark the permalink. 145 Comments.