Edward Norton is just one of those actors who can connect with people. When people talk about their favorite actors of the last 20 years, he's a name that comes up extreamly often. Yeah, I've heard the stories about in-fighting and rogue edits, but let's be honest here: most of the time one of those stories pops up it's about a movie that's good. So as a consumer of movies, why on Earth should I care about creative differences as long as the product I paid for delivers? And, way more often than not, Edward Norton delivers.
Though what is odd is just how long it's been since Norton has directed, the last being Keeping the Faith way back in 2000. When you talk to Norton, he's so meticulous about what he wants out of a film which, frankly, comes as no surprise it's shocking that it's been 19 years since his last and only other directing gig. Though, Norton has been trying, on and off, to get Motherless Brooklyn based on the book by Jonathan Lethem, with the setting shifted from the 1990s to the 1950s made for over 20 years. Yes, by definition it's his passion project and, yes, Norton is an extremely passionate guy. When I met Norton at a hotel in Midtown Manhattan, he was brimming with excitement. This thing, this project, he's been working on for 20 years, is finally a reality.
When I met Norton, he was quite friendly, but had a look of slight skepticism on his face. Basically a, “What's your deal?” look. And, frankly, I found myself appreciating that because, if I were in his position, I'm fairly sure I'd be the same way. But the interesting thing about Norton is as he talks, he riffs on his past filmograpgy and any topic he might be thinking about that day, so one second we were talking about Fight Club, then The Incredible Hulk, then commenting on Martin Scorsese's opinion of Marvel movies.
I know how much you've struggled to make this movie.
Yeah, there's a coexisting sensation of satisfaction and just the settling contentment of a thing that had been rattling in your head a long time. Like having been not just resolved, but I watch it, and it's as close to the movie as I had in my head as I could hope. And in some ways, I'm pretty delighted by the ways it transcended what I ever had. Like the music, which always comes in very late phase, you know?
I had some weird ideas about a mashup of things I love, between Radiohead and jazz. If the film is working, it really works when the music comes in. And then suddenly, you're like, “Oh, my God. Oh, my God.”
The book is set in the '90s, but you set the film in the '50s. Is that the one detriment to not having it in the '90s? That you couldn't use actual Radiohead songs?
No. I mean, number one, they wouldn't let us. Number two...
Well, number one seems like a good enough reason not to.
Yeah, there was talk at the time, because there was mutual admiration. There was also talk of using OK Computer almost as the soundtrack of Fight Club.
So we'd be watching Fight Club listening to “Karma Police”?
Yeah, well, we were always obsessing on the synergies. Like, remember the line, “Pour me out of the aircraft”? And there's that scene where he imagines the plane evaporating around him and falling out?
Yes, that scene is horrifying by the way.
Yeah, it is.
As someone who doesn't fly very well to begin with...
Yeah, that's not a scene I particularly like looking at either.
I almost watched Fight Club on a flight once, then remembered that scene being in there so I didn't.
I'm sure that scene is not in the airline version.
It can't be.
I don't even want to risk it.
[Laughs] Not even in Jet Blue Mint! The hippest first-class unedited films in the world. I doubt they show that. But the short answer is, no. I love jazz, and my reach out to Thom Yorke was, Thom loves jazz. Loves Mingus, in particular. The dissonance, as you might imagine, the more experimental stuff. But I said to him, “Look, I know this sounds weird, but I almost want you to be the Billie Holiday of Lionel's mind.”
Here's what I don't get, because even listening to you talk about this, you're so meticulous about film and what you want — why has it been 19 years since you directed a movie?
I didn't intend it that way. It's really funny, because I met Warren Beatty before I did my first movie. I think he knew that I'd worked a lot with my friend, David McKenna, on the script of American History X and he really liked that. We got talking, and he said, “My advice, don't do what I did.“ He goes, “I started too late, and I took too long between them.”
Then you took longer than he did between Bullworth and Rules Don't Apply.
I know, I know. I mean, I got the book. I didn't even start trying for four or five years because I made Fight Club. Then I directed a movie.
I went on into another thing. And so, I didn't even start to touch it. So, to say I've been working on it that long is not even true.
Right, I didn't think you've been alone in a cabin for 20 years.
And then there was a period where I was ready to make it... If you want to call it the hard period, there was a frustrating period. It took me a good five years from when I finished writing it, to, by hook and by crook, assemble what I needed to do. I don't want to say I didn't have enough? I think I could have walked over to Netflix and gotten double the budget and gotten everybody paid.
Very much. I think sometimes people make too much out of people's comments. I heard, I didn't read, that Scorsese said something about the Marvel movies? Or something? And then people are doing all this stuff?
Yeah, he said he doesn't consider them cinema, or something to that effect.
But he can say what he wants, whatever.
Yeah, and also, the man is in his late-70s. He has his relationship.
Yeah, I don't think he's seeing Ant-Man.
No, but also, people have to grow up. People's reactions are reflections of their insecurities, not what he's saying. It's like, hey, the man's whole life is in films, and he has a certain view of it. It's like, that's okay, you can live with that.
You can live with that.
It's not going to affect the superhero industrial-complex.
No. And it's also, by the way — though someone could defensively take it at that — you have to listen to what he's saying. He's saying that in the context of his life and in his experience, the things he relates to are that, you know? And it's like by the same token, Steven Spielberg said things about Netflix. I couldn't respect him more, and yet, I don't totally agree. I think, for instance, there's not a movie studio in America that would've made, or invested, in the theatrical release of Roma at the level that they did. Forget that it ever went on the streaming service. There's not one boutique art-house label from a studio that would've either made the movie.
Cuaron has said that. It does not exist without Netflix.
Nobody ever gets it better than The Onion. Read The Onion piece about the Spielberg/Netflix thing, because it's just really funny. But the notion that we're in an era of unprecedented opportunity for creators of every stripe, from every nation, every language, every race, every background — the opportunity for diverse points of view and storytellers to tell their stories has never had its equal to what we're experiencing right now ever.
Well, with you in particular... Most of a movie's life is spent watching it at home. The theatrical window for any movie is a very small fraction of any movie's lifespan. And you know that more than anyone because you had an interesting run in the '90s of movies that didn't find an audience right away, but then became beloved later, like Fight Club and Rounders. You were in a bunch of movies where people just love them today, but not everyone saw them in theaters.
American History X was like that. Although, it's always funny, there's always the narrative around a thing. It's like Box Office Mojo has the budget of American History X wrong. It cost $8 million, and they'll write that it cost $30, or something like that, right?
It's always confusing because I never know if these numbers include marketing.
No, no, no, the budget of American History X was about $8 million bucks, and we made it for that. And then it didn't do super-well in the United States, but it did really well in Europe. And then it also did really well over time. And it was one of the things, where, hey, if you make a movie for the right number, then you can make a challenging film. Because in those days, with the DVDs and stuff like that, it had a chance to find its way to a happy place, and they were completely thrilled about it, right? Irrespective Oscar nomination, or anything like that, it actually did fine for a hard-edged, cutting film. You know? It did fine. And they asked me what I wanted to do, and I got the book of Motherless Brooklyn. And that's how I felt about this. In some ways, I was very affected by Reds. I was very affected by Do the Right Thing. I was very affected by films that a writer, director, actor made and that talked about America. Forget Citizen Kane, I think Unforgiven is a great American film.
That's a great example.
You could call Unforgiven Western-noir, because it really basically says, “Hey, all the heroic narrative of the cowboy and the West, it's really there's a lot of dark and seedy shit.”
My other favorite thing about that movie is at the time people were treating it like Clint Eastwood's swan song. “He's going out with a great one.”
Right, I know!
And it's like here we are 27 years later...
40 films later.
And another movie coming out this year.
It's amazing, it's amazing. Do you know that Clint Eastwood never directed a movie till he was 41 years old?
Yeah, it was...
Play Misty for Me. But he was 41 when he started, and he's made like 50. But I think the point is, I'm not trying to get extra credit, but if I'm Quentin and I can get $95 million to make my movie, maybe I probably would, too. But I knew that with Warner Bros., Warner Bros made Unforgiven. They made L.A. Confidential. They did Argo. They have a tradition, and my biggest champion was Toby Emmerich at Warner Brothers, and he literally said to me, “Look, we can do this. If you can do what we don't know how to do, which is make this movie for $26 million net.”
I showed it to Warren Beatty, because Reds really meant a lot to me. That was a formative movie. At a certain age, you go this is a three-hour movie about American Socialists, with documentary footage in it, and it's like I think it's one of the really great films. And he told me everybody told him, “You're going to flush your whole career on this film.” And they were like, “Nobody wants to see this movie.” And he was like, “Well, I want to see this movie.” You know what I mean? When I showed this to Warren, he goes, “Shit, what did this take shooting? 75, 80 days?” And I said, “No, no, I did it in 47, 48.” And he goes, “You're a lying sack of shit.” He goes, “Thinking about it, I can't really wrap my head around that, and I really admire that.” That made me feel good.
The original opening had Bruce Banner in the arctic, he shoots himself in the mouth and then Hulk spits out the bullet. Whose idea was it to take that out? It's grim, but that's a great scene.
Yeah. Sometime I'll flip you the script. Louis Leterrier and I were working from what I wrote. Sampson was in the movie. Ty Burrell played Sampson. But that opening, yeah, and a roar in the dark, in the glacier.
So you wanted that in there, right?
Yeah. But look, this is another one of those things, people should not foment negativity. People sometimes have different views of a thing, And you can respectfully disagree. It's fine. It's fine. I get tired of the click-bait conversations around it, because Mark Ruffalo is one of my great friends. I love him.
I don't feel like that was a click-bait question.
No, no, no, not that...
I'm just saying I think that people, they tend to take a reductive log-line out of any comment that you make. And when you look at the path they've taken and what they've achieved with this synthesis, it's a completely valid point of view. That, let's call it a darker thing, may not fit within that. You know what I mean?
It's the second movie in. You had no idea what it was going to be.
And that could be as much me and Louis not having insight into what the larger thing is, you know what I mean?
So The Italian Job is still on cable nonstop. I know the circumstances around you being in it, you kind of had to do it to fulfill a contract, but do you look back at that and think, you know, under the circumstances, I'm pretty fucking good in that movie.
[Laughs] I've never, I can't say I've ever seen that movie all the way through. But I'll say this, same thing, in no way do I focus on the negativity. I was in the middle of a play. It wasn't like, “This is a piece of crap.” It wasn't that. I was doing a play that was very meaningful to me. It was an award-winning play and it was my theater company, and I just didn't want to be yanked out of it.
That makes sense.
So it had to do with those kinds of things. Sherry Lansing, the head of Paramount, literally gave me my start in the business. So even though it was an argument with her, I love her to this day. You know what I mean? And more importantly, I went into it feeling grumpy because I'd been pulled out of a play to do it, but I loved Mark and hadn't really gotten to know Mark before that. I became very good friends with Jason Statham. I'm still friends with him to this day. You know, great things came out of it.
My last rapid-fire.
You're one of the few contemporary actors who worked with Brando. On The Score, did you get to hang out with Brando socially?
Edward Norton has a very specific reason as to why he turned down James Cameron's Avatar 2 offer. Cameron is currently hard at work on the upcoming 4 movie saga, and he wanted Norton to take part in the first sequel. While Norton declined, it did get him into another Cameron production that Robert Rodriguez was helming, Alita: Battle Angel, which wasn't exactly a huge box office success. With that being said, there's still a chance we night see Norton on Pandora in the near future.
Edward Norton and James Cameron are friends, which led to the director asking him to be in Avatar 2. While Norton was thrilled to be asked, he had some stipulations. He explains.
"I am friends with Jim Cameron, and actually enormously admire and kind of adore him. So when he wanted me to do something in Avatar 2, I basically told him, 'If I'm not a Na'vi, I'm not doing it. I'm not being part of the industrial world, coming in to destroy Pandora. I'm either a Na'vi or nothing.'"
Norton obviously knows where his acting skills are and can afford to pick and choose his parts, but turning down Avatar 2 seems like a pretty big misstep. Additionally, getting to work with his friend would have been another bonus.
As Edward Norton closes one door, he opened another. When he declined to do Avatar 2, James Cameron suggested something else. "He was like, 'OK, maybe in 3, 4 or 5, then,'" says the actor. So, there is a chance we could see him in another sequel in the near future. This is how the cameo in Alita: Battle Angel came to be. Norton explains.
"In the meantime, he asked, 'Well, do you know Robert Rodriguez?' I was like, 'Whatever. Let's do something. I want to do something with him.'
If a sequel to Alita: Battle Angel is made, Ed Norton is set up to have a large part, thanks to his first cameo. While it's unclear if a sequel will be made, there are fans who are looking forward to it, while the hype around Avatar 2 doesn't seem to be as big as everybody initially anticipated. It's possible that announcing so many sequels could have been a marketing mistake, though we won't really know until the movie hits theaters.
Related: Avatar 2 Takes on a Very Dark Family Dynamic Says James Cameron
Avatar 2 is all set to hit theaters on December 17th, 2021 with the following three sequels opening in theaters every two years afterwards. James Cameron has taken on a massive project and one has to wonder how he's going to be able to pull it all off with the addition of cutting edge technology. However, if anyone can pull it off, it's James Cameron, who also returned as a producer on Terminator: Dark Fate as a producer with a pretty large role. As for Ed Norton showing up in another Avatar sequel, we'll just have to wait and see. The interview with Norton was originally conducted by Total Film.
As the 21st-century barrels on, filmmakers and film fans alike are in a constant debate about what modern institution is “ruining movies.” For many people – like Steven Spielberg – it’s the world of streaming sites, like Netflix, that are destroying the sanctity of the so-called “theatrical experience.” But Edward Norton has a different take on this whole matter. According to the director and star of Motherless Brooklyn, it’s not Netflix that’s ruining movies – it’s movie theaters themselves. Norton cites poorly run theaters projecting films dimly and playing sound poorly as the real culprit behind the decline of cinema. And honestly, he has a point.
Are you of the opinion that the moviegoing experience has been “ruined”? If so, who or what do you blame? Do you think streaming platforms have sucked the life out of going to the movies? Or maybe, just maybe, it’s movie theaters that are to blame? If you lean towards the latter, Edward Norton agrees with you. “It’s the theater chains that are destroying the theatrical experience,” Norton recently told the Daily Beast. “Period, full-stop. No one else.”
The actor and director continued:
“A lot of filmmakers and cinematographers that I know that have really started to look into this say that more than 60 percent of American theaters are running their projector at almost half the luminosity that they’re required by contract to run it at. They are delivering crappy sound and a dim picture, and no one is calling them on it….If [theaters] were delivering what they’re supposed to be delivering, people would be going.”
He’s not wrong, folks! Where I live – the greater Philadelphia region – the so-called “theater experience” has been completely ruined by theater chains I don’t want to call any specific chain out, so let’s just make up a fake one, like, um, AMC that clearly don’t give a shit. The quality of the projection is lousy, the sound isn’t mixed right, and there’s not a soul to be found who really cares. If you complain, the best you’ll get is a free pass to come back to the crappy theater you were just complaining about. Not helping matters: rude audiences who are just as apathetic as theater staff. They take out their phones, they hold loud conversations, they disrupt any semblance of decorum. Going to the movie theater has become a nightmare for me – which is a bit of a problem since I write about movies for a living.
Norton goes on to specifically but respectfully call-out Spielberg for his anti-Netflix stance, pointing out that Netflix is giving lots of money to the type of films most Hollywood studios would have no interest in these days. “If I disagreed with anybody, with great respect, it was Spielberg,” said Norton. “Netflix invested more in Roma theatrically than any boutique label at any studio would have by a factor of five. They put a Spanish-language black-and-white film all over the world in theaters. Hundreds of theaters, not just a few; as many as Sony Pictures Classics would have done. They put more money behind it, in a theatrical context, than anybody would have. You can’t tell me there’s a whole lot of people making black-and-white Spanish-language films and putting that investment behind them.”
I’m sure the debate on this topic will continue to rage on. But even though Steven Spielberg is 10 times the filmmaker Edward Norton is, I have to say I agree with Norton on this one.
Edward Norton is calling out movie theater chains ahead of the theatrical release of his upcoming Warner Bros. drama “Motherless Brooklyn.” In a new interview with The Daily Beast, Norton tells reporter Nick Schager that “it's the theater chains that are destroying the theatrical experience. Period, full-stop. No one else.” Norton calls on moviegoers to be vocal about ensuring movie theaters are running projection and sound at top quality because in most cases around the country they are not.
“A lot of filmmakers and cinematographers that I know that have really started to look into this say that more than 60 percent of American theaters are running their projector at almost half the luminosity that they're required by contract to run it at,” Norton said. “They are delivering crappy sound and a dim picture, and no one is calling them on it.”
Norton continued, “If [movie theaters] were delivering what they're supposed to be delivering, people would be going, ‘Wow, this is amazing, I do not get this at home’…Well, I want people to literally walk into their theater and find the manager and say, ‘If this looks dark, you're giving me my money back. Because I'm paying — and at the ArcLight, I'm paying premium — for a premium experience.'”
Norton said he personally witnessed movie theaters’ bad quality when he went to test screen “Motherless Brooklyn” in a theater that was screening “Captain Marvel.” The filmmaker told The Daily Beast that 14 is the quality control spec the Marvel film should be running at but the theater was running the movie at a 6.2 spec.
“That means it was literally running at less than half the light that was supposed to be on there,” Norton said. “You want to train people. Like, go get your money back. If the movie looks dark - it was — go get your money back! I think we should rally around that. I really do.”
Norton’s criticism of movie theaters came after his defense of Netflix. Norton said he disagreed with Steven Spielberg’s headline-making comments that Netflix poses a danger to the theatrical experience. Spielberg even argued that Netflix movies should qualify for Emmys and not Oscars. Norton said that Netflix is doing more to preserve the theatrical experience than movie theater chains themselves.
“If I disagreed with anybody, with great respect, it was [Steven] Spielberg,” Norton said. “Netflix invested more in ‘Roma’ theatrically than any boutique label at any studio would have by a factor of five. They put a Spanish-language black-and-white film all over the world in theaters. Hundreds of theaters, not just a few; as many as Sony Pictures Classics would have done. They put more money behind it, in a theatrical context, than anybody would have. You can't tell me there's a whole lot of people making black-and-white Spanish-language films and putting that investment behind them.”
Nortan added, “There's a lot going on because of Netflix, and what it was the vanguard of, that represents an unprecedented period of ripe opportunity for many more types of stories and voices to be heard, and told, and celebrated. It's incredible, what's going on.”
“Motherless Brooklyn” is opening nationwide November 2 from Warner Bros. Head over to The Daily Beast’s website to read Norton’s interview in its entirety.
Edward Norton has opened up about his short stint as the Hulk in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, his relationship with Kevin Feige, and what his future as the character would have looked like. Norton starred in The Incredible Hulk, the second movie in the MCU, but didn't return for a sequel or The Avengers, ultimately paving the way for Mark Ruffalo to take over as Bruce Banner. Now, Norton has discussed the situation in detail.
This came as part of a recent profile in honor of Edward Norton and his new directorial effort Motherless Brooklyn. To kick things off, Norton was asked if he thought his views on the movie business were destined to cause friction with the brass at Marvel. Here's what he had to say about it.
"Well, no. I loved the 'Hulk' comics. I believed they were very mythic. And what Chris Nolan had done with Batman was going down a path that I aligned with: long, dark and serious. If there was ever a thing that I thought had that in it, it was the Hulk. It's literally the Promethean myth. I laid out a two-film thing: The origin and then the idea of Hulk as the conscious dreamer, the guy who can handle the trip. And they were like,'That's what we want!' As it turned out, that wasn't what they wanted. But I had a great time doing it. I got on great with Kevin Feige."
At the time, things were tense with the Hulk situation. At one point, Marvel Studios released a press release, in which, Kevin Feige said they wanted to find someone who "embodies the creativity and collaborative spirit of our other talented cast members" for The Avengers. However, Edward Norton goes out of his way to make sure it's clear he got along with Feige and respects his vision, while also calling that specific press release cheap.
Related: What Happens to Hulk After Avengers: Endgame?
"Yeah, which was cheap. It was brand defensiveness or something. Ultimately they weren't going for long, dark and serious. But it doesn't matter. We had positive discussions about going on with the films, and we looked at the amount of time that would've taken, and I wasn't going to do that. I honestly would've wanted more money than they'd have wanted to pay me. But that's not why I would've wanted to do another 'Hulk' movie anyway. I went and did all the other things I wanted to do, and what Kevin Feige has done is probably one of the best executions of a business plan in the history of the entertainment industry. As a Disney shareholder, you should be on your feet for what they pulled off."
Despite whatever creative disagreements existed, it's hard to argue against the results. The MCU has generated more than $22.5 billion at the box office since its inception. For what it's worth, The Incredible Hulk remains the lowest-grossing entry to date. Edward Norton refused to comment on whether or not he likes the MCU movies, but did clarify some comments he made, which were aimed at Marvel, during the Comedy Central roast of Bruce Willis.
"I'm not going to comment on that. I'm saying that Kevin had an idea of a thing that you could do, and it was remarkable. Now it didn't happen to be on a tonal, thematic level what I wanted to spend my time doing. Conflating that into a fight or a judgement is grotesque. Picking fights between other people for clickbait is grotesque. I'm not being hyperbolic. It's part of what's problematic in our country. We are letting ourselves be polluted by fake fights manufactured by other people for other agendas. Whether it's Russians manipulating us into intense arguments with one another over fabricated [expletive] or stupid entertainment journalism trying to get clicks.
It's like, I did Bruce Willis's Comedy Central roast, and I made a joke at my expense. I talked about how I tried to do what Bruce did and make a big movie but I was an idiot because I tried to make the script better. Here's the actual joke: 'I tried to be like you. I did a big action movie called ' The Incredible Hulk.' You know what went wrong? I wanted a better script.' This is a joke making fun of myself but they'll turn it into, like, 'Edward takes a dig at Marvel.' No, I'm taking a dig at myself at a roast. People have to grow up."
Ultimately, the MCU has yet to have another solo Hulk movie, which has to do, in part, with a rights issue involving Universal. In any event, the circumstances surrounding this situation are far more clear thanks to these comments. Edward Norton seems to harbor no ill will toward Kevin Feige, at least not on the level it was made out previously. This news comes to us via The New York Times.
Back before Mark Ruffalo became Bruce Banner and his big, green alter ego the Hulk in the MCU, Edward Norton briefly inhabited the role in The Incredible Hulk. Norton was replaced by Ruffalo for The Avengers, and there have been rumblings that the actor didn’t get along with MCU head honcho Kevin Feige behind-the-scenes. In a new interview, Norton opened up about his Hulk experience, revealing he pitched Marvel on not one, but two Incredible Hulk movies, adding that Marvel told him they loved his ideas – until they changed their minds.
In some alternate universe a multiverse, perhaps, Edward Norton is still playing the Incredible Hulk. But Norton’s time as the Hulk was short-lived, and enough time has passed that he’s able to look back and reflect on things. Speaking with the New York Times, Norton revealed he pitched Marvel on two dark and gritty Hulk movies – films in the same tradition as Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight series.
“I laid out a two-film thing: The origin and then the idea of Hulk as the conscious dreamer, the guy who can handle the trip,” said Norton. “And they were like, ‘That’s what we want!’ As it turned out, that wasn’t what they wanted.”
Norton also talked a bit about his bumpy relationship with Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige. “We had positive discussions about going on with the films, and we looked at the amount of time that would’ve taken, and I wasn’t going to do that,” Norton said. “I honestly would’ve wanted more money than they’d have wanted to pay me. But that’s not why I would’ve wanted to do another Hulk movie anyway.”
When Norton was replaced with Ruffalo, Feige released a statement saying: “Our decision is definitely not one based on monetary factors, but instead rooted in the need for an actor who embodies the creativity and collaborative spirit of our other talented castmember.”
Norton said he thought Feige’s statement was “cheap”, adding: “It was brand defensiveness or something. Ultimately they weren’t going for long, dark and serious. But it doesn’t matter.”
However, the actor adds that he has no problem with Feige and that the two just had a different approach to the material. “Kevin had an idea of a thing that you could do, and it was remarkable. Now it didn’t happen to be on a tonal, thematic level what I wanted to spend my time doing.”
While I like Norton as an actor, I think Ruffalo is a much better Banner/Hulk, so it all worked-out for Marvel in the end, and Norton seems content to be doing his own thing.