Interview By: Benjamin Lee BenjaminLee@TheCinemaSource.com
Frequently named as one of our generation’s finest young actors, Edward Norton is someone unafraid to take chances.
Ever since his Oscar nominated debut in Primal Fear, Norton has made a string of consistently challenging films. He received another Oscar nomination for his role as a neo-nazi in the powerful drama American History X, became a part of cult movie history in Fight Club and even made his directorial debut with the romantic comedy Keeping the Faith.
This year he has already starred in the acclaimed period drama The Illusionist and the modern-day cowboy movie Down in the Valley. Both films took place outside of the Hollywood studio system and were labors of love for Norton. His new film is equally as risky. The Painted Veil is an epic romance set in 1920s China that Norton has been circling for 7 years now in hopes of getting it made.
Although the film is based on a classic novel as well as a 1934 Greta Garbo melodrama, Norton and screenwriter Ron Nyswaner struggled to find a studio who would follow their vision. Norton is relived they stuck it out and is reveling in the finished product.
‘It’s always a nice feeling if you’ve had a good experience and you feel like you’ve hit the target with what you were aiming at with the film’ Norton admits, ‘The moment when other people start to respond to it is wonderful. When you watch people watching the movie and they’re responding to it emotionally then that’s gratifying.’ But for Norton, known for doing projects that are close to his heart, 7 years is a long time to wait.
‘It’s not like those things come along every day’ he tells, ‘If they were then they’re not being sent to me. It stayed in my brain. I felt like these characters were very touching plus you watch movies growing
Filming in China was something that Norton enjoyed, the locals far friendlier than they are onscreen. ‘The environment with China and the film industry was great’ Norton reveals, ‘We weren’t just strolling into a village in the Amazon and having them look at us as if we were insane. China has a deep tradition of film and a highly regarded film industry.’ It wasn’t just China that Norton found impressive, but the Chinese as well. ‘The crews were experienced and professional’ he admits, ‘I mean I credit John Curran a lot. John is an extremely good communicator. He’s very good at tuning everybody’s radio into the same frequency.’
The shoot took Norton off the beaten track, but the beautiful locales were also unfamiliar to much of the Chinese crew. ‘None of the Chinese crews had been down into that area before’ Norton shares, ‘I think they thought it was a huge privilege to put the lenses on those places. It was very emotional for some of them.’
Watching Norton as a romantic lead isn’t something we, as an audience, are familiar with. He admits that romance is usually a genre he finds problematic. ‘I love all kinds of movies but I don’t tend to see my own life reflected in some of the romantic confections that they make’ he admits, ‘They’re charming but they don’t really move me. When I read this, what I felt that this had in it was a depiction of an actual relationship. It was a depiction of the way that people fall in love with their illusions about somebody as much as with the real person. Then the
For someone who’s played a vicious racist, a criminal profiler and a remorseless killer, Edward Norton‘s character in The Painted Veil was one which he found easy to identify with.
‘Naomi (Watts) and I talked about the fact that for both of us there was more in these people that we related to from personal pain or tumult than many of the things either of us had worked on before’ he reveals, ‘It was novel to me, the feeling that my reference point was my own experiences.’
Also easy to relate to was the cultural divide that the film presents. Norton believes that the character he plays is ‘your classic Western rationalist.’ His story is one that Norton believes is surprisingly relevant. ‘The whole second level of the story to me for Walter is that he gets progressively humbled by the fact that China is not that interested by his version of fixing things’ he believes, ‘It’s hard to ignore that that’s reminiscent of what we may be experiencing right now. It’s fun to do the 1920′s in China but it’s better if it still speaks to certain things.’
Despite having played some unstable characters, Norton isn’t someone who believes you have to be unbalanced to act (take note Russell Crowe). What he finds imperative is taking on a character that no-one would expect him to take on. ‘I have personally generally found myself pulled toward things that are exotic to my own experiences’ he admits, ‘It’s more thrilling to me.’ With his varied CV and continuing attraction to projects that rouse a passion in him, Norton’s reputation as ‘one of our generation’s finest young actors’ is reassuringly safe.