Class Acts: Edward Norton
Holiday Movie Preview
Premiere Magazine, December 2002
The passionate star pairs up with one of his favorite directors to play a prison-bound drug dealer in 25th Hour
"I would play a walk-on for Spike Lee," Edward Norton baldly states. That's the sort of hyperbolic pronouncement a lot of actors might reflexively make when referring to a particularly brilliant director, but Norton can certify his great admiration for Lee at length. In fact, he spends so much time extolling the virtues and bemoaning the critical neglect of Lee's complex 1998 He Got Game ("It's like an epic poem...it's stylistically audacious, heightened in its colors and presentation...and everybody [addressed] it from the most banal, literalist point of view") that he almost seems to forget that he's supposed to be talking about 25th Hour, the movie he wrapped last summer under Lee's direction, and in which he plays much more than a walk-on.
Norton, in fact, leads a very impressive ensemble cast (including Brian Cox, Rosario Dawson, Barry Pepper, Anna Paquin, and Philip Seymour Hoffman, who also worked with Norton on Red Dragon) as Monty Brogan; Lee's film, which screenwriter David Benioff adapted from his own novel, chronicles Brogan's last hours of freedom before he goes off to serve a sentence for drug-dealing. Whether he courts it or not, Lee's movies seem to attract controversy, and with this one, you can practically hear the pundits scream, "Now he's making a movie with a drug dealer for a hero!"
Norton's not bothered by the prospect of such complaints. "There's a difference between a hero and a protagonist," he says, making it clear that he's portraying the latter. "There can be a prescriptive effect, or a lesson learned by witnessing the tragedy of someone else's mistakes.... This is a story about the consequences of moral passivity, of what happens when you don't examine what you're doing."
For Norton, this New York story came at just the right time. "After September 11, it was tough to read scripts and feel there was a relevance to them; everything felt frivolous to me," he says. "This was the first thing that moved me, the first thing I felt had a healing message."
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