'Heaven' can't mask talent of Norton
By Stephen Schaefer
Friday, May 6, 2005
Ssshhh. Edward Norton - who at 35 is hailed as one of the finest actors of his generation with two Oscar nominations ("Primal Fear," "American History X") and box-office cache with "The Italian Job," - is the big secret of "Kingdom of Heaven."
Though Norton has a major role in this $130 million historical epic of the murderous 12th century Crusades, he is unbilled and virtually invisible.
Credit must go to Ridley Scott's legacy as a visionary filmmaker ("Alien," "Blade Runner," "Gladiator"). His status was catnip to Norton, who leapt at the chance to play the film's pivotal figure, the Christian King Baldwin IV, who ruled Jerusalem benevolently with freedom of worship for Christians, Jews and Muslims.
Doomed yet gracious, the young king was terminally ill with leprosy. With his face wrapped in bandages, Norton's Baldwin wears intricately carved silver masks. Only his eyes are visible.
Cynics might assume that Norton, as a favor to Scott, voiced the role while an anonymous actor toiled on location as a body double. That theory would explain why Norton opted out of billing alongside supporting players Liam Neeson, Jeremy Irons and Eva Green, the 24-year-old French actress who plays Baldwin's sister, Princess Sibylla. But those cynics would be wrong.
"When I read the script, Baldwin was one of my favorite roles; he moved me so much," Green said. "And then when I screen tested, it was with Orlando Bloom and Edward Norton. Edward is one of my favorite actors. He's an idol."
Green's first scene with Norton was Baldwin's death scene.
"It was extremely difficult," she said. "I had to pretend that this was my brother, and I thought, 'How can I do this? I can't. I can't.' I was so stressed out. I don't know how to translate that into English, but I was a bit disturbed because when he did this scene, he reminded me of someone I knew who was dying. Edward has the sensitivity of a child and is able to do anything - anything. He's very rare as an actor. It was like a dream."
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