Edward Norton- Tonight Show appearance 4/14/00
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Jay Leno: My first guest: two-time Oscar nominated actor. His films Primal Fear, American History X, Fight Club. His latest film, which he also directed, is called Keeping the Faith. It opens in theaters today. This is his very first time on a talk show. Please welcome Edward Norton.
JL: Nice to finally meet you.
Edward Norton: You too.
JL: We've been trying to get you here for a while.
EN: Yeah, I know.
JL: You're a hard guy to pin down.
EN: No. Well, it's not 'cause I'm not a fan. I mean, this is an American institution, the Tonight Show. I grew up watching it and watched you and everything. My reluctance has never been the show, it's been the idea of me as a guest on the show.
JL: Why? Why is that?
EN: I've just always been convinced that your whole tradition of excellence is gonna grind to a screeching halt the minute that I come on.
JL: But that's the sign of a good actor. You ever meet these people that go, "I can do anything!" Get out! And they're terrible. So it's that self doubt..
EN: It is, it's always been about me, not about you guys.
JL: So what changed your mind. What finally pushed it over the edge?
EN: Well, I directed this movie and I got Tom Waits to give me a song for the title sequence. And I was talking to him at one point and my agent was calling me and saying "You know, the Tonight Show is open and you could go on it for the movie." And I was going, "Oh, I think I'd been terrrible on that and everything and he said, "You can go on," and told him I was talking to Tom Waits.. And I said, "See, Tom Waits has never go on the Tonight Show and he's still totally cool," you know. And then about two days later, I was talking to Tom Waits and he said, "I can't have dinner with you. I gotta reherse 'cause I'm going on the Tonight Show." And I said, "Well, that's it, that's like the sign." If Tom Waits is going to be on.. So you can thank Tom.
JL: I will. I will do that.
EN: Also, you've been sending me all these blankets and baskets of cheese and things.
JL: Little trinkets, little cups.
EN: I felt like I wasn't holding up my end of the bargain.
JL: Yeah, I don't know why cheese is considered a show business gift.
EN: It's kind of natural, you know, cheese..
JL: Before you go on stage, should you eat cheese? It's seems like the worst possible thing.
EN: I wouldn't. I didn't eat any cheese beforehand [he makes a face].
JL: I know your family is not in show business. Do they get a kick out of this? Do they enjoy..
EN: They do. I think they enjoy the extracurricular stuff more than I do, actually. A lot of these things I would never go to, but my sister pretty much insists. My sister Molly has gone with me to so many of these things so that this year at the Oscars when she couldn't come, I was going down the line and all the reporters were going "Where's Molly?" They were not interested in me.
JL: Now, you started in New York. Well, almost all of us did. I did too, but I imagine...
EN: Did you live there?
JL: I did live live there for a while. But you can't..I mean, at least in L.A., you don't freeze.
EN: No, that's true.
JL: Did you go through the whole crummy apartment thing?
EN: Oh yeah, yeah. Well, I still live in New York. I've gone through the various levels of New York housing. I had a no room apartment. It was about the size of your desk. I had no room, I had no refrigerator. And I lived there three years, very happily
JL: Just one little closet.
EN: Yeah. The room was the closet.
JL: was it a pull-down bed
EN: No, it was just kind of..you had to opt...you could either be at the bed or at the desk.
JL: Oh, I see. Either one or the other.
EN: No two people could..
JL: So when you had a date, you'd have to have one in the hall.
EN: When did you live in New York?
JL: When did I live there? I lived there in the 70's. I lived on 25 West 70th.
EN: Dustin Hoffman told me a great story, actually one time. He said that when he first lived in New York, he slept on a cot in the kitchen of Gene Hackman and his wife. And then I said, "Well, gee, what was that like?" He said, "It was a little crowded. But then, Robert Duvall moved in and it got really crowded." It was kind of hard to imagine those three people living..
JL: The intensity of those three people..
JL: "Is there anything in the refrigerator!" I mean it just seems like everything would be emoting at all times.
EN: Yeah, a lot of drama.
JL: Now, Keeping the Faith is set in New York.
JL: And I must complement you on this film because it's one of the few films about religion that doesn't make fun of religion. A religious person can .. It's about a rabbi.. Well, tell people.
EN: It's a comedy. It's not a religious film. It's a comedy.
JL: No, no. I don't mean it that way.
EN: [exhales sharply] This is our opening night. Nobody's going to go.
JL: No, No I mean it's a very funny, respectful film.
JL: If you were a religious person, you would not be offended.
EN: Not at all, not at all. We call it our 30 million dollar rabbi-priest joke. It's about a young rabbi and a young priest in Manhattan who are best friends and they both fall in love with the same girl who's come back into their lives. They knew her when they were kids. Ben Stiller plays the rabbi and I play the priest and Jenna Elfman is the girl in question.
JL: Right. Now, did you get advice from other directors? This is your first film that you've directed?
JL: Wow. Boy, it looks great. It's almost hard to believe.
EN: Thank you.
JL: I mean, the way it moves and the way you do this so well. Did you seek them out, did people call and give you..?
EN: I've been really lucky. I mean I've worked with some really great ones: David Fincher and Milos Forman, and Woody Allen and lots of other good ones. And they've all given me good advice over the years. And I wasn't sure, you know, if I should do a comedy, if it mattered.. And I was talking to Milos and I said, "Does it matter what you do as your first film?" And he went [imitates Forman], "I don't even remember my first four movies." [normal voice] So, I was like, "Well, okay, I won't worry about it too much. So it's a comedy. One of my best firends wrote the script. And we had gone to college together and written a lot of things together and he wrote this script. So it was this chance for us to make a movie in New York together, which we'd always wanted to do. And got to work at home. It's just had a lot of elements to it that made me want to do it, made it fun.
JL: Well, it's just very funny. Whatever you think a priest and a rabbi could do they do whatever can happen with them together, sort of does.
JL: I mean it almost sounds like the old joke- "A priest and a rabbi go into a bar..." And they do go into a bar.
EN: Yeah, that's where it starts. Yeah, I looked through the Leonard Maltin guide to see if I could find any other priest-rabbi movies anywhere in the history of film..
JL: No, there aren't. You're the only one.
EN: And I couldn't. So, at least it's original, which is hard to say.
JL: Now, I heard that..did Warren Beatty call you on this?
EN: Yeah, that's another person. He's actually, in some ways, the first person who gave me the idea 'cause I was at home one day and the phone rang. And I said, "Hello." And this voice goes, "Yeah, hold on a second." And like and goes..and I can here someone talking to his kid and I can tell it was him 'cause he has that, you know,..
EN: Talking to Warren is like being on call waiting all the time because he's like..At any moment, he might turn away. And anyway, I went back and said,"Hello." And he said [imitates Beatty], "This is Warren Beatty." [normal voice] And I said, "Oh, hi." And he said [imitates Beatty], "I think..I need to talk to you, I need to talk to you. I think you're like me and I want to give you some advice before you make all the mistakes I made." So I went and had lunch with him and he basically said, "I think you're going to direct movies and you should start right now, right now. Don't wait 'till you're ready. And so that was like the first big piece of advice that I got.
JL: He's a nice man, isn't he?
EN: He is. Yes, yes.
JL: Now what is this scene we're going to see here?
EN: Well, the rabbi and the priest and the friend..The rabbi's whole congregation is trying to set him up on dates with all these women that he doesn't want to go out with.
JL: Nice Jewish girls.
EN: Nice Jewish girls. And so, he's trying to get us to come a long with him on a double date, and the dates have been disasterous.
JL: Right, let's take a look. Keeping the Faith [Clip of Jake (Stiller), Brian (Norton) and Anna (Elfman) in cafe talking about Jake's upcoming date]
NOTE: at this point my cable gave out on me and I don't have the rest of the appearance.
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