Edward Harrison Norton (born August 18, 1969) is an American film actor, screenwriter and director. In 1996, his supporting role in the courtroom drama Primal Fear garnered him an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor in a Supporting Role. A year later, his lead role as a reformed white power skinhead in American History X earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor. His other films include period dramas such as Kingdom of Heaven (2005), The Illusionist (2006), and The Painted Veil (2006); and other notable films such as Rounders (1998), Fight Club (1999), 25th Hour (2002), Red Dragon (2002), and The Incredible Hulk (2008).
Aside from acting, Norton made his directorial debut with the film Keeping the Faith (2000) and is slated to direct the film adaptation of the novel Motherless Brooklyn, set to be released in 2010. He is a member of the board of trustees of Enterprise Community Partners, a non-profit organization for developing affordable housing, as well as a social activist.
Known to play characters who have dual personalities.
Often plays intelligent but troubled characters
Following graduation, he worked in Osaka, Japan, consulting for his grandfather’s company, Enterprise Foundation, which works to create decent, affordable housing for low-income families.
On his return to New York, it took less than two years of waiting tables before the young thespian to capture the eye of Edward Albee, one of the most celebrated playwrights of the 20th century. Albee was working with the Signature Theater Company on a new production of Fragments. One audition and Norton landed the role, as well as a slot in Signature’s repertory company. He currently serves on its board of directors.
He played guitar with Courtney Love’s band Hole in two gigs in Los Angeles, in December 1998.
In July 1998, after a New Yorker jibe in a review of a documentary about Courtney Love, Norton sent the magazine a frameable letter. Norton’s missive was in response to Endless Love, a piece by Daphne Merkin centering on Nick Broomfield’s controversial documentary Kurt & Courtney (1998). The film, filled with speculation that Love’s husband Kurt Cobain death was murder rather than suicide, features a litany of Love-haters anxious to air their grievances. The magazine’s coverage of Broomfield’s film “along with Merkin’s thoughtful contributions” didn’t sit well with Norton.
When Norton met with the director for Primal Fear (1996), he told them that he, like Aaron, came from eastern Kentucky. Norton even spoke with the twang (which he prepared by watching Coal Miner’s Daughter (1980)).
His character Aaron Stampler in Primal Fear (1996), which was based on a book, did not have a stutter, but when he auditioned he gave him one.
Was one of the few celebrities invited to Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston’s Malibu wedding. [June 29, 2000]
During filming, he and Fight Club (1999) co-star Brad Pitt took soap-making classes.
Norton and Brad Pitt
He and Rounders (1998) co-star Matt Damon competed in the World Series of Poker at Las Vegas on May 1998 with the movie studio Miramax paying the $10,000 per person entrance fee.
His character, Worm, in Rounders (1998) was originally supposed to smoke but being avid non-smoker, he refused and the part rewritten as a non-smoker.
He worked as a waiter, a proofreader, and a director’s assistant to try to get his foot in the door in New York City. He applied to be a New York City cab driver, but he was rejected for the license because he didn’t meet the age requirement.
Speaks some Japanese, which helped when he worked, briefly, for his grandfather’s company, The Enterprise Foundation. He was assigned to the Osaka, Japan branch until he quit the desk job grind at his grandfather’s suggestion and decided to try to break into acting in New York.
Wilde Lake High School in Columbia, Maryland, where Edward graduated in 1987, built a new auditorium for the performing arts several years ago. He revisited his alma mater and gave a lecture on the day of the dedication. It is named after Edward’s grandfather, James Rouse.
Received a B.A. in history from Yale in 1991, but took many theater and Japanese courses as an undergraduate. He has said in interviews that he took as many theater courses as he could without majoring in theater.
The theme song for Keeping the Faith (2000) – “Heart of Mine” by Peter Salett – was not written specifically for the film. Salett is a good friend of Edward’s.
According to Yale’s newspaper, he has wanted to play the poet Dylan Thomas for a long time, but feels he’s not physically right for the part.
While a precocious 8-year-old actor, he asked a surprised director of a play, “What is my objective here?” The director was startled by his interest in acting.
His babysitter, Betsy True, went on to perform as Cossette in a Broadway version of Les Miserables. She was the one who originally piqued Edward’s interest in acting, taking him to see his first play, If I Were A Princess, at age six.
Auditioned for the role of ‘Rudy Baylor’ in the movie The Rainmaker (1997). The role eventually went to Matt Damon.
Got the role for Fight Club (1999) because director David Fincher enjoyed his performance in The People vs. Larry Flynt (1996), which was the only film of the actor’s that he had seen.
Dedicated his directoral debut, Keeping the Faith (2000), to his late mother, Robin.
Brother of Molly Norton and James Norton.
Turned down the role of Private Ryan in Saving Private Ryan (1998).
Oldest of three children.
Was considered for the role of Andy Kaufman in Man on the Moon (1999). Director Milos Forman could not decide between him and Jim Carrey and left the decision up to the studio. The studio decided to go with Carrey.
His grandfather, James Rouse, is credited with being the inventor of the modern shopping mall.
Lost several pounds for Fight Club (1999).
Holds benefit screenings of his films mostly at The Senator Theatre in Baltimore, MD to benefit some charities that includes the Living Classroooms Foundation and the St. Frances Academy Robin Norton Scholarship Fund in honor of his late mother.
Producers of American Psycho (2000) wanted him to play Patrick Bateman.
Played The Captain in a VH1 Captain & Tenille Behind the Music skit on “Saturday Night Live” (1975) with Drew Barrymore. The show aired the night before the 1999 Oscars where he was a nominee for American History X (1998). Barrymore accompanied Edward to the Oscars.
Has a tabby cat named Maggie, named after the character from Cat in a Hot Tin Roof.
Dated Salma Hayek. [1999-2003]
His grandfather, James Rouse, designed the planned community Norton was born in – Columbia, Maryland.
Did NOT attend the famed Yale Drama School, as reported in many news paper articles. He attended Yale merely as an undergraduate.
His father, Edward Norton Sr. was an attorney for president Jimmy Carter.
As a response to the events of September 11th and the increasing conflict in the Middle East, he contributed to establish the Middle East Peacemakers Fund at Yale University.
Norton already had two Oscar nominations before he was 30.
College buddies with Ron Livingston at Yale.
Was attached at one point to star in Hart’s War (2002) but walked away from the project and an $8 million salary. The role later went to Colin Farrell.
Voted International Man of the Year (2003) By British GQ Magazine.
Shares a birthday with Patrick Swayze, Denis Leary, Malcolm-Jamal Warner, Robert Redford and Christian Slater.
He served as Artistic Director for the Signature Theatre Company in New York from 2001-2003. He is currently still on the board.
Shaved his head and gained 30 pounds of muscle in 3 months by drinking protein shakes, meat shakes (blended roast beef), and lifting weights non-stop for his role as Dereck Vinyard in American History X (1998).
Was born in Boston, Massachusetts and was raised in Columbia, Maryland.
Was 33 years old when he played Will Graham in Red Dragon (2002). His predecessor, William Petersen, was also 33 years old when he played the same role in Manhunter (1986).
He speaks Spanish.
He treasures his private life and being able to live a normal life – and can’t imagine not being able to take the New York subway if he gets too famous.
Stuart Blumberg, Edward’s friend from his Yale college days, wrote most of what was to become the basis for Keeping the Faith (2000). Edward starred, produced, and directed the romantic comedy, but he also assisted Stuart in writing the original story.
Won a Village Voice Obie Award for his role in the off-Broadway show Burn This in 2003.
Drew Barrymore accompanied him to the Oscar in 1999 where he was nominated for “Best Actor in a Leading Role”
Did an uncredited rewrite of the script of Frida (2002).
Credits legendary acting coach Terry Schreiber as being a major reason behind his success as an actor. The story was that Norton, who speaks Japanese, worked a deal with Schreiber to trade acting lessons for Norton teaching Schreiber Japanese. Schreiber was to direct a play in Japan at the time, and agreed to the deal. Norton studied with Schreiber for about three years in the early 90s in New York, and his career subsequently took off. Norton wrote the introduction to Schreiber’s 2005 acting text “Acting: Advanced Techniques for the Actor, Director, and Teacher.”
Like fellow film actors Peter Sarsgaard and Jeanine Louise DeName, he studied at New York City’s famous T. Schreiber Studio.
Is an active member of Friends of The High Line, a non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation and reuse of the High Line – a 1.5 mile elevated railway that runs along the West Side of Manhattan. Norton appears in a video made by Good Mag about the conversion of the old rail line into a multi-use trail.
Speaks some French and said he really liked the work of Francois Truffaut, a French director.
The Incredible Hulk
Turned down the role of Bruce Banner in Hulk (2003), but took the part in The Incredible Hulk (2008).
Hulk and Tim Roth
Studied with renowned Hollywood Gun Coach Thell Reed, who taught other actors as: Brad Pitt, Val Kilmer, Leonardo DiCaprio, Russell Crowe, Ben Foster and Girard Swan.
Says if he wasn’t an actor he would be a pilot.
He was was going to play Terry Fitzgerald in Spawn (1997) but pulled out of the project.
Auditioned for roles in With Honors (1994), Hackers (1995), and Up Close & Personal (1996) before his film debut in Primal Fear (1996).
He often works out daily, mainly weight-lifting, before he’s on set.
Specializes in characters with multiple personalities, be it as a mental defect or a disguise. He has played people with several identities in Primal Fear (1996), Fight Club (1999), The Score (2001), The Incredible Hulk (2008) and arguably in American History X (1998) in which his character turns 180° during the course of the story and in Death to Smoochy (2002) in which he portrayed a professional actor and his character Smoochie the Rhino.
Following graduation, Norton worked in Osaka, Japan, consulting for his grandfather’s company, Enterprise Foundation. He also appeared in an ESL textbook, Only in America, used by Nova, a major Japanese language school.