- Golden Globe Awards
EDWARD NORTON (Birdman)
It has been 18 years since the audience heard about Edward Norton for the first time with his screen debut in Primal Fear (1996). In that film he starred as a young man accused of murdering an archbishop and not only came to surprise his own lawyer (Richard Gere), but also critics and the public. That role earned Norton a Best Supporting Actor Golden Globe nomination, which he won, as well as his first Academy Award nod. It was already obvious then that we were witnessing one of the most promising stars of his generation.
Edward James Norton was born on August 18, 1969, to Edward Norton Sr., an environmental attorney, and former teacher Robin, who succumbed to cancer in 1997. The actor, the eldest of three siblings, grew up in Columbia, Maryland, a town designed by his maternal grandfather, urban planner James Rouse. He showed a passion for acting when he was just six years old when his babysitter took him to a local theatrical production. He promptly enrolled at the Columbia Center for Theatrical Arts, an area conservatory for young performers, making his professional debut at age eight with a dinner theater production of Annie Get Your Gun, then Pippin, Peter Pan, and Godspell, before his teenage-year confusions sidelined his acting ambitions.
While attending Yale as a History major, Norton rediscovered the stage and took as many acting classes as he could. Following graduation, Norton, who had minored in Japanese, spent some time working for The Enterprise Foundation in Osaka before deciding to move to New York City to become an actor, where he played the part of the starving artist before finding success with the Signature Theatre Company. He later beat 2,000 hopefuls including Matt Damon for that crucial role in Primal Fear, and headed to Hollywood to begin taking up the mantle of “greatest actor of his generation”, bestowed upon him by critics. Two years later he transformed into a buff, neo-Nazi for American History X. Then he kept surprising audiences alongside Brad Pitt in Fight Club and shared credits with Robert De Niro and Marlon Brando in The Score.
In 2000 he made his directorial debut due in part to the urging of both Warren Beatty and Milos Forman with Keeping The Faith. “He’s not comfortable with being famous,” said Yale classmate Stuart Blumberg, with whom he wrote Keeping The Faith. “He hasn’t mastered the art of being a fake celebrity, but to his friends Edward’s the quintessentially normal guy. He’s funniest when he’s just being a nerdy goofball.” But Edward isn’t always a nerdy goofball. He is an actor who strives for excellence, as he points out: “I think everybody does a lot of acting, consciously or unconsciously. Nobody presents the same face to everybody all the time, and I think that’s why when getting into a role I set for a higher standard.”
Specialized in tormented, intense characters, he was known for eschewing Hollywood blockbusters, yet he worked on films like The Incredible Hulk and The Red Dragon – adaptated from the first novel about Hannibal Lecter – as the FBI agent taking on the famous serial killer. Norton explored life on the other side of the law in Spike Lee’s crime drama The 25th Hour (2002) as a drug dealer reflecting on his life on the eve of beginning a seven-year jail sentence. After that, he joined Charlize Theron and Mark Wahlberg in an updated take on the classic 1960s heist feature The Italian Job (2003). Then he worked on hits like The Illusionist (2006) and The Incredible Hulk (2008). His 2009 films include Pride and Glory with Colin Farrell, and Leaves of Grass, which he’s starring in as well as producing.
This year he adds yet another Golden Globe nomination to his career, as best supporting actor for his work in Birdman, Alejandro González Iñárritu’s tale of a fading star named Riggan (Michael Keaton), trying to pursue a Broadway career. Norton stars as cocky stage actor Mike, whose big ego clashes with Riggan’s. “The movie has a lot to do with ego and how ego propels you and hamstrings you,” Norton said after a public showcase in New York, adding that although the film technically isn’t a traditional superhero action flick, “the superhero genre is kind of the heart of the debate of the movie in a way.”
As for the experience of having played a role in this film, Norton keeps saying everywhere that Birdman has definitely been a new highlight in his acting career: “I had as much fun making Birdman as I’ve ever had making a movie. I think it was one of the most creatively satisfying experiences I’ve had — and I think it’s an incredibly audacious and very rare movie.”