Bourne and the USA
YOU HAVE to feel for Edward Norton. His Bourne Legacy co-star Jeremy Renner gets to tear around Manila on a motorbike and scale remote mountains in the Canadian Rockies, while Norton spends most of the production on a New York soundstage. Not fair, surely.
“M’eh,” he shrugs. “Car chases aren’t as much fun as you think. You’re sitting in front of a green screen on a mechanical gimbo going like this . . .” He leans this way then that. At 42, especially when riding an imaginary motorbike, he retains much of the gangly boyishness that helped propel him toward stardom in the mid-1990s.
“Besides, I live in New York,” he adds cheerfully. “Shooting there is great for me. Take your tie off, home in 20 minutes. I had that one scene in South America with Jeremy. We shot that in Manila. But there’s a limit to the amount of time you want to spend in Manila. It’s not the Lawrence of Arabia experience you might have dreamed of at film school. And with the Scottish-Irish colouring . . . you know . . .” He tails off. Too much information. Edward Norton, though a perfectly cooperative interviewee when quizzed about movies – when he’s invariably thoughtful and never breaks eye contact – has always been rather reticent on the subject of Edward Norton. And just in case I didn’t remember as much from previous encounters, I received a polite, firm email from his people to remind me.
Suffice it to say, we won’t be asking about Courtney Love.
Norton has never seemed all that comfortable in the limelight. His latest films, Moonrise Kingdom and now The Bourne Legacy, arrive after a two-year absence from the silver screen.
“I did those two with Wes Anderson and Tony Gilroy back to back,” says Norton. “One was like being in summer stock theatre and having fun. The other was serious and silver hair. It was a pretty hilarious jump in terms of tone.”
Between jobs, we can only presume he lives quietly, working for various charities. He ran the New York City Marathon for the Maasai Wilderness Conservation Trust in 2009. He sits on the board of his family’s affordable housing trust, Enterprise Community Partners. He founded Crowdrise, an online network for volunteers and charitable micro-donations in 2010. He has been the UN Goodwill Ambassador for Biodiversity for more than two years.
He doesn’t want to crow about the charity work; the polite, firm email said not to speak of it. Following high profile romances with Ms Love and Selma Hayek, Norton recently proposed to producer Shauna Robertson, his girlfriend of six years and the only significant female presence in Judd Apatow’s locker room. But, with or without the polite, firm email, we know not to ask about that.
“If I ever have to stop taking the subway,” Norton told Vogue magazine in 1997, “I’m gonna have a heart attack.” His career, accordingly, has rarely stopped off in any one place for too long.
He’s the song-and-dance man from Everybody Says I Love You and Death to Smoochy. He’s the divided protagonists of Fight Club, The Incredible Hulk and Leaves of Grass. He’s the co-star and writer-director of Ben Stiller’s comedy Keeping the Faith. He’s those nasty pieces of work from American History X, Rounders and Down in the Valley. He’s a working actor who pops up in Ricky Gervais’s The Invention of Lying, Sasha Baron Cohen’s The Dictator and TV’s Modern Family. He’s a regular player on the shortlist for Greatest Living Actor, a notion that seemed to receive an official endorsement when he played alongside Robert de Niro and the late Marlon Brando in Frank Oz’s The Score.