Interview: Edward Norton talks working opposite De Niro in Stone!
No one can argue that Edward Norton is truly one of the greatest actors of this, or any generation. He blew onto the scene back in 1996 with his supporting turn in PRIMAL FEAR, and since then, his filmography reads like a list of modern classics. THE PEOPLE VS. LARRY FLYNT, AMERICAN HISTORY X, ROUNDERS, FIGHT CLUB, THE 25TH HOUR, etc. He's made so many great films, and in his latest, STONE, he plays the titular character, opposite his co-star from THE SCORE, Robert DeNiro.
Norton was kind enough to make some time to talk to JoBlo.com about his experience on STONE, which also involved re-teaming with his PAINTED VEIL director, John Curran.
It was a process- most of it came out of interviews I did with inmates in Jackson Michigan. When I would find people with qualities I thought were compelling, either physical, voice, stories, I'd record it. When John (Curran, the director) was free, he'd join me, interview them, and that's how we stitched it together- from these encounters with these inmates. And they were very helpful, invaluable infact. Every aspect you brought up, I encountered there.
What's interesting is that STONE is a much different film than the trailer makes it look. The character of Stone is not a clear-cut villain, and the plot is much more challenging than a good guy/bad guy kind of thriller. I mean, when the first scene is DeNiro's character threatening to throw his daughter out the window...
I couldn't agree more. I don't think I would have done it if it had been just that simple, people manipulating a good guy type thing... I think what John's done has made it so interesting, where half way through the film, you have this sudden realization that the manipulation you thought this is about is not where this is heading. That the guy who's darker might be the guy sitting in the chair, judging from the other side, and that the guy who's being judged might be having this deep experience and has moved on from his whole scheme. So everything you thought was happening has been upended.
What's the story behind the religion he discovers, Zokangor, that leads to his transformation mid-way through?
It's based on something real that's trademarked, but it on these prison bookshelves. A pamphlet promoting this kind of thought science or religion, or whatever you want to call it.
How did Robert DeNiro come on board? Had you maintained a relationship since THE SCORE?
Yes, we'd talked about trying to find something and danced around one or two things. This was the first one we both tuned into.
Well, it's great watching you guys match wits- with both characters obviously being fascinated by each other, and how the dynamic changes. How DeNiro's character, Jack even seems to be enjoying the game a bit at the beginning.
Yeah, and I really liked the way John cut it in the first part. At the end of each scene, you almost feel like there's mounting desperation in Stone, with him trying to figure out what to say to this guy. Oddly, after his illumination experience, and Jack begins his affair, it reverses with Stone being calm, and Jack on edge.
And it seems like such a departure from the whole good guy/bad guy formula, in that Jack's maybe NOT the good guy, while STONE, the criminal, might actually be the sympathetic one.
Ya know, a lot of people will talk about making challenging movies or something that's thought provoking. I think a lot of people don't walk the walk. They'll talk it, but at the end of the day they'll capitulate to that insecurity they feel when they're afraid people won't understand everything. And then, they spoon feed it and impose this very clear idea of what they want you to take away. That reduces the audience participation in thinking about the film. One of the things I admire about John is that he walks the walk. He really will go out at the end of the film and say, look- these are questions about God, the nature of authentic spiritual transformation, and he won't give you an easy answer. He gives you these characters and asks, what do you think happened here?. I think there are those filmmakers taht do that, like Fincher, Spike Lee, or in some or Bob's old films. These are films that have authentically ambiguous endings, like FIGHT CLUB, DO THE RIGHT THING, TAXI DRIVER. And then, people will say they loved those films, and want to see them again, and you can chew over it, and the reason is that they've left you so unsettled by the meaning of it, that there's room for you to think about it and debate it with people. That's what makes the films stick. The filmmakers take the risk that some people will walk out not knowing that the film meant- and I really like that John left a lot of it in the grey, that he doesn't surrender to the impulse to explain to you what it meant.
That's the good thing about it though. I saw it at TIFF, and a month later, I'm curious to see it again. I mean, I liked it the first time I saw it, but I would like to see it again, knowing more what it is. But a lot of your great films, like THE 25TH HOUR, and FIGHT CLUB are like that. I appreciate that, and I think most of the site's readers do too.
Yeah, and the films you're referencing, and AMERICAN HISTORY X...
DOWN IN THE VALLEY...
Very much DOWN IN THE VALLEY, I think people who found those films over time, with the estimation of them growing over time as people found them.
Oh yeah, and FIGHT CLUB is now universally regarded as a classic, where ten years ago, maybe it wasn't...
Yeah, and I hope I've put enough of those in the bank that I can say to people with some credibility that this is in that camp or vein, so don't wait for it to come out on DVD and check it out, because that's how we get them made.
It seems like the last film you did with John Curran, THE PAINTED VEIL is also picking up a cult following.
Yeah, I agree with that. I was at a screening in New York with John the other day, and all these women were coming up to him and telling him that's one of my favourite, most romantic movies ever...
I have to ask, what's the story being the soundtrack for STONE. I didn't see any score credits on the print I saw, but to me, that was one of the highlights of the film.
It's an eclectic mix. I'm pals with the guys in Radiohead, and Johnny, and Thom and I had talked about the weird theme with the tuning fork- and they were busy with their record, but they gave us a whole bunch of stuff that they had been working on that hadn't found it's way into songs. They gave it to John to play with, and he wove it through with stuff from Jon Bryan, and that's why it has this great pastiche feel because it's these different elements from different sources that John has woven together.
Gotta ask, when is Izzy Lafontaine going to to MODERN FAMILY?
(Laughs) Yeah, I think Izzy's kinda had his moment...
I couldn't believe it when I saw you show up on that. How did it happen?
Ty Burrell's a good friend of mine from New York theatre, we did a play together a few years ago. He's so friggin' funny on it I couldn't resist.
I also wanted to ask about Milla Jovovich, who I thought was great in this. It felt like a real departure for her. How did she come on board?
She's tremendous. I loved her in HE GOT GAME, and I had John and the casting director check it out. They both agreed she's not your average, vanilla type girl. She came in and was exciting to all of us.
Well, thanks for your time. I'm a huge fan of yours, and it was a pleasure to talk to you. Thanks. I think John got under-served on THE PAINTED VEIL, and I hope people get out to STONE and see it. His films deserve it.
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