Edward Norton: I wrote Wes a letter about Rushmore and that’s how we met
Against the glam and flashing bulbs of Cannes, Edward Norton strolls up to the table at the private beach bar almost unnoticed. With a characteristically laid back air, and dressed like it’s casual Friday at an accountancy firm, he seems fully aware of this apparent disparity. ‘It gets a little manic, and that’s never my favourite thing. But if you strip away the strange mania that’s developed, the tradition of Cannes is still very routed in a celebration of global cinema, it’s a really compelling spectrum of all over the world.’
Having starred in huge films such as his career defining Fight Club, Red Dragon with Anthony Hopkins and 2008’s The Incredible Hulk, Norton is keen to avoid the flipside of becoming a household name. ‘I don’t suffer, I’m not shy either. I think most people, if they were to experience people running at you with a large object in their hand, would have the same reaction; it’s about a very normal human response to abnormal behaviour.’
Norton is in Cannes promoting Wes Anderson’s latest film Moonrise Kingdom in which he plays the highly organised Scout Master Ward whose world collapses when his troop abandons him to search for their missing colleague, Sam. Set in 1965, the film stars Wes Anderson regulars Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman and centres around a pair of adorably rebellious twelve year olds, Sam and Suzy, who fall in love and runaway together to escape their individual miseries.
‘I love how Wes goes back into the way books and especially fantasy books can just occupy a huge, huge part of your life,’ Norton remarks fondly. ‘When Suzy thinks, “what do I need when I run away?”, she brings a whole suitcase full of her fantasy books. The idea that she believes and hopes she might have magic powers is very true to how much of your mental time you spend living in those worlds.’
It’s a surprise Norton and Anderson have never worked together before, they are of the same era and rose to prominence at roughly the same time. ‘We were making Fight Club when Bottle Rocket came out,’ Norton remembers. ‘Brad [Pitt] and I were so obsessed with it that we kept trying to slip references to Bottle Rocket into Fight Club and [David] Fincher kept saying, “I know what that is, stop it!”’
As the relationship between the two young lovers of Moonrise Kingdom blossoms over their letter writing correspondence, it’s somewhat serendipitous that Norton and Anderson’s relationship was sparked in a similar way. ‘I wrote Wes a letter about Rushmore and that’s how we met,’ Norton says. ‘He wrote me a very Wes Anderson-like letter back on stationary with some little character on it, I’m sure I still have it somewhere.’
Much of the film’s charm is seated in these vignettes of handwritten letters and ideas of honourable scouting that symbolise a mythical age of innocence. Part of this world, Norton’s Scout Master Ward is never without a cigarette clasped between his thumb and forefinger, smoking with ritualistic passion. ‘Wes sent me a big research file on scouts in the 60s and I’d say seven out of ten of the pictures of troop leaders were holding a cigarette,’ he says. ‘Europeans all hold a cigarette in such a relaxed way, but all these American scout guys, they used to pinch it really hard and sip it like this,’ and Norton immediately falls into character with a crab-like grasp on an imaginary cigarette.
Looking at photos of scouts is as near as Norton got to the real experience. A slightly more sombre veil drops over his face when asked about scouting in his hometown of Baltimore. ‘I wasn’t a boyscout. You don’t know what Baltimore was like in the 70s,’ Norton says of the town made cinematically famous by John Waters’ wonderfully trashy world of killer drag queens. ‘John Waters is not where I grew up, where I grew up is much more like the Wire, there were more drug busts in my high school than boyscouts.’
While filming Moonrise Kingdom, Norton bunked up with his director and fellow star Bill Murray, very much part of Wes Anderson’s process, which led Murray to comment that he has to save money before doing another Wes Anderson film. Norton is slightly less cautious about future Anderson projects. ‘If you’ve been working in movies for 15 years and you cant’ afford to do a Wes Anderson movie, you should fire your accountant.’Tagged in: Bill Murray, brad pitt, Cannes, David Fincher, edward norton, Fight Club, film, Incredible Hulk, Jason Schwartzman, Moonrise Kingdom, Red Dragon, Wes Anderson
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