Spotlight: Edward Norton

Profile of an actor famed for adding genuine depth and gravitas to challenging lead roles

Feature by Paul Mitchell | 16 May 2006
  • Spotlight: Edward Norton

It was a seminal movie moment. The sickening crack of impromptu dental 'surgery', the muscular torso tattooed with every conceivable white supremacist insignia, the lingering, malevolent stare when confronted by would-be captors: Edward Norton's controversial 1998 portrayal of neo-Nazi Derek Vinyard in 'American History X' was to become one of Hollywood's defining iconic images.

In Norton, it seemed, a genuine diamond had been unearthed. Honoured with an Oscar nomination the previous year for his acting debut in 'Primal Fear', he was lauded to the rafters when 'Fight Club' was released in 1999. By now Norton was being loftily compared to Marlon Brando; an actor capable of adding genuine depth and gravitas to challenging lead roles.

Tragically, in Brando's case, the pressures of phenomenal talent and early success were to weigh (quite literally) very heavily. And so, in what seemed like a ploy to stop being typecast as the perennial alpha-male, Norton began to diversify. He began producing, directing and stretching his acting portfolio to include 'light entertainment'. Comedy turns in 'Keeping the Faith' (his directorial debut in 2000) and as Smoochy the Rhino in 2002's 'Death to Smoochy' were tepid at best, as were roles in formulaic thrillers 'The Score' and 'Red Dragon'.

Comparatively quiet since then, the next few months will allow us to mark the progress of Mr Norton as he stars in a trio of promising films. David Jacobson's 'Down in the Valley' is released this month after debuting to a good reaction at last year's Cannes Film Festival. Ostensibly a crime thriller, Norton steals the show as a delusional man who believes he's a cowboy. He is set to star as a bacteriologist opposite Naomi Watts in 'The Painted Veil', and a role as Eisenheim the Magician in 'The Illusionist' has already been tipped as the one that could furnish this talented thesp with an overdue Oscar. We wait with interest.

Down in the Valley is released on May 26