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Ed Of All Trades

Erin McGinn | Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Most movie stars of today rely on their personalities shining through in the roles they play, regardless of whether or not that fits the characters. Actors like Tom Cruise or Matthew McConaughey, in whatever film they star, always essentially play the same character – themselves.

Then there is another class of actors who never seem to do the same thing twice, and instead completely lose themselves in the characters they are playing. Johnny Depp is often mentioned at the forefront of this category. And although he has only been in the movie business for ten years, Edward Norton is quickly rising in his own right, treading a career path similar to Depp’s.

Even after seeing all of his films, it is enormously difficult to say what a typical “Ed Norton-type” is like. Norton immerses himself so deeply into each of his characterizations that his own personality disappears.

After spending his adolescent years in Maryland, Norton graduated from Yale University in 1991 with a degree in history. It was at Yale that Norton became heavily involved in theater, taking as many classes as he could in his free time. Actors Ron Livingston and Paul Giamatti were classmates and fellow collegiate actors.

After working in Osaka, Japan for his grandfather, Norton decided to move to New York and begin his acting career in off-Broadway theater. Shortly thereafter he began working in film, and found success with 1996’s “Primal Fear,” in which he played a young man accused of murder. This role won him both a Golden Globe and an Oscar nomination.

Norton continued to build up his impressive and diverse body of work with an incredible performance in “The People vs. Larry Flynt” (1996), and then was nominated for the Best Actor Academy Award for his role as a reformed neo-Nazi in 1998’s “American History X.” Continuing on his upward spiral, Norton co-starred with Matt Damon in “Rounders” (1998) and with Brad Pitt in the 1999 adaptation of Chuck Palahniuk’s novel “Fight Club.” He also received a great deal of critical acclaim for his starring role in Spike Lee’s “25th Hour.”

Norton, not limited to starring in intense dramas, has also found success with comedy. Norton films in this category include “Keeping the Faith” with Ben Stiller and the dark-comedy favorite “Death to Smoochy” with Robin Williams. Norton has covered everything from action (“The Italian Job”) to thrillers (“Red Dragon”), and has even dabbled in musicals (Woody Allen’s “Everyone Says I Love You”).

Aside from acting, Norton has become heavily involved with film in a variety of ways. Following his success directing “Keeping the Faith,” he’s directing the upcoming film adaptation of the novel “Motherless Brooklyn,” as well as writing the screenplay. The film “Frida,” for which he wrote an uncredited screenplay, was nominated for six Academy Awards and won two. He also recently won the Obie Award for his off-Broadway performance in “Burn This” by Lanford Wilson.

Norton also recently created Class 5 Films in partnership with his brother, Jim Norton. Class 5 has produced numerous films which have aired on PBS and the Sundance Channel. Class 5 is currently working with Brad Pitt’s Plan B and National Geographic to produce a ten-part series for HBO based on “Undaunted Courage,” Stephen Ambrose’s acclaimed book about the Lewis and Clark expedition.

Norton is also a committed social and environmental activist. The actor serves on the Board of Trustees of the Enterprise Foundation, which works to move families out of poverty and develop decent housing. He also created the Solar Neighbors program in Los Angeles, an initiative in which a solar energy company will donate full home energy systems to low-income families each time public figures purchase one.

A unique and admirable individual, Ed Norton is an inimitable actor, an entertainer who continues to be a respectable force in the movie industry.