Thursday, April 10, 2008

The Curious Clout of Edward Norton

Brooks Barnes wrote an interesting piece today on Universal's upcoming Marvel Comics film, "The Incredible Hulk," for The New York Times.

Now that I'm comfortably retired from full-time reviewing, I could care less about movies such as "The Incredible Hulk." No, what fascinated me about the article is what Barnes wrote about the film's star, Edward Norton:

"Mr. Norton and Marvel, which has the right of final approval on the film, have sparred in recent weeks over trims, among other issues, said studio executives involved, who asked to remain anonymous as they were not authorized to speak publicly. Mr. Norton — who was hired to rewrite the script along with playing the lead — has made it clear he won’t cooperate with publicity plans if he’s not happy with the final product, these people said.

"A spokeswoman for Mr. Norton said he had no comment. (David) Maisel (chairman of Marvel Studios) brushed off the friction as par for the course.

“'When you get to this point in the process, there are always lots of passionate discussions,' he said. 'Edward is very passionate. He is as passionate about the Hulk as we are.' (For those unaccustomed to Hollywood speak, 'very passionate' roughly translates to a seven on the 'he’s a difficult person' scale.)"

This isn't the first time that Edward Norton has made waves during a production, either rewriting or re-editing films (or both), and while I fully appreciate his prodigious talent as an actor, I also can't help wondering why studios sit still for it.

I mean, think about it: It's not as if Norton is a huge box-office star, along the lines of Tom Cruise, guaranteeing the studios big opening weekends. (Heck, even Tom Cruise isn't Tom Cruise anymore.) I'm not sure there is anyone who rushes out to see a movie because Edward Norton is in it.

And it isn't as if Norton has the credibility of being an Oscar winner. He's been nominated twice - the second time almost ten years ago - but he has no golden statue to give him the leverage you'd think he'd need in order to rewrite and re-edit films.

And he certainly isn't a wildly charismatic performer, a la George Clooney who everyone seems to like, or even a vaguely threatening one like Sean Penn. Fact is, we have no idea of what Edward Norton's off-screen personality is like.

And, finally, he is not the stuff of celebrity gossip. Fans don't hang on his every word and no one knows who he's currently dating - and, more to the point, no one seems to care.

So, I repeat my question: Exactly why do the studios seem so intimidated? Am I missing something?

If you have any ideas/theories, share.

(Artwork: The persuasive Edward Norton)

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Anyone interested in perusing some 2060 of my film reviews, dating back to 1994, can do so by simply going to RottenTomatoes.Com


jbryant said...

Yeah, I've never understood his "curious clout" either. Is it possible that ALL leading actors are accorded this clout in Hollywood, but Norton's the only one who lets the word get out? Ya gotta keep your star happy if you want him to promote the film, right?

I've always heard stories about Redford and others who insisted on rewrites that made their characters more heroic or likeable, but it sounds like Norton's script work is actually part of the budget.

Dick said...

This has been a studio problem ever since I got into the business. While Norton is not a big star, he is a credible performer.

The studios almost never say NO. I remember a story about a young actor who had achieved some success and was asked to promote a film in Europe. He agreed - if he could bring his girlfriend. No problem. Then he asked for a private jet. This is where I would have drawn the line. But the studio didn't.

On the weekend he was to leave, he also said he wanted to bring along five friends. They had no passports. At this point I would have told him to forget about it. But the studio got the State Department to open a passport office on Saturday so they could accommodate him. Then off the troop went on the studio's dime.

These guys have no problem going to the head of the studio to demand what they want. It's always been that way and will continue that way.

Sad, but true.

joe baltake said...

Great story, Dick. I can't believe the studios see no difference in one star demanding a private a jet and another wanting to interfer in the filmmaking process, even if it is driven by passion. I don't get it, but then I'm not paid the big bucks to run a movie company. I suppose they know what they're doing.

j kaiser said...

Face it, Edward Norton is just damn good at what he does.

joe baltake said...

It isn't a question of whether Norton is good at what he does. He is. I referrred to his "prodigious talent." However, there are a lot of actors in Hollywood as good as, or better than, Norton - people who are "damn good at what they do." No, my question is whether Norton has earned this kind of freedom. To reiterate, he's not exactly a cash cow for the studios - in terms of either prestigeous awards or box-office.

Y said...

The fact that it is news demonstrates that he has earned this level of freedom. It was probably part of the deal. I'm sure this type of stuff happens all of the time-- movies are an emotional business.

Anonymous said...

To the point, did any of Norton's fights end up benefiting the film? I assume he had final cut on Keeping the Faith, resulting in a wildly overlong romantic comedy. He also had a hand in the final cut of American History X resulting in a gross of under $7 million and a metacritic score of just 62.

I wonder if Norton is the type of guy who would benefit from being a cog in the studio system. His control may actually hurt his films. Meanwhile, studios sure stood up to Orson Welles back in the day.

joe baltake said...

I agree with your point on Welles, Godard, but the difference is that, in Welles' case, he was usually the director on the film - and he had proven himself with "Citizen Kane." My point is that Norton hasn't proven himself at all - except in terms of acting. He's like a young buck who comes in and takes over without paying any dues. I'm sure all of us can relate to that - all of us have worked with someone like that.

jbryant said...

I heard Norton did a rewrite on anonymous' post. :)

E. Norton said...

That's Mr. Norton to you.

Ben Atkinson said...

He is a great actor he has his own niche, yes he has a authoritative personally which reflects on his 25th hour and american history x characters.

Alex said...

I never comment on these types of things, but here I had. I disagree on the attraction of Edward Norton. I watched him many years ago in "Primal Fear" and thought he was chillingly excellent in that role. I saw "The Illusionist" on DVD and although I thought Edward Norton did a great job, the movie just didn't grab me. Then on the advice of a coworker, I rented, "The Painted Veil." I loved it. I loved Edward it in. Small gestures, looks, the way he walked--he became Dr. Fane in every way. That is the beauty of Edward Norton. We know so little about him because he believes that the less you know about the actor, the more believable he becomes in a role. Edward Norton BECOMES his characters. After watching "The Painted Veil", I systematically watched every movie of his I could get my hands on and was amazed with his performance in each and every one. It's true, he doesn't seem to have a huge, well-organized fan base, and I think that's a shame. But he does have many fans, and I am definitely one who would go to see a movie simply because Edward Norton is in it.
I would never go see "The Hulk" if Edward was not in it, and if he has problems with the movie, then maybe there is a problem.

joe baltake said...

To Alex-

To repeat myself - yet again - I never said that Norton isn't a good actor. Quite the contrary, I think he's great. What I'm questioning are his crednetials for rewriting and reediting movies.

To jbyrant--

Sure reads like Edward wrote it!

Glenn said...

I met the guy. Sorry, but he seems to think of himself as the big thing