Edward Harrison Norton was born on August 18, 1969, in Boston, Massachusetts, and was raised in Columbia, Maryland.
His mother, Lydia Robinson "Robin" (Rouse), was a foundation executive and teacher of English, and a daughter of famed real estate developer James Rouse, who developed Columbia, MD; she passed away of brain cancer on March 6, 1997. His father, Edward Mower Norton, Jr., was an environmental lawyer and conservationist, who works for the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Edward has two younger siblings, James and Molly.
From the age of five onward, the Yale graduate (majoring in history) was interested in acting. At the age of eight, he would ask his drama teacher what his motivation in a scene was. He attended theater schools throughout his life, and eventually managed to find work on stage in New York as a member of the Signature players, who produced the works of playwright and director Edward Albee. Around the time when he was appearing in Albee's Fragments, in Hollywood, they were looking for a young actor to star opposite Richard Gere in a new courtroom thriller, Las dos caras de la verdad (1996). The role was offered to Leonardo DiCaprio but he turned it down. Gere was on the verge of walking away from the project, fed up with the wait for a young star to be found, when Edward auditioned and won the role over 2000 other hopefuls. Before the film was even released, his test screenings for the part were causing a Hollywood sensation, and he was soon offered roles in Woody Allen's Todos dicen I Love You (1996) and El escándalo de Larry Flynt (1996). Edward won the Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Supporting Role and received an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in Las dos caras de la verdad (1996). In 1998, Norton gained 30 pounds of muscle and transformed his look into that of a monstrous skinhead for his role as a violent white supremacist in American History X (1998).
Known to play characters who have dual personalities
Often plays intelligent but troubled characters
Following graduation, he worked in Osaka, Japan, consulting for his grandfather's company, Enterprise Foundation, which works to create decent, affordable housing for low-income families.
On his return to New York, it took less than two years of waiting tables before the young thespian to capture the eye of Edward Albee, one of the most celebrated playwrights of the 20th century. Albee was working with the Signature Theater Company on a new production of Fragments. One audition and Norton landed the role, as well as a slot in Signature's repertory company. He currently serves on its board of directors.
He played guitar with Courtney Love's band, Hole, in two gigs in Los Angeles, in December 1998.
In July 1998, after a New Yorker jibe in a review of a documentary about Courtney Love, Norton sent the magazine a frameable letter. Norton's missive was in response to Endless Love, a piece by Daphne Merkin centering on Nick Broomfield's controversial documentary Kurt & Courtney (1998). The film, filled with speculation that Love's husband Kurt Cobaindeath was murder rather than suicide, features a litany of Love-haters anxious to air their grievances. The magazine's coverage of Broomfield's film "along with Merkin's thoughtful contributions" didn't sit well with Norton.
When Norton met with the director for Las dos caras de la verdad (1996), he told them that he, like Aaron, came from eastern Kentucky. Norton even spoke with the twang (which he prepared by watching Quiero ser libre (1980)).
His character Aaron Stampler in Las dos caras de la verdad (1996), which was based on a book, did not have a stutter, but when he auditioned he gave him one.
He and Rounders (1998) co-star Matt Damon competed in the World Series of Poker at Las Vegas on May 1998 with the movie studio Miramax paying the $10,000 per person entrance fee.
His character, Worm, in Rounders (1998) was originally supposed to smoke but being avid non-smoker, he refused and the part rewritten as a non-smoker.
He worked as a waiter, a proofreader, and a director's assistant to try to get his foot in the door in New York City. He applied to be a New York City cab driver, but he was rejected for the license because he didn't meet the age requirement.
Speaks some Japanese, which helped when he worked, briefly, for his grandfather's company, The Enterprise Foundation. He was assigned to the Osaka, Japan branch until he quit the desk job grind at his grandfather's suggestion and decided to try to break into acting in New York.
Wilde Lake High School in Columbia, Maryland, where Edward graduated in 1987, built a new auditorium for the performing arts several years ago. He revisited his alma mater and gave a lecture on the day of the dedication. It is named after Edward's grandfather, James Rouse.
Received a B.A. in history from Yale in 1991, but took many theater and Japanese courses as an undergraduate. He has said in interviews that he took as many theater courses as he could without majoring in theater.
The theme song for Más que amigos (2000) - "Heart of Mine" by Peter Salett - was not written specifically for the film. Salett is a good friend of Edward's.
According to Yale's newspaper, he has wanted to play the poet Dylan Thomas for a long time, but feels he's not physically right for the part.
While a precocious 8-year-old actor, he asked a surprised director of a play, "What is my objective here?" The director was startled by his interest in acting.
His babysitter, Betsy True, went on to perform as Cossette in a Broadway version of Les Miserables. She was the one who originally piqued Edward's interest in acting, taking him to see his first play, If I Were A Princess, at age six.
Was considered for the role of Andy Kaufman in Man on the Moon (1999). Director Milos Forman could not decide between him and Jim Carrey and left the decision up to the studio. The studio decided to go with Carrey.
His grandfather, James Rouse, is credited with being the inventor of the modern shopping mall.
Holds benefit screenings of his films mostly at The Senator Theatre in Baltimore, MD to benefit some charities that includes the Living Classroooms Foundation and the St. Frances Academy Robin Norton Scholarship Fund in honor of his late mother.
He treasures his private life and being able to live a normal life - and can't imagine not being able to take the New York subway if he gets too famous.
Stuart Blumberg, Edward's friend from his Yale college days, wrote most of what was to become the basis for Más que amigos (2000). Edward starred, produced, and directed the romantic comedy, but he also assisted Stuart in writing the original story.
Won a Village Voice Obie Award for his role in the off-Broadway show Burn This in 2003.
Did an uncredited rewrite of the script of Frida (2002).
Credits legendary acting coach Terry Schreiber as being a major reason behind his success as an actor. The story was that Norton, who speaks Japanese, worked a deal with Schreiber to trade acting lessons for Norton teaching Schreiber Japanese. Schreiber was to direct a play in Japan at the time, and agreed to the deal. Norton studied with Schreiber for about three years in the early 90s in New York, and his career subsequently took off.
Norton wrote the introduction to Schreiber's 2005 acting text "Acting: Advanced Techniques for the Actor, Director, and Teacher".
Is an active member of Friends of The High Line, a non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation and reuse of the High Line - a 1.5 mile elevated railway that runs along the West Side of Manhattan. Norton appears in a video made by Good Mag about the conversion of the old rail line into a multi-use trail.
Speaks some French and said he really liked the work of François Truffaut, a French director.
Following graduation, Norton worked in Osaka, Japan, consulting for his grandfather's company, Enterprise Foundation. He also appeared in an ESL textbook, Only in America, used by Nova, a major Japanese language school.
Ran the New York City Marathon in November 2009 in an effort to raise money for the Maasai Wilderness Conservation Trust.
Was a big fan of the "Incredible Hulk" comics and played the title character in a 2008 Adaptation.
In 2012, made a video for the campaign of President Barack Obama.
His 5 favorite films are: 1. "The Cruise" (1998), 2. "The King of Comedy" (1982), 3. "Tampopo" (1986), 4. "Who's afraid of Virginia Woolf" (1966) and 5. "Ruggles of Red Gap" (1935).
Married fiancé of six years, Shauna Robertson, in a secret wedding ceremony (2012).
Has a son with wife, Producer Shauna Robertson, born March 2013.
He has English, as well as German, Irish, and Scots-Irish (Northern Irish), ancestry.
Acting? It's a longstanding compulsion I've had since I was about five or six years old. I can literally identify the moment it struck me. I went to see a play [If I Were a Princess] in which a babysitter of mine [Betsy True, who later acted on Broadway] was performing. I was completely shell-shocked by the magic of this little community-theater play; it just riveted me.
I don't smoke and I don't want to smoke. I am not a fan of gratuitous smoking in films.
Life, like poker has an element of risk. It shouldn't be avoided. It should be faced.
If I ever have to stop taking the subway, I'm gonna have a heart attack.
Fame is very corrosive and you have to guard very strictly against it.
I've never felt any particular encroachment of the 'celebrity' stuff into my life.
I'm an actor and, each time out, I'm trying to convince the audience that I'm this character. Every little thing that people know about you as a person impedes your ability to achieve that kind of terrific suspension of disbelief that happens when an audience goes with an actor and character [he's] playing.
The more you can create that magic bubble, that suspension of disbelief, for a while, the better.
It's a nice position to be in; I'm lucky. At the same time, all the excitement of that has been put into stark perspective ... In some ways, the highs of it have been blunted, which in a way, is a gift.
First of all, you never make all things for all people and can't always pander to the broadest denominator. I keep an eye toward doing the themes that interest me. Do they move me? Interest me? Make me think? When I run across something that is provocative in an unsettling way, it appeals to me.
People wrestle sometimes making movies, and I think that conflict is a very essential thing. I think a lot of very happy productions have produced a lot of very banal movies.
I'm not interested in making movies for everybody. I like making movies for myself and my friends and people with my sensibility.
I always felt that acting was an escape, like having the secret key to every door and permission to go into any realm and soak it up. I enjoy that free pass.
Nobody makes me uncomfortable here. It's a place where you can be eternally anonymous. - the reason he loves living in New York City.
In fact, the United States today keeps on making the same sort of mistakes. We force those methods we think are useful on a few countries, hoping to make a few changes.
I get heartbroken flying into L.A. It's just this feeling of unspecific loss. Can you imagine what the San Fernando Valley was when it was all wheat fields? Can you imagine what John Steinbeck saw?
Just because you've made a couple movies, you've done some good movies, you've been nominated for some Academy Awards, whatever, nobody's entitled. It's a business. If they don't see it, I can think they're wrong, but I'm not entitled to a $15 million budget to make a film.
He has such a rich mellifluous voice. Anytime I would hear him speak, it would remind me of how flat my voice is. (about Ralph Fiennes)
[on showing Marlon BrandoLos Simpson (1989)] I showed him the episode where Marge gets cast in a musical version of "A Streetcar Named Desire". He loved it. Marlon loves stuff like that.
[on Robert De Niro] I look at De Niro, and the thing I admire about him is just the length and diversity of his career. He has just done so much wonderful work and so many different kinds of work. That to me is worth something.
[on his role as a policeman in Cuestión de honor (2008)] I started to have a special interest in this project when I thought this could actually be something that's reflecting the moment we are going through - in terms of a nation and as a culture - regarding a sense of ethics.
All people are paradoxical. No one is easily reducible, so I like characters who have contradictory impulses or shades of ambiguity. It's fun, and it's fun because it's hard.
I haven't personally really engaged in a lot of this new kind of social networking stuff like Twitter or Facebook or MySpace. I mean, the notion of people following what I am doing every day is like torture for me. It's absolutely the last thing that I'm looking for. It seems to me to be really just about social chatter.
When you're working on a creative thing, everyone has an idea, and they're pushing it. The first time you work with anybody, you have to get comfortable with the way another person pushes hard for what they want. Familiarity breeds contempt, people say. But I've found, for creative things, familiarity breeds peace of mind, because you realize you know someone better. You trust each other. You know not to take things a certain way, or a wrong way. You get to where you don't have to waste quite so much time with diplomacy. Things are a little more efficient.
We've had a seminal legal decision whereby the Supreme Court defined corporations as having the same rights as individuals. It's having a massive impact on our politics. It's unleashed unlimited corporate spending on our elections, which is terrifying. The facade is now fully peeled off. There's no pretense about having limitations over how wealthy individuals and corporations can exert an unhealthy influence on politics with their money. It used to be a game - now no one's pretending any more. Individuals can contribute $20million while previously the maximum was $5,000. It's a radical transformation. You wonder what will occur before people feel it's creating an imbalance which diminishes them.
I studied music, theater and fine arts. My mother taught English literature and courses on Shakespeare (William Shakespeare). She was a regular theatergoer and I used to go with her. When I was 16, I saw Ian McKellen do a one-man show called Acting Shakespeare. It had an impact on my sense that acting was something you could do as an adult that affected people, that it wasn't just for entertainment, that you could change someone's mind with it. I started performing in the theater a lot more after that.
There's been a shift from people buying DVDs to streaming them online. The studios have been asleep at the switch and suffered a huge loss of revenue from falling DVD sales. Unfortunately, that revenue was often what helped convince them to make films which aren't blockbusters. Studios aren't as willing to make mid-budget, more thoughtful films aimed at adults. It's more challenging to get those films made than it was.
I spent a lot of my early career in the theatre - and by that I mean as an usher.