Listen: Edward Norton Discusses His New Film 'Motherless Brooklyn'
"Everybody. I'm Peter Travers this popcorn where we tell you what's happening at the movies and there's a movie out now that I truly love called motherless Brooklyn which is written directed and starred my guest Edward Norton Great Devere then too long. It's been way too but I talk about long as long as I've known you which has has to be going on twenty years. We've been talking about mother. It was really you've been. That book came out. Jonathan Lethem's book came out and he said I'm going to do that. Yeah this is going to be. But it's finally here. Peter I told you I would and I did I did but you know I can't wait another twenty wanted to do it. But how do you feel now. Really good I when something's been rattling around your head for a long time it is it is nice to get it out. It's sort of like I relate. My character has to read syndrome and obsessive compulsive disorder and when he talks about having glass in the brain. And that's a little bit how this project was for me. It was like glass in my brain. I want. It was uncomfortable and I wanted to. I did want to get get it out but apart from that personal compulsion to see it through. I'm happy with the way it came out. Maybe maybe more than I usually am. Actually it's saying the things I wanted to say and I think maybe you commented on this. It's it's sort of. I don't think it would have had the resonance that that it has now ten years ago. Honestly We were talking about this before we started just the difficulty of course as he has commented on very eloquently. I think in his kind of elegy to the how difficult theatrical films have gotten how difficult it has gotten to release original theatrical films. It's it's always a struggle for filmmakers to make original Ville visions. It's always been you see the cast we had in this film. We have Bruce Willis and Willem Defoe and Alec Baldwin and Google about the Ron and Bobby Kennedy Volley in great great actors. But you still have to. You still have to sort of struggle to find the resources is you need to make it. And I wasn't and I didn't need them. Two hundred million easy. My I got all my actors working the free on my actors worked for nothing to help me get it made honestly but you still but you still have to still have to figure it out. Well there's so many things in terms of mother Louis Brooklyn about what you have to do even with a studio backing him. You have a movie that maybe they don't know what the title is. Maybe maybe they never read Jonathan's book it'd be they're saying what's it about right. I'll what is this and that money has to be poured into letting them know what it is. Ask because not presold been John Game. Yeah No to do the property those things and look in my case. I I was there saying look. I WanNa make a big old fashioned period epoch about New York in the vein of the Godfather or L. A. confidential confidential. or any any of these great old fashioned movie experiences I think demonstrably audiences really loved right when they're good. We all love of those films and and I wanted to mash it up a little bit with other another type of movie. I love which you also have a pure you know sort of the underdog the the forrest gump. The Rain Man That idea of a a hero. whose very unusual has an unusual condition edition? That you've never seen before that you feel empathy for and the empathy that you feel for him the the fact that you immediately. You're on his side. That's part of what that's what pulls you through. A murky. It takes is one of the nicest guys you've ever played. WELL HE IS I. I think he's well. It's funny and someone said to me you've done a lot of people with Conditions are afflictions. I said No. I've done a lot of people who are fating conditions or yeah like like primal fear baking the score with Deniro in American History X. There's no faking. He's he's just. He's angry mentally ill and the truth is this character. He's not mentally ill he. Just has he has terrip syndrome so people they call him freak show but he's he's smart and he's intelligent. He's he's susu sensitive. The great thing about watching this movie is that it takes awhile sometimes for you to say my brain isn't working like Lionel's right. Oh He's piecing together this puzzle in his own head his own synapses and we're trying to put a linear thing that isn't there. No Oh but I I actually the only thing that I just. I think that Agreeing in house district buys by a certain point story. I think when characters this goes back to like J D Salinger Holden caulfield and catcher in the Rye when sometimes when a character tells you his own story right from the start you you relate you feel the emotional hook and I think if you set that hook early with a character if in this case Lionel in a classic detective voice over where he tells you I have something wrong with me. I struggle with it. I I have friends. Who Understand? Me like Bruce Willis but not everybody does and it's it's tough. You know you start to go. Oh I inside this guy I understand him. You want him to do well. You don't want him to trip himself up. You're always reform. I I just think what you're doing you're saying I don't quite know how he's piecing it together doesn't tell you know and that goes to what you've done with Jonathan Lethem's book set in the late nineties but you send it back in time as through the fifty S. I don't think anybody ever knew what to read sets the well. That's what you just said is part of the reason we put it in the fifties the the the isolation the characters isolation not just in terms of other people being a little less sensitive calling him freak show But if you know that he doesn't even know what he has your even more sympathetic. It's it's it's even more isolating to not know what's wrong with you in some sense but the other thing was honestly Jonathan and I both really like those movies. The the the old fashioned atmospheric feeling of those noir films from that era. The novel motherless Brooklyn Brooklyn is very interior it's inside the characters head but obviously a film is a big a bigger canvas. You have you've got to create a landscape for people to look cat and it's great landscape. Yeah it's that whole fifties thing that's going on in New York and why. Why no is called called motherless Brooklyn Yeah you know why basically has nobody so no one looking for him? But he has Bruce Willis's character yes when a minutes boys so he he has something. And that's how this movie starts. It's about who killed my mentor. Who did this and then we get what to me? She has a real chinatown by. which is where's what's festering underneath this? It's not just who murdered character. What's going on? It's it's what's going on. Well you had the water in La. That was going on. You Know Chinatown chinatowns. Great because it's about La's original sin. It's not just about Out a mystery it's about the idea that La is built on crime. And that's and that's that's what I like about our foams. They they do. What you said is exactly right? It says hey they say hey yes. It's a certain mystery and a certain emotional relationship is driving why he's investigating but really what what this about is the more he he takes us into the shadow we realize there are things going on in what we call our democratic like Galateri in New York society that are violently antagonistic to everything. We say we believe in which we see through the out Baldwin Characters or Robert Moses type character master builder under a person that says I'm GonNa create the city to look like this and then cuts out anybody who's an outside anybody who is into one percenter right which which is what goes to the topicality. Yeah even now and was a racist t the total race. Yeah and I think that idea of the way that the way that we actually baked people talk about institutional racism but discrimination was literally baked into the Way New York was built into a modern city. They literally did do things like lower bridges to the new beaches. They overpasses they set them too. Low for buses is to clear them. Because they didn't want black and Latino minority citizens coming to the new public beaches so they literally limited access and people think that sounds like a conspiracy theory but it happened though it did happen and we see it and yet these are things that you have in your screenplay screenplay this book added to. Yes what was in the book right when you collaborate with somebody like Jonathan Right. WHO's a really terrific right? I really great writer. Is He with you on. I couldn't have done what I did on. This was bowled you could call it. Yeah but but he doesn't say what have you done. No no no no. I wouldn't do that without checking it out out with him. I I felt that I felt there was reasons to set it in the fifties. We talked about that. He liked that idea because he likes those films and I think he he knew is fill his book we had a certain Surreal Meta modernism. If you WANNA call it data it's really about the interior life of this character. He he wasn't so married to the plot per se. The plot didn't wasn't like the story of my family or the story of my city. It was it's a very Byzantine mazed. It's really an excuse to write the character in some sense. You know he also loves Raymond Chandler and you know those guys marlow at the detective. Active in Chandler with went through a couple of novels right so we kind of approached it like his great character going into another the next another another story in terms of taking a movie which you've described we've talked about it now and putting it on the screen. Do you worry about it reaching reaching an audience putting out kind of putting out work that you do that you you have a deep feeling for is always It's always got Certain emotional risk no matter how thick skin you get over the years no matter how many no matter how many you know. I've been through quite a few experiences like I'm getting a a nice honor from the camera. Image Festival in Poland this year. It's the Great Cinematography Festival right. And they sent me a rundown of the films they wanted to review in this thing. And it's amazing like at the top line of of those kinds of assessments of films. I've done that people think are really Definitive or something like that. You have like fight club. And he's always in there and the twenty fifth and American history x is always in there and none of those films did well."