Edward Norton, 'Motherless Brooklyn'
Yeah in 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. I would say almost everybody says these are great films that Spike Lee's best films that's David ventures masterpiece. American history x is still being cited. These all those films did poorly at the box office. They were underwhelming initial releases and and they none of the American history x you you know got nominated but the but most of them were fight. Club never was even in the awards conversation not even remotely. Nobody believed neither. Were twenty fifth hour right but you you you what you come to understand is that is that in this world. We're living in films. have an incredible capacity to ultimately get to people and they form their own relationship with people and yes it would be nice if something other than DC marvel. Comic Characters Somehow motivated the investment to sell movies at broad scale scale or or brought people out in large numbers. But at a certain point. You've gotta like separate yourself from that agenda you've got to recognize it's and this I. Martin Scorsese said eloquently and very generously. He wasn't he wasn't negating anyone else's pleasure in a certain kind of thing what you're saying. Is that for him. The experience that he wants to have of original unpredictable complexity emotional complexity complexity of character. That these these things you have to in your mind recognized that these things can coexist point about room in the theaters is I think is a very good one but but they can coexist we can have mass entertainment. But but you have to calibrate your expectations when you make this kind of work and part the reason I made it for such a modest cost is i. Don't want the pressure of you know making like Ben Affleck made live by night which is a very fine film when you make it one hundred twenty million dollars. You create the potential for catastrophe financial catastrophe right now. If you make the film the way I made made it you can have a very modest box office theatrical outcome and still do quite fine You know what I mean. And that's important I. I think that's what we're light at. The end of that tunnel is to that. Movies can be rediscovered. They have a shelf. Life by cub is the perfect example of that to me. Nobody would believe how that was treated when it came out. Critics were really tough. Love me no you know but the fact is that you were you you. I've said this before but it's not it's not be puffing but you write a rolling stone and I think the reason that rolling stone and in my view there's a vitality to it because rolling stones ethos and your ethos has always been I think to seek Zeitgeist guys right to look for what what is what is going on. In the way people are feeling about the culture they're living in and and it's not it wasn't just rock and roll like it's always been about like making sure what's what's giving people a sense of identification you know and the reason reason the reason you understood fight club and celebrate it is because you saw in it. It's capacity to let people see themselves. You know you knew that people a lot of young people feel these things and that is something humorous and dark but mostly that. There's a that that that it was observing as much as the graduate was in its day. It's observing mind. It's observing the tension. The young people feel about becoming almost almost ahead of its time. Rolling Stone is is does put music which is different energy. Brought me this and I'm grateful Thom Yorke. I don't know how you got him. Basically do this for your movie. Because he doesn't just say sure no the music that he put in motherless Brooklyn and what's there's is another energy that people relate to then this is fun it's This old school. It's a vinyl forty five of Tom. I'm Tom and flee the version. They did Tom Song. And then on the B side is the Wynton Marsalis beautiful version from that From from from ago which are both in the film but those are both things I love. Jazz was right for fifty s ten. But that's also I love that music and I think if there was ever a music. That has a terrific kind of quality. I liked it. It's it yeah pop jazz you know what I mean and I think that it also so has disincentive and Tom. You know great musicians like Tom who have explored dissonance and fracture in their music. They you you know. Tom Loves Charles. mingas right who was a great jazz innovator in terms of looking at atonal and ARRHYTHMIC dissonant you know explorations flirtations in this great. How would feed into your character? Everything that's happening and it just works. It has an energy to it. Yeah and I think there are lots of people by the way Tom Laughing. There's lots of people we you know there are some people who hear Tom's voice and radiohead fans and they know immediately. That's Thom Bjork. But we've had quite a few people we showed this in Atlanta and this this African American lady in her fifty s came up to me and she goes she goes. Who was the woman singing that beautiful? You know what I mean like. And she's like how that was like the Modern Day Billie holiday or something. I was like well. Her name is Tom but her name is that I talked to but but that's great to me that's great. I love if if it if it has a tonality and some people don't and they say like wow these things go together it shows you that you can make personal work and there are people people be responsive to it. You know I have to take a couple of questions from the outside of digital bring up bring it here. It is Mr Norton. Oh my goodness yeah. It's like you're on sack. Is there a director actor that you haven't had the chance to work with but you most likely to well I should. I should this film to Sean Penn the other night because he's always been one of those artists. Yes I'd I would act in one of his films. I would love to direct them in a film I would love to just act with him in a film because I think Sean has retained a very unique personal sense of his own own artistry and vitality and Yeah I'd love to work with Sean. And he he's had to tough it out to do that to Meryl Streep I Meryl Streep I would kill to work with street well Maryland you hear that. Let's do it all right one more one more. Let's see what this Abbey says. Do you ever find yourself humming songs from dentists MUCCI. I love you I do. Abby is a person who tastes tastes. That's all I have to say. The the answer is yes and you have great taste. Well you know that we always end the show and song. I did not know that well you forget but that's it. Do you remember a little bit of something from from Texas merging. Well I helped write some of those songs you did what was come on. It's in their Edward. Oh I did like there was a song. your Stepdad's not mean he's just adjusting thousand. Good Line you know give. I need to have something musical. I can't sing. You can know you can well. What songs in your head right now? What what's He? The funny thing is what's in my head. I can't sing. 'cause Tom and I can't do Marcellus trumpet. So there's a there's a in the theme of motherless Brooklyn Clem. I'll say this you can go out on this in the motherless theme. It's this it's this really lovely. Like bub-bubba bub-bubba Ma up up which kind of reminded me remember the Great Michael Nyman scores? Yeah Michael Nyman one of the really underappreciated film composers like the end of the affair. Great Film scored you remember that do repent beautiful piano film score like that. There's work on this. The Daniel Pemberton did that reminded me some ways of the best of Michael Nyman but but in that one wins Horn comes in wins horn entrance on that. I'll stack that up against any piece of music. The composition that we go out that anymore. Yeah but I got laid off so the trumpet.