By Hollywood standards Norton was a late bloomer, making his feature-film debut at 27 in Gregory Hoblit’s 1996 thriller “Primal Fear.” But with that one performance, a career was made. As Aaron Stampler, a homicidal altar boy who fakes a multiple personality disorder to avoid a murder conviction, the Yale grad scored his first Oscar nomination and established himself as one of the most compelling, intelligent and versatile actors of his generation.
Since that first triumph, Norton has become a favorite of the world’s most revered helmers, thanks to his willingness to lend his talent and star power to dark, challenging material. He scored his second Oscar nod for his portrayal of a reformed neo-Nazi in Tony Kaye’s “American History X” and continued to show off his range in Woody Allen’s “Everyone Says I Love You,” Milos Forman’s “The People vs. Larry Flynt,” David Fincher’s “Fight Club,” Spike Lee’s “25th Hour” and more.
“I’ve never really looked at my choices as being unconventional,” Norton says. “I’ve just gravitated towards less-commercial films because they all resonated with what’s been going on around me at the time.”
Norton kicked off 2006 in Neil Burger’s “The Illusionist,” playing a magician in turn-of-the-century Vienna who uses his gifts to woo the woman he loves, then starred in and produced the adaptation of Somerset Maugham’s “The Painted Veil,” a 1920s love story set in China that he had been developing for the past eight years. He also wrapped production on Gavin O’Connor’s police drama “Pride and Glory,” which will be released next year.
Norton has produced or co-produced five of the films in which he’s appeared, including 2000’s “Keeping the Faith,” which he also directed. Next up is the adaptation of Jonathan Lethem’s novel “Motherless Brooklyn,” on which he’ll do multihyphenate duties as writer, director, producer and star.
“I’ve always been interested in making films beyond the experience of servicing them as an actor,” says Norton. “If you get involved in something early on, it’s just natural to shepherd it through. If you don’t do that, no else is going to.”