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Norton birthing ‘Motherless’

New Line nurturing Lethem novel

Edward Norton, set to bow this weekend in “Fight Club,” will star in and produce the drama “Motherless Brooklyn” for New Line Cinema.

The studio preemptively purchased the Jonathan Lethem novel on Monday after rapid negotiations with Endeavor, which represents both Norton and Lethem, and New York literary agent Richard Parks. New Line paid a sum in the high-six figures to beat out other suitors for the novel, just published by Doubleday.

The book is Lethem’s fifth. He also wrote “Gun with Occasional Music,” which was optioned by the late Alan Pakula.

Norton will produce “Motherless” alongside writer Stuart Blumberg, with whom he worked on “Keeping the Faith,” Norton’s directorial debut. Blumberg is not set to write the “Motherless” screenplay; other writers have already put in bids.

“We’re psyched,” said New Line senior VP Brian Witten. “I worked with Edward on ‘American History X,’ and we’ve been trying to find another project to do with him since then.”

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In his brief screen career, Norton has played a diverse array of challenging characters, and “Motherless” gives him an opportunity to continue that pattern. He’ll star as a detective suffering from Tourette’s Syndrome who is pressed into duty to solve the murder of his mentor. Typically, the syndrome manifests itself at inopportune moments, and while most gumshoes keep their suspicions and leads to themselves, this character is often unable to verbally censor his thoughts.

“It’s really powerful — a great vehicle for Edward,” Witten said. “It’s a complex and interesting character, a damaged character, and that’s the thing that’s holding him back from achieving his accomplishments.”

The detective also has a love interest in the film, and there are funny moments as the story evolves, said Witten, who, with production chief Michael De Luca, will shepherd the project for the studio.

On edge

Norton received an Oscar nomination for his role as a repentant white supremacist in “American History X.” While that portrayal and his debut in “Primal Fear” — likewise garnering an Acad nom — were risky roles, Norton’s work in Fox 2000’s “Fight Club” may prove his edgiest turn yet. In the film, directed by David Fincher and scripted by Jim Uhls, he and Brad Pitt lead a group of disenfranchised youths who physically beat each other into pulp to get beyond the emotional paralysis of their generation.

Norton is currently in post-production on “Faith,” a Spyglass/Disney pic in which he stars with Ben Stiller and Jenna Elfman and which he produced with Blumberg and Howard Koch Jr.

(Christian Moerk contributed to this report.)

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