Edward Norton digs the double life. In “Primal Fear” and “Fight Club,” he played mild-mannered characters saddled with violent split-personality disorders. And then there’s his transformation from Bruce Banner to angry green giant in “The Incredible Hulk.”
His latest film, “Leaves of Grass,” once again gives Norton the opportunity to indulge his fondness for thespian duality, this time in the roles of identical twins, one an Ivy League philosophy professor, the other a backwoods marijuana grower.
“Most actors will confess, I think, they dream and scrap and claw for one great role,” Norton said. “So if you offer them two great roles in the same movie, you pretty much own them — they do whatever you want them to do.”
In this case, Norton would do whatever writer/director Tim Blake Nelson wanted. But what the actor needed to prepare for these parts was a whole lot of time by himself. “Me, alone in a room working it out,” Norton explained. “Someone would have locked me up if they’d seen me preparing for this. I went to Oklahoma where I could be alone, because if I stayed in New York they’d have seen me walking down the street muttering to myself.”
To achieve an air of realism, Norton and Nelson studied how past films have handled one actor playing identical characters. “[We] looked at things mostly to see technically how people had handled twins,” Norton explained. “And people have done wonderful stuff, obviously. We wanted to try to do a few things that broke out of the mold of just ping-ponging between shots and just having the occasional 50/50 [shot]. We really tried to work in some moving shots and have the dialogue overlap in ways that really make you wonder, ‘How’s that happening?’ ”
When it comes to the recurring theme in his films of duality, Norton sees “Leaves of Grass” as a departure in that this time he’s embodying two distinct characters — and he’s pretty happy with the result. “Watching it [at the Toronto International Film Festival] — watching people watch it — I am very pleased with how seamless it feels.”
Check out everything we’ve got on “Leaves of Grass.”
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