They’re two of the most talented and admired artists working today in Hollywood, and both Edward Norton and Tim Blake Nelson have impressed with their ability to write, direct and act while moving effortlessly from big-budget blockbusters to passion projects. Now, mere months after the duo joined forces on “The Incredible Hulk,” they have wrapped production on “Leaves of Grass,” taking their appreciation for duality to a whole new level.
“’Leaves of Grass’ is about an Ivy League classics professor who is lured home to Oklahoma by his eccentric, pot-growing brother to involve him in a scheme to help save the pot-grower’s life,” explained Nelson, who wrote, directed and appears in the film, which recently wrapped principal photography.
“Edward Norton plays identical twins, and the movie pits two philosophies against one another, as depicted by the same actor. One is a rationalist, and one is a hedonist. And the movie explores those two approaches on how to live a life.”
Check out this first-look photo of the “Fight Club” and “Illusionist” star, playing both sides of a very conflicted brotherhood. “It’s a film whose primary purpose is to entertain; so really at the heart of it, you’re watching an extraordinary actor playing these twins. The movie is hopefully funny, unpredictable, and unique,” explained Nelson to us, saying that he heads into the edit bay next week to finish the film that emerged from his own frustration with the inner-workings of Hollywood. “I wrote ‘Leaves of Grass’ in the rubble of some very bad professional stuff happening in my life; I had a movie that fell apart in pre-production.”
That film was called “Seasons of Dust," and was to have starred Orlando Bloom and Kate Bosworth. “I was almost trying to cheer myself up,” the “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” star remembered of that project’s frustrating death. “’Leaves of Grass’ is about a guy whose whole life falls apart; I chose to deal with things comedically rather than tragically.”
Nelson’s film features some heavy-hitters (including Susan Sarandon, Richard Dreyfuss and Keri Russell) who were eager to work with the duo - and might also give some people a few ideas for their next vacation destination if Amsterdam is a bit too expensive. “Most of the film takes place in this little area of Oklahoma called Little Dixie; it’s in the southeastern part of the state. It’s like its own state within the state…it’s where pot is grown in Oklahoma, and it’s world-renowned,” he laughed. “There are hunters down there as well, and there’s sort of an old West violence to the place, and for whatever reason crossbows are ubiquitous there.”
But ultimately, the biggest problem for the film may someday be deciding which Norton campaigns for the Best Actor Oscar and which one has to take Best Supporting. “You couldn’t believe that it was the same actor playing the two; it was just breathtaking,” Nelson marveled. “There were technical challenges to be sure…and so we did motion control and split-screen approaches, depending on the needs of the scene, and I think that will work really well…We always had to do both characters in the same day, because the camera was blocked off. It was always one character for the first half of the day, and the other character for the second.”
“It’s very exciting to watch, and very exciting to direct,” he added. “He was incredibly meticulous in his approach, and the result is going to be really jaw-dropping.”
What is your favorite multiple-character performance in a movie?