Toronto Interview: Pride and Glory's Edward Norton
by Alex Billington
October 20, 2008
You've known him as Worm, Derek Vinyard, Monty Brogan, Eisenheim, and Bruce Banner, but get ready to know him as Ray Tierney in Pride and Glory. Every once in a while I have one of those rare opportunities to meet someone truly amazing, and this was one of them. I was lucky enough to interview Edward Norton, easily one of the most talented actors around, up in Toronto after seeing his latest film, Pride and Glory. Although it's a rather short interview, I got into a very deep level of discussion surrounding his character that rarely happens in any interview, and to me, that is a true dedication to the craft. So if you're looking forward to Pride and Glory or just want to hear from Edward Norton, then keep on reading.
In Pride and Glory, Norton stars as Ray Tierney, the youngest brother in a family of New York City cops father by Jon Voight. When his brother-in-law Jimmy (Colin Farrell) becomes a central figure in his investigation into the killing of four cops, all hell breaks lose and the integrity of the entire Police Department and the Tierney family is truly put to the test. While the film isn't exactly a fine achievement for filmmaker Gavin O'Connor, the performances from all the key actors, including Norton, are all top notch.
I'd love to start off asking how you got involved with this?
Edward Norton: Gavin [O'Connor] just brought it to me and said, "Would you be willing to read this? I'd love to meet and talk." I really liked his films. I hadn't seen Miracle; I had seen Tumbleweeds and really liked it. Then I watched Miracle and thought he took something that could have been a real cliché Disney film and made it really nice. I read his script. We got into a conversation and he didn't actually even know quite yet at the time how he was going to get the money together and all these things. I think I was sort of in this conversation with Gavin about trying to get it done for -- I'm going to say like over two years. It was like this thing. I said, "I'm definitely interested." It just took time.
The thing was in that time it kept evolving and things happened in the world that I thought made it more and more relevant in some ways. It kind of came around to where it was just one of those things. It just felt right. It felt like the group that came together around it was terrific. It caught me at a moment when I was really free and available to give it a concentrated effort and, like I said, I also thought stuff started happening in the world that I kept thinking, in my mind, I kept going to the script and saying, "Oh, it's sort of about that." It felt like the right moment to do it. Now, in a weird way, even with the delay, I feel like it's coming out at a moment that's very apt for it as well. It's had good timing all along.
How invested did you get in it? It seems like you've been attached or very interested from the very beginning.
Norton: Yes. This was fun. It was nice for me. I've got other things of my own I'm working on and things we're producing. This was Gavin and [Greg O'Connor's] production. It was Gavin and [Joe Carnahan's] script. It was really Gavin's show. It really was his thing. It was a real passion project for him. The whole group that came together around it, there was a very distinct sense, like this is a big deal to Gavin and it's his thing. We're his team on this. We're his cast. There was a good feeling of team. I was committed to it the way I am. But I liked falling back into a dynamic where I was among a good ensemble of actors really servicing a director who was very in charge of his production. It was nice.
In relation to the story, I feel like you and your dad, Jon Voight, are the only good guys. I was wondering if you think that's because your character's history, with his relationship to his ex-wife, is really what allowed you to be the kind of guy who would go after this and be the only guy who would stand up for these things?
Norton: I think the thing that's interesting to me about the way they wrote this family is that you've got this whole spectrum of attitudes toward the job, in a way. Jimmy [Colin Farrell] is obviously proactively going one way. The older brother [Noah Emmerich] is, in a way, committing a sin more of omission. He's not doing anything corrupt, but he's sort of accepting that a certain level of corruption is part of the status quo. Ray [Edward Norton], obviously, is on the far end of the spectrum and saying, "this is intolerable." I actually think the dad is in this weird place all his own, which is -- I think the dad has, in fact, become cyborged with the institution. He doesn't see the institution as something that is responsible to a higher line. He sees the institution as its own purpose and as his ultimate commitment.
I feel like it's almost that Rumsfeld thing where he's lost the recognition that the institution is there to serve a principle and that it still has to answer to that principle. He has become the institution and thinks that it is its own purpose, in a way. I think you get this nice universe of everybody's got their own little ethical benchmarks. I think Ray is the only one who I think is, frankly, really tortured by a sense that a line has been crossed that's not acceptable.
I really liked that scene when you guys were at the dinner table and he was talking about all of you, like he still loved all of you no matter what you were doing. I think that was going back to what you said about his involvement in the institution.
Norton: Yes. The thing that makes him so sad as a character, I think, is that he's at an age where he's looking at his life with this pride and these constructs that he's built, his relationship to the institution and this family that he built, that in his mind is proudly intertwined with that institution. But he's got these edifices that he's constructed and he's full of love and full of all these things. But the tragedy is, in a way, that he's not capable of seeing the things that are corrosive at the heart of both of them. You kind of have this doomed sense that -- I think it's almost Greek. These sons are not really going to become the men that they know they need to be on their own terms until they destroy their father's whole construct. It's kind of tragic.
You have a brother and sister yourself, right?
Norton: I do, yes.
Were you able to bring any of that into your role here? I have a brother myself as well and I think one of the things I rarely see in films, and this being an exception, is that sibling connection that there is and the feeling you have for them, even when you know they're doing something wrong. It's hard…
Norton: I do think that having a family, having siblings, informs your sense. I think these are totally different dynamics. This is a guy with an older brother who is more the one who sort of calls the shots and it's very different from my life. But I think that there's something at play that I think anyone who comes from a family can relate to.
One of the things I most liked about the way these guys constructed the script is that there's things that need to be said amongst these people and the people that they have the most difficulty talking to are the people they would say are the closest to them in their lives. Honesty, telling the truth emotionally in the movie is most difficult among family. I think there's something really true in that, the way that there's these people together full of love for each other and they are completely avoiding, ducking, and diving around the heart of the issue. It's almost like, the knowledge that if you say certain things in the family context, the fallout is too big. The price is too high. It's interesting.
Did you guys go to any police training for this?
Norton: Yes. We had dozens of technical advisors. We did sort of the tactical training. They put us through all the things so that we would do all the behavior of cops responding to situations correctly. But more than anything, the thing that was most valuable to me is we had a period of about a month and a half where we had just sessions almost every day with these guys. We had regular opportunities to just sit and talk with them. I found that incredibly valuable just to sort of pick their brains, ask them about their experiences and their attitudes and stuff like that. It was fascinating.
I was wondering if I could jump into Leaves of Grass for just a bit.
I wasn't at the press conference, unfortunately. Could you go into the story a bit more? I know you're the twin brothers but how does that play out and how do they come back together.
Norton: Tim Blake Nelson wrote the script. He's from Oklahoma and it's sort of, I think in some sense he's kind of written things that he himself feels pulled between. It's really about a guy who has left his roots in some ways and made himself over into something very different. He's an academic and a professor. He has to go home and confront his very rural redneck past and deal with the anarchy of where he came from. I think it's really funny. It's a very funny script. I think it's almost more comedy than drama. It's got this wonderfully eclectic cast of characters.
It sounds good. I'm really looking forward to it.
Norton: It is. It's fun. I'm looking forward to doing it.
Thanks to Edward Norton, Cynthia Swartz, and everyone at Warner Brothers for putting together this fantastic interview. Pride and Glory hits theaters this upcoming weekend, October 24th, so make sure you check it out. With Edward Norton and Colin Farrell, it's definitely not worth missing.