At the New York premier of Leaves of Grass
With remarkable ease, Edward Norton transforms into each new character, giving so many layered performances worthy of a double take.
Yet in his latest movie, Edward will literally make you take a second look at him.
In Leaves of Grass, a film written and directed by Tim Blake Nelson, Edward Norton plays identical twin brothers, one an Ivy League philosophy professor and the other a small-time and brilliant marijuana grower. The brother’s lives intertwine when the professor gets lured back home to Oklahoma for a doomed drug scheme, placing Edward on screen in double vision.
The biggest trick for this was trying to create a natural rhythm between the two, Edward Norton shares with NYCastings at the Gen Art red carpet screening in New York City.
That was the challenge of it for sure, Edward says, trying to make it seem more overlappy and extemporaneous so it didn’t just feel like ping pong. That took a little figuring out but once we got the rhythm down we were all right.
Rhythm plays a major role throughout Leaves of Grass, which also stars Tim Blake Nelson, Susan Sarandon, Richard Dreyfuss, Josh Pais, Steve Earle, Lucy DeVito, Keri Russell, Pruitt Taylor Vince and Melanie Lynskey.
In one scene, Keri Russell speaks about life’s rhythm after quoting a passage to Edward’s Ivy League character from Walt Whitman’s poem To You …
You have not known what you are;
you have slumber’d upon yourself all your life,
Your eyelids have been the same as closed most of the time,
What you have done returns already in mockeries,
The mockeries are not you,
Underneath them and within them I see you lurk.
This passage suggests that a deeper, truer self moves beneath what’s visible to most and it details how the cast of Leaves of Grass prepared for their roles.
It’s interesting that you talk about rhythm, says Josh Pais who shares many scenes with Edward Norton, because that’s very key to how I work. I alter the rhythms of my body based on my intellectual interpretation of the character.
My character in Leaves of Grass’ was someone in chaos, internal spinning. His life was out of control and by the end of the movie I am literally in the floor spinning around so I had to take my body from a low spinning chaos to an out of control chaos.
I access the information that’s in my body and when first reading something I’ll have an intellectual interpretation. Then I ask how aware, how present, how lost is the character and how can I manifest that in my body? After that, it’s a matter of telling the truth, Josh says.
Co-star Lucy DeVito also uses an internal rhythm in prepping, by using her natural speech patterns.
I say the lines as if it was me, Lucy shares. I make the lines sound natural to myself, to my own voice. I get the words and think what does that mean in my head?
Musical maverick (and Grammy winner) Steve Earle tuned into the many versions of himself to play his tough character.
Everyone who performs in front of audiences makes themselves up to some extent, Steve says. But I’m fifty-five years old and have been performing in some fashion or another all my life. All the people I’ve become along the way I am too.
It’s challenging enough to become one character, so how did Edward Norton prepare for two roles at once?
It’s like doing Sudoku, kind of, Edward jokes. No, you don’t approach two characters different than one, he says. You still have to do the work, which is a very complicated process for Edward.
I never really bought into the idea that there is one technique for all material, Edward shares. I think that everything is a little different, everything has a different style, a different set of demands and you have to follow your nose and adapt to what’s right. I am not much of a believer in one system.
One method alone may not influence Edward Norton, but his work continues to make one solid impression on moviegoers.
Leaves of Grass opens to select theatres on April 2nd and it’s a must see because you get to look doubly at Edward Norton while doubling over with laughter at the movies many comical moments.
And speaking of double the fun…
The cast of Leaves of Grass also shared some personal advice for you, NYCastings actors, who are walking the walks of dreams:
I once heard Edward say to get to the place where you are just improvising, where the character is so in your body that you can just improvise and bring it to life and that definitely impacted me. To get to the place where you are not thinking about how to say a line, you’re just there.
My Dad and my Mom have helped me find the humor in things and I think that’s really important. When I am looking at something and I don’t connect with it, or it doesn’t hit me immediately, I try to find the funny and see what comes of that. And my parents are always good at taking off the pressure. It’s got to be fun. Breathe. Relax. Everyone is a little goofy and what’s exciting is everyone is different. Certain things are funny to certain people and that doesn’t mean you have to make them laugh. But if you can enjoy it, it will be different than what anyone else does.
There is a songwriter called Townes that was my mentor, I just did a whole album of his songs. He took an interest in me when I was seventeen and made me believe that maybe I could do this for a living. His advice was always put the cap back on the bottle or someone will kick it over and spill it.
I like this line from Spencer Tracey… Try to hit your marks and don’t bump into the furniture. I think that’s good.
For more good info on Leaves of Grass visit leavesofgrassmovie.com
The Gen Art red carpet screening of Leaves of Grass celebrates Gen Art’s continuing support of their alumnus. Tim Blake Nelson’s directorial debut feature “Eye of God” opened the 2nd Gen Art Film Festival in 1997.
For more information on Gen Art and their upcoming film festival visit www.genart.org/filmfestival