Oscar Actors: Norton, Edward–Background, Career, Awards

Edward Harrison Norton (born August 18, 1969) has received multiple awards and nominations, including a Golden Globe Award and three Oscar nominations.

Born in Massachusetts and raised in Maryland, Norton was drawn to theatrical productions at local venues as a child.

After graduating from Yale College in 1991, he worked for a few months in Japan before moving to New York City to pursue an acting career.

He gained immediate recognition for his debut in Primal Fear (1996), which earned him a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor and an Academy Award nomination in the same category. His role as a reformed neo-Nazi in American History X (1998) earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor. He also starred in the film Fight Club (1999), which became a cult movie.

Norton emerged as a filmmaker in the 2000s. He established the production company Class 5 Films in 2003, and was director or producer of Keeping the Faith (2000), Down in the Valley (2005), and The Painted Veil (2006).

He continued to receive critical acclaim for his acting roles in The Score (2001), 25th Hour (2002), The Illusionist (2006), Moonrise Kingdom (2012), and The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014).

His greatest commercial successes have been Red Dragon (2002), Kingdom of Heaven (2005), The Incredible Hulk (2008), and The Bourne Legacy (2012).

For his role in the black comedy Birdman (2014), Norton earned another Best Supporting Actor nomination.

Norton has gained notoriety for being difficult to work with, including incidents such as editing the final cuts and rewriting screenplays. He is discreet about his personal life and has expressed no interest in being a celebrity. Outside of acting and filmmaking, he is an environmental activist and social entrepreneur. He is a trustee of Enterprise Community Partners, a non-profit organization which advocates for affordable housing, and serves as president of the American branch of the Maasai Wilderness Conservation Trust.

He is also the UN Goodwill Ambassador for Biodiversity.

He is married to Canadian film producer Shauna Robertson, with whom he has one child.

Edward Harrison Norton was born into a progressive Episcopalian family in Boston, Massachusetts, on August 18, 1969. He was raised in Columbia, Maryland. His father, Edward Mower Norton Jr., served in Vietnam as a Marine lieutenant before becoming an environmental lawyer and conservation advocate working in Asia and a federal prosecutor in the Carter administration. His mother, Lydia Robinson “Robin” (née Rouse), was an English teacher who died of a brain tumor in 1997. Norton’s maternal grandfather, James Rouse, was the founder of urban planning enterprise The Rouse Company and co-founder of the real estate corporation Enterprise Community Partners. He has two younger siblings, Molly and James.

At age 5, Norton saw the musical Cinderella with his parents at the Columbia Center for Theatrical Arts (CCTA), which ignited his interest in the theater. He enjoyed watching movies with his father as a pre-teen, but later reflected that he was fascinated with the cinematography rather than the acting. Norton recalled that it was theater, not movies, that inspired him to act. He made his professional debut at the age of eight in the musical Annie Get Your Gun at his hometown’s Toby’s Dinner Theatre. At the CCTA, he acted in several theatrical productions directed by Toby Orenstein. At 15, Norton’s acting aspiration was further consolidated when he saw Ian McKellen’s rendition of the one-act play Acting Shakespeare at the National Theatre in Washington, D.C.

In 1984, Norton won the acting cup at Pasquaney, an annual summer camp for boys in Hebron, New Hampshire, where he later returned as a theater director. He subsequently immersed himself in movies, naming Dustin Hoffman and Robert De Niro as two of his early inspirations because “the ones [he] liked were also the ones who made [him] think [he] could do it because they weren’t the most handsome guys”.

He graduated from Wilde Lake High School in 1987.

He attended Yale College, where he earned a BA in History. While there, he also studied Japanese, acted in university productions, and was a competitive rower. After graduating from Yale in 1991, conversant in Japanese, Norton worked not-for-profit as a representative for his grandfather’s company Enterprise Community Partners in Osaka, Japan. He also trained in aikido in both the U.S. and Japan.

After 5 months in Japan, Norton moved to New York City, where he supported himself working odd jobs. He took six months researching different acting techniques, focusing on method acting. He later took lessons from acting coach Terry Schreiber after discovering he was looking for a Japanese translator to help direct a play in Tokyo. Norton described him as a great teacher who encouraged students to become “multilingual actors” with different techniques for versatile roles.

Norton also wrote scripts for plays at the Signature Theatre Company and starred in Off-Broadway theater. His performance in Brian Friel’s Lovers brought him to the attention of playwright Edward Albee, whose one-act plays Norton enjoyed. In 1994, Norton auditioned for Albee’s Finding the Sun but did not get the part. Albee found a new role for him instead and had Norton read for Fragments. The playwright was impressed with Norton’s rehearsal performance and cast him for its world premiere. Albee remarked that Norton was a rare actor “who really knocked me out”.

Norton recalled that he was inspired by Al Pacino, who also began his career in theater while struggling to establish himself in New York.

Breakthrough
In 1995, casting agent Shirley Rich discovered Norton. He then rented a studio near The Public Theater and presented his auditions of Shakespearean works to her. Impressed by his acting, she introduced Norton to the executives of the noir drama Primal Fear, an adaptation of William Diehl’s 1993 novel. He was selected for the part over 2000 prospects. Released in 1996, Primal Fear features Norton in the role of Aaron Stampler, an altar boy who is charged with the murder of a Roman Catholic archbishop and is defended by Martin Vail (Richard Gere). His performance was lauded by critics.

Norton won a Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor and was nominated for Oscar in the same category.

In 1996, he played Holden Spence in the musical Everyone Says I Love You and lawyer Alan Isaacman in the biographical drama The People vs. Larry Flynt.

In 1998, Norton starred alongside Matt Damon in Rounders, about two friends who urgently need cash and play poker to pay off a huge debt. The film and Norton’s performance received a lukewarm response.

His role in the crime drama American History X, released that year, earned him widespread acclaim.[31] In it, Norton portrays Derek Vinyard, a reformed neo-Nazi, who abandons his preconceived ideology after three years in prison. During production, Norton was dissatisfied with director Tony Kaye’s first screening. Consequently, he took over the editing (uncredited) and finished the final cut, which was 40 minutes longer than Kaye’s version. Norton did receive an Oscar nomination for Best Actor.