Edward Norton says ‘Collateral Beauty’ a special movie about hope
Edward Norton in "Collateral Beauty."
NEW YORK — Edward Norton developed a keen interest in acting as a child and never wavered from that first ambition.
The actor, filmmaker and philanthropist started in theatre and made his film debut in Primal Fear (1996) opposite Richard Gere; the role made Norton, 47, an overnight success, earning him a Golden Globe award as well as an Oscar nomination, his first of three.
As an actor, the Yale graduate has it all — he can be the romantic lead, the dark villain, a song and dance guy or a bright green comic book giant; over his 20-year career, his films include American History X, Fight Club, The Illusionist, Red Dragon, The Incredible Hulk, Everyone Says I Love You, The Bourne Legacy, The Grand Budapest Hotel and Birdman.
Norton is an environmental and social activist and one of the developers of Crowdrise, a charitable fundraising platform. His endeavours involve not-for-profit theatre, affordable housing and wilderness conservation, among other causes.
Norton was in New York promoting Collateral Beauty, a film about a grieving father (Will Smith) who has given up on life. The man's friends — played by Norton, Kate Winslet and Michael Pena — hatch a devious plan to help him; a bit of Christmas magic is involved. Helen Mirren and Keira Knightley are also in the cast.
This is an impressive ensemble. Did you all help create your characters?
“I think that what we helped [writer] Allan Loeb and [director] David Frankel with, what we collectively kicked into, is what I’d call the levitation of tone. If you look at movies going back to It’s A Wonderful Life, or Terms of Endearment, stuff like that, these great films somehow straddle a lightness of touch and a sense of the humour of humanity, while also having really deep themes in them. And it’s not an easy balance. There’s a conceit in the film. If you look too hard at it, it could be silly, like Miracle on 34th Street or the angels in It’s a Wonderful Life. The principle challenge of this whole thing is the tonal balance, of the depth of seriousness underneath, while making it an experience that’s also full of laughter and magic and hope.”
You’re a father now and you have a lot of other irons in the fire besides acting. What about balance in real life?
“Everything’s great. Funny, [Collateral Beauty] touches on balance. It’s about deeper things than balance, it’s about loss, but there’s a thread running through this film about how you balance everything life throws at you, as well as the choices with that. And the older I get — I’ve been making movies 20 years — I realize, if you just stay within the same balance, it becomes not only not as interesting but corrosive to getting a wider life. Sometimes you have to de-weigh how much you’ve put into one thing and make more room for other things.”
You’ve had more choices in life than most people, wouldn’t you say?
“Probably my biggest challenge is that before family life [came together] I took on so many things beyond working in film in my creative life, you know, I started Crowdrise, and in the last five years I started a company and have 135 employees now, and it’s challenging. But the nice thing, where films are concerned, is that I’ve done a lot of them and I’ve done a lot of the ones I aspired to do when I first wanted to be an actor, so I don’t find myself as driven to work perpetually on films. Between Birdman and this one, it was three years. I was fine with that. I feel very comfortable waiting for ones that strike me as special or different.”
Collateral Beauty opens Friday, Dec. 16.