Edward Norton talks about his new movie 'Stone' and working with Robert De Niro

By Jen Chaney
Sunday, October 17, 2010; E08

Edward Norton is a movie star. But stand in the guy's presence -- in, say, a small, windowless conference room at the WAMU (88.5 FM) building in Washington, where Norton recently was preparing for an interview on "The Diane Rehm Show" -- and it doesn't exactly feel that way.

In fact, when Norton first rises to say hello, dressed in a black button-down, black blazer and pair of blue jeans, he looks less like an Academy Award-nominated actor and more like the CEO of an Internet start-up, or perhaps a more handsome version of the financial planner who helped you figure out when to refinance your mortgage. With his brown hair combed smartly in place, he certainly bears no resemblance whatsoever to the cornrowed arsonist he plays in his new movie, "Stone," which opened on Friday.

Norton, 41, has a lot to say about "Stone." In fact, the Columbia native -- the grandson of James Rouse, who developed the city -- has a lot to say about a variety of subjects, including why he chose to do "Stone," Robert De Niro's personality, his discontinued role as the Hulk and his love of the Baltimore Orioles. Extracts from our interview:

On how director John Curran persuaded him to do "Stone":

"It was a good script, but it was bland to me. . . . There wasn't specificity to it and it didn't -- I was worried that it felt like a film about a manipulation, and that just didn't interest me that much. But over the course of like a year, John brought much more of an engagement with the zeitgeist in it, especially when the economy tanked. He called me literally as everything went to [expletive] and he sort of said: 'Look, man. I really want to make this movie now.' . . . He said, 'I want to make a film about decay and a guy who's reaching a point in his life where all the constructs of his life -- marriage, church and his job, which are supposed to define a good life -- are being revealed to be hollowed out, kind of inauthentic.' And he said, 'I want to get into the desperation of people feeling their life kind of crumble under them.'

"And he started talking about the idea of imprisonment, literal imprisonment versus imprisonment in an inauthentic life. Those things started to be more interesting to me."

On what "Stone" co-star Robert De Niro -- with whom Norton also co-starred in "The Score" -- is really like:

"Because he's not very verbal, he's got this rep as kind of savant-ish or all intuitive, and it's so not true. He's like the most clinical, right brain -- he's like a librarian. I've never seen anybody who's more about the voice recorder and the notepad. He's like this wonkish, detail guy for weeks and weeks and weeks. Then he just pushed it out through this membrane [during shooting]. But it's not at all with him about emotional exploration. He, even more than me, I think, he was like very, very clinical about it.

"A lot of people will come in and say, 'Is he intimidating? Were you intimidated?' It's just not that way. That's people projecting a view they have of him based on his work, which is sort of bizarre if you think about it. You know what I mean? "

On his parting of ways with Marvel Studios on playing the Hulk in the upcoming "Avengers" movie:

"I really, really appreciate the degree to which people get invested in these things. People have been so, so warm about it and everything. But it would be both out of character for me, and it would be a real loss of perspective to make too much out of these things."

On whether he'll ever play a superhero again:

"They're very heightened stories. They're very mythic stories. I don't low-rate comics at all, because they deal in very archetypal and mythic ideas. Look, it's a challenging dynamic. It's challenging for everybody. I never take for granted -- those movies are big risks for companies. They cost a lot of money. As a result, the courage to be bold with them and allow them to be long and serious, if that's what you want to make, there's almost an endemic resistance to that.

"If I was to be pulled into it again, that's definitely what would pull me in again."

On his hopes for his hometown baseball team, the Baltimore Orioles:

"I kind of have a fantasy that [owner Peter] Angelos will move on and let someone else kind of refurbish it. But I think Cal Ripken is going to come back one day and be a manager/GM. He told me once he would be a manager if he could be a GM. So, I kind of hold onto this torch of hope that Cal's going to come back and bring this whole theory he's got of how to build a team and reengineer the Orioles."

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