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His grandfather, the philanthropist James Rouse, championed social housing. He thinks the greatest artistic endeavour of recent times was not a performance or a film, but Radiohead asking fans to pay what they want for their albums. “I don’t know that I would politically pin myself down in that way.We need more definitions than the old ones because the old ones carry associations for people that are now somewhat toxic, and I think somehow divisive, and socialism for some people carries a pre-Sixties definition that puts certain people’s teeth on edge, as do words like ‘conservative’.Throughout his career, whether he has been working with Woody Allen, Spike Lee, or Wes Anderson, Norton has fluctuated between emotional extremes. I ask if it’s because he heeded Springsteen’s advice and now has a family. “I would say personal life, family life, you want to balance things, but it’s an interesting paradox because being an actor is not a thing you do all the time.If you are lucky enough, it leaves a lot of time to engage in other things and if you are engaged in other things that are really compelling or interesting or challenging to a different part of your brain or your personality, paradoxically it raises the threshold that a piece of work has to meet to interest you and pull you away from all that other stuff.A few years ago Edward Norton was sitting on a stoop in New York listening to Bruce Springsteen.Actually listening to Bruce Springsteen: the singer was sitting on the step next to Norton giving the actor some relationship advice. He’s a very self-analytical and self-demanding person who wants to be a real human being and work on what it means to be a human being and what it means to be a husband and father.”The advice Springsteen offered seems straightforward.I first became aware of Norton’s desire for authenticity when I interviewed him for a biography on Spike Lee.
He realises you can’t do everything at once, you have to sequence things like a chess master.” Social action runs in Norton’s veins.When I walk into the interview he despairs at the state of media today, especially what he sees as the commodification of news and sports journalism.He’s on the side of journalists when he complains newspapers are less and less interested in longer, more in-depth, analytical articles, the kind he likes to read.It’s also why he’s happy to receive prizes such as the career award in Locarno.
He says of the need to express approval of artists: “It’s a feeling I get when I watch Jacques Audiard films.
He reunited with Wes Anderson to play the nemesis Henckels in the highly stylised drama Both Keaton and Norton seemed to be playing versions of themselves in Birdman, or at the least the media perception of them.