If you’re looking for the quintessential NYC film this November, look no further than Ed Norton’s ‘Motherless Brooklyn’. It is the American actor’s second directorial venture which he also wrote the script for, produced and stars in — along with Bruce Willis, Willem Dafoe, Bobby Cannavale and Alec Baldwin in a part which reminds the audience of our current president before he became just that.
The film also features beautiful performances by Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Michael Kenneth Williams as well as one of the most romantic dance scenes in modern film. And don’t even get me started about the stunning soundtrack.
The film kicked off the 14th edition of the Rome Film Festival and it was lovely to gain some insight from its filmmaker, who also happens to be one of the most beloved — and least awarded — actors in the American cinema landscape today.
Don’t believe the sound bytes
We talk often of “fake news” but perhaps a threat more real and much more dangerous is the current obsession we have with sound bytes. Often featured in headlines and always taken out of context, lately these kinds of breaking news have made even Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese sound bad. About Spielberg Norton said “Stephen Spielberg is one of my mentors and idols and clickbait journalisms creates arguments,” and then tackled the Scorsese controversy by pointing out that “he has earned the right to any opinion he wants to have… He has probably forgotten more about cinema than any of us will ever be able to learn and there is a complexity to what he was saying…” So, don’t just mistrust fake news, also realize that with headlines you’re mostly reading what they want you to know.
Theater or cinema?
When asked about “the Method” which is the kind of training most American actors receive when learning their craft, Norton replied charmingly “people romanticize the Method but if you’re doing a musical with Woody Allen, he’s going to fire you immediately — Woody Allen has no place for a Method actor.” He also added that “the theater creates a certain musculature and a way of approaching text,” which of course creates a natural learning experience. When asked if he enjoyed more working on stage or in film, he replied “I like them both — in theater you feel like a rockstar.”
Spike Lee’s huge impact on contemporary filmmaking
Personally, I’ve always thought Spike Lee changed the landscape of cinema since his entrance onto the American film scene with films like ‘Do The Right Thing’ and ‘She’s Gotta Have It’. But to hear Norton mention his name as one of the influences in his own directing work was eye opening.
“Spike has continually confronted the challenges of morality in American life,” Norton said, and called ‘Do The Right Thing’ “an earthquake for all of us,” — us meaning he and fellow ‘The 25th Hour’ co-star Philip Seymour Hoffman. “He shifted for us the idea of what you should do with film,” Norton admitted and this shift had a “huge impact on ‘Motherless Brooklyn'” where the filmmaker tried to imitate Lee’s “meticulousness of his prep,” and managed to finish the shoot around New York City in 46 days. Norton acknowledged that he “couldn’t have done that without the experience of working with Spike Lee.”