Edward Norton Interviewed – ‘The Painted Veil’

     December 21, 2006

When Ifound out that Edward Norton was actually going to do press for The Painted Veil, I knew I had to be there.As a huge fan of his work, and the fact that he didn’t do the rounds for The Illusionist,I knew that if he was going to talk about this film than it must have beenreally important to him. Since it has only just come out in LA and New York, I know a lot ofyou will not have heard of it yet.

The Painted Veil is a love story in reverse. Thefilm is based on the novel by W. Somerset Maugham andit’s about a young English couple, played by Edward Norton and Naomi Watts, whomove to Chinain the 1920’s. The reason I said it’s a love story in reverse is the couple arenot in love when they get married. Well one of them was, but the other gotmarried for the wrong reason. It’s only when they move to a remote region anddiscover who they really are that the love begins to grow in both of them.

If you are a fan of Edward Norton, he’s once again great in thisrole. But for me to single out Edward on his own would be a disservice to therest of the cast. Performances were great across the board, especially NaomiWatts. Also the film looks great up on the big screen and it really reminded meof a classic Hollywood love story.

Beforegetting to the interview I would recommend watching the trailer as it does agreat job at showing you the lush locals that they got to film in, as it wasmade in China.Also the trailer doesn’t give the story away, it just provides enough to knowif you’ll be interested in this kind of movie.

The junket for this film was a press conference and whilemost of the Q and A is with Edward Norton, TobyJoneswas also there and he answers a question or two. His responses arein blue.

The Painted Veil will be expanding in the coming weeks so look for it soonwhere you live.

Questions:Edward, what is it about this project that has instilled passion in you forso long and why you’d stick with it?

Norton: Well, three years shorterthan Ron [Nyswaner]. Ron ten years. Myself seven years. Toby [Jones] gotinvolved three weeks ago [Laughs]. I guess that simply put anyone who lovesmovies and you watch David Lean films or a movie like ‘Out of Africa’ orsomething like that you cannot help as an actor to think about how fun it mustbe to have one of those kinds of experiences, what a challenge it must be tomake films with that kind of scope. So, I don’t think that many of those filmsget made and I think that a lot of times when they do get made they don’t getsent to me. So when I saw one that I thought had that potential in it, it wasvery hard to stop ruminating on it. On a specific level, just as an actor Ithought that it was so good. I don’t tend to see my life reflected in moviesabout people who meet when their dogs tangle up.

Questions:Oh, wow.

Norton: No, no, no. I’m not beingspecific. I’m just saying that I thought that it was a kind of romance that Iactually liked. It touched me and I felt like it was a story about the longstruggle of men and women to actually understand each other in a forgiving wayand I found that very touching because it is challenging. Reading it, it’s like– what’s the right way of putting it? It’s a challenge to you so that you cansay, ‘Am I capable of that? Have I done that? Have I been forgiving myself?Have I had the courage to forgive someone ever? Have I gone higher throughthat?’ So when you have that kind of a response to a piece of material to meit’s a good place to start because you already begin to see what you can offerthrough it, what it might give back to people watching it. All of that to me israre. Those things don’t come across my desk every week or every years. So allof that made me very persistent about it.

Questions:Your character was so vicious in some of these scenes. Does help you to get outsome of the aggression or passive aggression in your life, those moments in thefilm?

Norton: I don’t think that therearen’t any of us who can’t relate to the desire to poison our loved ones[Laughs]. No.

Questions:Anyone in particular?

Norton: No. I don’t know. I don’tthink that I use acting as an outlet for things that I don’t get to express inlife, and yet there is some sort of funny satisfaction in that. Maybe it’s away of venting off things inside of you. I don’t know though. Not to sound hifalutin, but I always gravitated myself towards Stella Adler who’s really oneof the great thinkers I believe about acting. She was always saying thatfundamentally she always considered acting to be an imaginative process whichis something that I kind of agree with. Other people I’m sure have completelydifferent attitudes towards it, but I’m saying that me personally, I enjoy theimaginative part about it.

Questions:How did you like your character, and was it easy or hard getting the Englishaccent down? Was it tough for you?

Norton: No. I think that thosethings are almost like a musical ear. I had a dialect coach on the film who Ithought – I’ve never liked dialogue coaches, and on this one I had someone whoI actually thought was incredibly helpful. The character, a lot of what I’vebeen saying is true, but anytime that a character emerges in slices and keepsdeepening and revealing levels that were not obvious on initial encounter,that’s very compelling for me.

Questions:You said a minute ago that you don’t meet people when your dogs get entangled.How do you think people go about meeting each other nowadays?

Norton: You know what, I said thatjokingly, but actually a really good friend of mine met the love of his lifewhen their dogs got tangled up. So I’m just saying that doesn’t happen in reallife. It just hasn’t happened in my life.

Questions:But how do you meet people then?

Norton: Oh, I never talk about anyof that stuff.

Questions:Do you believe in coincidence?

Norton: Sure, yeah.

Questions:Fate?

Norton: I don’t know.

Questions:Can you talk about your experience in China,and I know that you’ve shot in Japantoo? Can you talk about your experiences in Asia?Did you miss air conditioning or the food from home? What did you discover orsurprise over there?

Norton: I only missed aircondition one time the entire time over there. Mostly we had air conditioning.I think that I’d spent some time in Chinabecause my father lived in Chinafor a long time. I had not been to the big cities though, Beijingand Shanghai and I had not been where we filmedin South Central China, the mountains there. Ihad not been there either. So the experience of all the places that we workedwere new and fresh to me and really wonderful. It’s wonderful to work withChinese colleagues and initially feel like you’re struggling to communicateacross the language barrier and then in a fairly short time you find that youhave much more in common with these people who also do what you do. They’reyour brothers in filmmaking and they know the same things that you know and youfind the little quirks in the way that they work that are different from theway that you work. But on the whole, I guess that one thing I would say is thatI liked it much more than just being a tourist. I liked it much more than justtraveling through a place, working in a place and getting to know the people.It’s much more rewarding to me.

Questions:Did you pick up the language at all?

Norton: No. I can’t claim anyfacility with Chinese.

Questions:What did you discover in working with Naomi Watts as an actress?

Jones: Nothingspecific, I would say, that I discovered that I wasn’t expecting having seenher other work. She brings an incredible intensity to her work and yet seems towear it very lightly when you’re working with her. You’re not aware of it, butthere is incredible focus going on. Maybe that’s the mark of great screenacting and the sort of effortlessness of that kind of intensity. It’s whatdistinguishes it maybe from theater acting – maybe. I don’t know. I was reallystruck by her access to that inner life, if you like, of that character.

Norton: I agree with that. I mean,this is one moment out of many, but I thought that when Naomi showed up in Beijing. She was comingoff of ‘King Kong’ and we had to start the first week of the film and we had todo a lot of those scenes in the house in China which are some of theheaviest scenes in the movie. It’s the ones where the changes are starting tohappen in her where she comes to the shack and follows him into the bathroom totry to start to say, ‘Can we work on this?’ This was literally the first weekof filming and it was very, very challenging to do that without referencepoints to what the scenes are before that and things like that. She was verytired. I sort of almost watched her, saw her kind of take a deep breath and dothat thing that I think really, really good actors do which is instead ofcombating the state that she was in, she just took it and put it right into thework. She just embraced the way she was feeling in that moment and said, ‘Well,that’s what this is. I’m not going to try to layer something over the top.’ Ithink that was beautiful because it was perfect for the state that Kitty is in.I think that any actor who is worth anything fights the eternal strugglebetween what goes on up in here and the releasing of that and just getting intoit. So it’s great when you’re working with someone and you watch them make themselvesavailable to the moment that as it is. It’s beautiful and it’s great. I reallycan’t say enough good about her. It was almost the most intimate interactionwith another actor that I’ve ever had, certainly. I haven’t done a film wherethe two roles were that inextricably intertwined with each other. I just couldnot have asked for a better tango partner in a way.

Questions:Is it difficult doing the love scenes?

Norton: Not when you’ve workedwith the people for a long time, not if it’s embedded appropriately deep in theprocess so that there is trust and comfort there. I think that by the time thatwe worked on that in this film, and it’s a modest scene where there’s nothingtoo difficult there, but I think that by the time we were doing it in this filmwe wanted them to be together. It was nice and it’s also very technical. A lotof it is akin to dancing choreography. It needs to be choreographed.

Questions:Toby, can you talk about your character in this film?

Jones: Well, he’s a funcharacter to play because he doesn’t seem to belong to anything. He seems to beuprooted and yet he seems to bring something from where he’s been and from alldifferent aspects of his life. It’s fun to play something like because [Somerset] Maugham givesyou clues and objects that he spots in his room, but then we sort of allinvented things too. That’s the great thing about interpreting a character.There is a side of him that’s the best side of being British, whatever that is,and also something where he’s come here and instead of composing who he is he’slearned from where he’s arrived. I think that’s part of the blessing and thejourney that the two central characters have to go on, how to arrive somewherecreatively. It’s how to arrive somewhere and receive it and I think that he’sbeen on that journey in a very interesting way without losing who he is.

Questions:What’s next for you, Edward?

Norton: I made a film called’Pride and Glory,’ but it’s not going to be out until much later.

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