Norton's hands-on history in film

The Baltimore Sun

Edward Norton may be one of the best actors of his generation, not to mention a guy with a lot of Hollywood hustle. But after his recent tango with Marvel Studios and Universal over the final cut of the big-budget comic adaptation The Incredible Hulk (in which he stars), Norton has in all likelihood sealed his image as a prickly perfectionist.

Norton couldn't be reached for comment; the actor-writer-producer-director recently embarked on a monthlong African vacation at what would have been the peak of his promotional duties for Hulk. But during the past decade, the Maryland native has become infamous for a certain modus operandi that has put more than a few filmmakers' noses out of joint.

'American History X'

The character: A reformed white supremacist who, after serving prison time, struggles to keep his younger brother out of gang life.

Stickler for details: In addition to landing an Oscar nomination for the role, Norton was famously granted final cut of the film after producers exercised their contractual power to take it away from director Tony Kaye.

Back story: Kaye refused to back down without a fight, alleging Norton had replaced him to put himself in more scenes, and slammed the actor in a series of bizarre trade paper ads. Now Kaye says he wants Norton to appear in Humpty Dumpty, a docudrama he's putting together based on the making of American History X.

'Death to Smoochy'

The character: A sappy children's show host who's targeted for assassination by the show's defamed, deranged previous host.

Stickler for details: Despite portraying what costume designer Jane Ruhm described as a "hippie" character, Norton eschewed the rootsy wardrobe presented him and commissioned a suit made of hemp from Armani.

Back story: The quid pro quo product placement proved tricky. "I could have made Edward a great suit without having to go through millions of phone calls and negotiations," Ruhm told Premiere magazine. "In the end, I didn't want him to wear those clothes but ... well, he did."

'Red Dragon'

The character: An FBI profiler who enlists the help of Hannibal "The Cannibal" Lecter to catch a deranged serial killer in this prequel to Silence of the Lambs.

Stickler for details: Reports of on-set clashes between Norton and the film's director, Brett Ratner, are well-known. "He likes to challenge the director. It's all about intellectual debate," Ratner said in 2003. "Edward's instinct is going to be, 'I have to take over this film.' He's going to try to rescue the film. That's both a blessing and a curse."

Back story: Despite their frequent disagreements, Ratner recalled Norton's wanting to hang out together on weekends during shooting, and now they are pals.

'The Italian Job'

The character: Inside man on a high concept robbery (set in Venice, Italy) who double-crosses his gang and escapes with a king's ransom in gold bullion.

Stickler for details: With a tiny, dark mustache stretching across his upper lip, Norton delivers an adequately menacing, yet somehow perfunctory performance that perhaps came as a result of being forced to take the supporting part against his better judgment.

Back story: Taking on his breakthrough role in the 1996 courtroom drama Primal Fear, Norton signed a three-picture deal with Paramount - a fairly common practice for an unknown actor. But after he and the studio haggled for eight years over what Norton would do to fulfill his contractual obligation, Paramount finally placed him in The Italian Job with the threat of a lawsuit.

'The Incredible Hulk'

The character: Mild-mannered scientist Bruce Banner, who turns into the eponymous muscle-bound, green-hued monster in Marvel's new $150 million adaptation of its beloved comic-book character.

Stickler for details: Norton and director Louis Leterrier lobbied for a longer, nuanced film while the studio stood firm, insisting on slam-bang, action-movie pacing and refusing Norton the power of final cut.

Back story: The actor-writer has refused to promote Hulk - a deafening silence for a tent-pole film like this - outside of issuing a terse 257-word statement to Entertainment Weekly. It recasts the so-called "dispute" between Marvel/Universal and himself and Leterrier as a media misrepresentation that's really a "collaboration" in which the principal parties have simply agreed to disagree. Thanks for clarifying, Ed.

Chris Lee writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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