Tag Archives: actor spotlight

Ed Norton’s Best Roles

We are very shortly headed to TIFF where one of the many movies we’ll see is Ed Norton’s passion project, Motherless Brooklyn. While not his first time in the director’s chair, it IS the first one he also wrote, and of course stars in as well, because what the heck. He’ll play a Tourette’s-inflicted private investigator charged with solving the murder of his only friend (Bruce Willis). It looks good, and it’s had me thinking about Ed Norton’s other famous roles, of which there are actually quite a few, though he tends to be a bit under the radar (by which I mean: he’s always been more of an actor than a movie star).

Born in Boston circa 1969, Edward Harrison Norton became an actor because his childhood babysitter starred as Cosette in Les Miserables, and he caught the acting bug from her. He went to Yale as an undergrad where he was friends with Ron Livingston and Giamatti, and though he took some theatre classes, he graduated with a major in history. He was working on the stage, in New York, when he auditioned for a role opposite Richard Gere in Primal Fear; DiCaprio had passed on it, and Norton was chosen out of 2000 hopefuls. At the audition, he claimed that, like the character, he came from Kentucky (he grew up in Maryland), a lie that went undiscovered since his twang was evidently convincing. He picked it up watching Coal Miner’s Daughter, and threw in a stutter for good measure.

Lest you think that Primal Fear (1996) is his first IMDB credit, let me assure you that he wasn’t a complete noob – he’d previously appeared in a plethora of roles (including The Museum Guard) in an educational video designed to help newcomers learn English.

Before Primal Fear was even released, his test screenings were causing a Hollywood sensation, and he was soon offered roles in Woody Allen’s Everyone Says I Love You, and The People vs. Larry Flynt. You may remember that Norton went on to win the Golden Globe for his supporting role in Primal Fear, and secured his first Oscar nomination as well: not bad for his first attempt.

Next he did Rounders (1998) with Matt Damon, and the two bonded by playing cards together (or, I suppose, against each other) in the World Series of Poker.

And then he earned his second Oscar nomination before the age of 30 for his transformative turn in American History X, in which he somehow extinguished the twinkle in his eye to play a Neo-Nazi, yet somehow keeps his humanity. And perhaps you’ve heard of his follow-up, a little film called Fight Club (1999)? Yeah, not to make Matt Damon jealous or anything, but he bonded with Brad Pitt by taking soap-making classes together. Hopefully with all safety precautions strictly followed.

And next we’ve got Keeping The Faith (2000), which is actually his directing debut. He plays a priest, and he and his rabbi friend (Ben Stiller) both fall awkwardly in love with the same woman (Jenna Elfman) even though neither of them can have her.

I took to Twitter to poll people’s favourite role, and American History X had a resounding win with 45%, including a vote from The Telltale Mind, and Fight Club pulling in a respectable 34%. Birdman took a surprisingly small slice with only 6%. Write-ins included Primal Fear, The People vs. Larry Flynt from Reely Bernie, 25th Hour from Matt of Armchair Directors, and even The Italian Job, this according to FilmGamer.

His more interesting roles this century include Death To Smoochy, The Illusionist, Moonrise Kingdom, and an astonishing supporting role opposite Michael Keaton in Birdman, for which he received a third Oscar nomination.

Motherless Brooklyn is his first writing credit but he’s done uncredited script work for 2001’s The Score, 2002’s Frida, and 2008’s The Incredible Hulk.

He lost a role to buddy Matt Damon in The Rainmaker. He turned down Damon’s role in Saving Private Ryan. He was the runner up to Jim Carrey for Man on the Moon (in which he played Andy Kaufman). He turned down the role of Bruce Banner in 2003’s Hulk but accepted it in 2008.

He’s had an incredible career but it feels like Motherless Brooklyn is a new frontier for him, and very likely a successful one (watch for the review – coming soon).

What’s your favourite role of his?

 

Harrison Ford

So I’m watching the Joan Didion documentary on Netflix the other day and who pops up but Harrison Ford. Double take. Harrison Ford?

Harrison Ford was born in Chicago in 1942. His paternal grandparents were Irish Catholic and his maternal grandparents were Jewish immigrants from Minsk. When asked which religion he was raised in, he often answers “Democrat” but if you press him, “As a man I’ve always felt Irish, as an actor I’ve always felt Jewish.”

Ford was active in the Boy Scouts of America and earned its second-highest rank, Life Scout, which is how Indiana Jones came to have the same rank in The Last Crusade. He worked at Napowan Adventure Base Scout Camp as a counselor for the Reptile Study merit badge. No wonder he was a “late bloomer.”

He studied philosophy at Ripon College in Wisconsin and took a drama class in his senior year as a way to get over his shyness. He caught the acting bug and moved to 727f29dfc0dc6a384507c9b1f560298c--harrison-ford-young-harrison-ford-carpenterL.A. but it was a long, long time before the acting bug caught him back. He had a contract where he did a lot of background and bit parts, and most of those are lost to the either; his first known role is of course uncredited but he played a bellhop in Dead Heat on a Merry-Go-Round (1966). His first credited role was a year later in the western A Time For Killing – he appears as Harrison J. Ford. He needed the initial to distinguish himself from a dead silent film star but in fact, Harrison does not have a middle name and so the J. stood for nothing and was soon dropped.

Frustrated with the crappy roles, Ford became a self-taught carpenter (he had a wife and two sons to support). He became a stagehand for a little band you may have heard of, The Doors, and he built a sun deck for actress Sally Kellerman, a recording studio for Brazilian band leader Sergio Mendes, and did a home renovation for, ahem, Joan Didion, with whom he remained close friends. He also expanded an office for a certain Francis Ford Coppola who then found roles for him in his next two films, The Conversation (1974) and Apocalypse Now (1979) in which he played an army officer named “G. Lucas.”

Coincidence or not (not), George Lucas hired Harrison Ford  – get this – to read lines with actors who were auditioning for his next film, Star Wars. Lucas was won over by Ford’s excellent line reading and eventually offered him the part of Han Solo, Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher on Fifth Ave outside The Plawhich would make him a star of a franchise that has now spanned 5 decades. Jesus. He was paid somewhere in the neighbourhood of $20M for the last installment, plus a 0.5% share of revenues; he was paid $10k for the first one, and was glad to have it.

Then of course came Indy. Spielberg wanted him from the get go, but Lucas, having just worked with him in both American Graffiti and Star Wars, preferred Tom Selleck. Selleck fell through and another iconic role landed in Ford’s lap, not to mention another decades-spanning franchise (with another scheduled for 2020 – with a new Blade Runner currently in theatres, this guy has to hold the record for the most absurdly spaced sequels ever).

Sequels are a theme common to his personal life as well – he is, after all, on his third wife. He was married to Mary from 1964-1979 and they had two sons, Benjamin and Willard. Then came Melissa (who wrote the script for E.T. – Harrison had a cameo as the school principal but it was cut), married from 1983-2001, with whom had two more kids, Malcolm and Georgia. Presently he’s with #3, Calista Flockhart, whom he met at the 2002 Golden Globes. He got around to proposing on Valentine’s day 2009 and they were married in June 2010 in Santa Fe, because that’s where he was filming Cowboys & Aliens at the time. They coparent her adopted son Liam together. He’s got 3 grandkids.

Harrison Ford has adopted many interests. From the set of Indiana Jones, he took up an interest in archaeology and now serves as a General Trustee on the Governing Harrison-Ford-Calista-Flockhart-Cute-PicturesBoard of the Archaeological Institute of America. He’s also the  vice-chair of Conservation International, an American nonprofit environmental organization, which as led to two species being named after him: a newly discovered spider now called Calponia harrisonfordi, and an ant henceforth known as Pheidole harrisonfordi. He also got to name a butterfly, and he named it after his daughter, Georgia.

He’s also really into flying. He’s a pilot, licensed to fly planes and helicopters. He’s got a big ole ranch in Jackson Wyoming – 800 acres, although he’s donated half as a nature preserve. Local authorities often call on him to pilot rescues for distressed hikers (one such rescue was later mortified she learned she’d barfed in Harrison Ford’s plane). He started his training in the 1960s but couldn’t afford the $15\hour cost; it wasn’t until the mid-90s when he bought himself a used plane and asked his pilot to give him lessons. This time his money held out until he was a confident pilot. He’s had a few critical incidents; in 2015 he broke his ankle and his pelvis in an accident. Not to make light, but he’s also been injured on the Millennium Falcon, and that one was definitely grounded at the time.

Harrison Ford has been nominated for an Oscar just once, for Witness, but lost to William Hurt.

Star Wars costar Alec Guinness could never remember his name:  “I must off to studio and work with a dwarf (very sweet – and he has to wash in a bidet) and your fellow countrymen Mark Hamill and Tennyson (that can’t be right) Ford. Ellison (? – No!) – well, a rangy, languid young man who is probably intelligent and amusing. But Oh, God, God, they make me feel ninety – and treat me as if I was 106. Oh, Harrison Ford – ever heard of him?”

After having lunch with friend Jimmy Buffett, Ford found himself jealous of his stud. So, at the age of 55, he went to the mall and had his ear pierced at Claire’s Accessories, just like all the 11 year old girls. Speaking of Jimmy Buffett, Ford once provided whip cracking sound effects on Buffett’s song Desperation Samba (Halloween in Tijuana).

The Mosquito Coast is his favourite of his own films.

He is credited with “creating” a fan favourite scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) because he was suffering from a bout of dysentery at the time of filming: during the scene in Cairo with the swordsman in black, the script called for a much longer fight, but because he was sick, he quietly asked director Steven Spielberg if they could shorten the scene. Spielberg’s reply was that the only way it could be done would be if Indy pulled out his gun and “just shot the guy”. The rest of the crew, unaware of the change, laughed heartily, and it made the cut.

He plays golf with Bill Clinton and went to high school with Hilary.

Harrison Ford turned down a part in Jurassic Park, which went to Sam Neill. He turned down Kurt Russell’s part in Vanilla Sky. He turned down Schindler’s List. He turned down the role of Mike Stivic on All in the Family, citing the bigotry of Archie Bunker was too offensive. He turned down the Jack Ryan role in The Hunt for Red October. Dragonfly (2002) was written specifically for him but he turned that one down too. He turned down Michael Douglas’s role in Traffic. He turned down Proof of Life, The Perfect Storm, JFK, Dick Tracy, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and The Patriot because it was too violent. He turned down Syriana, and that’s the one he regrets.

 

 

 

Paul Newman, 1925-2008

Paul Newman was a Hollywood legend who, let’s face it, deserved a whole post to himself.

Born in 1925 in Shaker Heights, Ohio, second son to Arthur and Theresa who ran a sporting goods store. His first role was at the age of 7; he played a court jester in a school production of Robin Hood. By 10 he was performing at the Cleveland Play 220px-Paul_Newman_1954.JPGHouse and was part of the Curtain Pullers children’s theatre program. He was briefly at Ohio University but war intervened (well, war, and the fact that he dented the president’s car with a beer keg). He enrolled at the Navy pilot training program at Yale but was kicked out when his colourblindness was discovered. He went on to serve in the Navy as a radioman and rear gunner. He likely would have died in the war but for the fact that on the day his unit was attacked and killed by a kamikaze pilot, his own pilot was grounded due to an ear infection. Back home, he completed his degree in drama and economics. He toured with summer stock theatre programs before putting in a year at the Yale School of Drama, which he ultimately left to go to NYC to study acting under Lee Strasberg at the famous Actors Studio.

He moved to Staten Island in 1951 with his first wife, Jackie Witte. He made his Broadway debut by 1953 in Picnic. His first credited role had come a year earlier, for a 1952 television episode of Tales of Tomorrow entitled “Ice From Space” which Paul-Newman-1112x1500obviously sounds like something I need to see. In 1954 he appeared in a screen test with James Dean for East of Eden, testing for the part of Aron Trask, the fraternal twin of Dean’s character, Cal. Dean won his part but Newman lost out to Richard Davalos. Even though it wasn’t successful, it would be fateful. That same year, Newman co-starred with Eva Marie Saint and Frank Sinatra in a live (and in colour!) television broadcast of Our Town – Newman was a last-minute replacement for none other than James Dean. Newman’s name would often come up for Dean’s roles. The roles of Billy the Kid in The Left Handed Gun and Rocky in Somebody Up There Likes Me were both ear-marked for Dean but went to Newman after James Dean died in a car crash. Although Newman’s first film for Hollywood was in 1954 for The Silver Chalice, it was a flop and he often talked about his dislike for it (he took out a full-page ad in a trade paper apologizing for it to anyone who might have seen it!). But just two years later Somebody Up There Likes Me was earning him acclaim and in 1958 he earned his first Oscar nomination, for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Also that year he starred in The Long, Hot  Summer with Joanne Woodward for which he won Best Actor at Cannes but perhaps more importantly, he won the heart of the woman he would love for the rest of his life.

Of course, Newman was still married at the time. He and Jackie had by this time had 3 kids: Scott, Stephanie, and Susan. Scott appeared in a few movies, including The Towering Inferno, but died in 1978 of a drug overdose. Newman started the Scott Newman Center for drug abuse prevention in his memory. Susan also stayed in the family business; she’s a documentary filmmaker with Broadway and movie credits – she had a starring role in the Beatles movie I Wanna Hold Your Hand, and had a small role oppose her dad in Slap Shot. But back to Woodward: they’d first met in 1953 but reconnected in ’57 on the set of The Long, Hot Summer. He divorced Jackie and married Joanne immediately. As glamourous as they were, they were among the first big Hollywood couples to move away from L.A.; they made their home in Westport, Connecticut. They stayed married for 50 years, until his death in 2008, and three daughters together, Elinor, Melissa, and Claire. Newman was of course famous for his devotion to his family, and you are undoubtedly familiar with his quip about his own fidelity: “Why go out for a hamburger when you have steak at home?”

In 1982, he and writer A. E. Hotchner founded Newman’s Own. It started with the salad dressing of course but the grand expanded to include pasta sauce, lemonade, wine, and more. But the most remarkable thing about the highly successful company is that Newman committed that all proceeds, after taxes, would be donated to charity. To date, the company has donated $500 million. Among the recipients of his philanthropy: protection for the first amendment; land conservation; religious 518ef81826479c420eb517da72e3ad1b1c7f16b0organizations; scholarships; theatre endeavors; a residential camp which he co-founded called Hole in the Wall Gang Camp, named for the gang in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid naturally where 13 000 kids are served free of charge every year; and another of his bright ideas, the Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy, which encourages CEOs of big companies to commit to charities – now responsible for $10 billion in corporate giving annually. Jeezum. So it’s not exactly surprising that Givingback.org would name him the Most Generous Celebrity of 2008; even since his death his foundations continue to generate good around the world.

Paul Newman was also a bit of a political activist. His support for Eugene McCarthy and his opposition to the Vietnam war meant he was #19 on Richard Nixon’s enemies list, which Newman often listed as his greatest accomplishment. Paul Newman supported gay rights, and gun control, and here’s a little factoid for you: he was at the very first Earth Day event, back in 1970.

Tireless, apparently, you may also remember that Paul Newman was a race car driver. He got into while training at the Watkins Glen Racing School for the film Winning, which came out in 1969. His first professional race was in 1972 at the Thompson International Speedway, where he entered as P.L. Newman, hoping not to attract Hollywood’s attention. He won four national championships at the Sports Car Club of America and came in 2nd at the 1979 24 Hours of Le Man, driving a Porsche 935. At the age of 70, he became the oldest driver to be part of a winning team in a major sanctioned race when he won at the 1995 24 Hours of Daytona; he would race in that again at the age of 80. The last work he ever did in Hollywood was to voice a race car named Doc in Pixar’s Cars; in fact, he’s received a credit for this year’s sequel, Cars 3, as well.

Paul Newman is one of only four actors ( with Laurence Olivier, Michael Caine, and Jack Nicholson) to have been nominated for an Academy Award in five different decades. 

1958: nominated for Best Actor for Cat On A Hot Tin Roof; lost to David Niven for Separate Tables

1961: nominated for Best Actor for The Hustler; lost to Maximilian Schell for Judgment at Nuremberg

1963: nominated for Best Actor for Hud; lost to Sidney Poitier for Lilies of the Field

1967: nominated for Best Actor for Cool Hand Luke; lost to Rod Steiger for In the Heat of the Night

1968: nominated for Best Picture for Rachel, Rachel, his directorial debut, which starred Joanne; he lost to John Woolf for Oliver!

1981: nominated for Best Actor for Absence of Malice; lost to Henry Fonda for On Golden Pond

1982: nominated for Best Actor for The Verdict; lost to Ben Kingsley for Gandhi

1986: WON Best Actor for The Color of Money

1994: nominated for Best Actor for Nobody’s Fool; lost to Tom Hanks for Forrest Gump

2002: nominated for Best Supporting Actor for Road to Perdition; lost to Chris Cooper for Adaptation

[Note: received an Honorary Award in 1986 for his “many and memorable and compelling screen performances” and the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award for his charity work in 1994.]

Paul Newman was known for his piercing blue eyes and his sense of humour. His likeness was the inspiration for the 1959 illustration of the Green Lantern. Early in his career he was often mistaken for Marlon Brando, and he obligingly signed autographs as him whenever asked. He was Jake Gyllenhaal’s godfather. When he lost $50 to Jackie Gleason in a pool game, he paid him in pennies. Turned down the lead role in Ben-Hur because he “didn’t have the legs to wear a tunic.” Turned down Dirty Harry for being “too right-wing.” Was in an epic, years-long prank war with Robert Redford. He could play blues and jazz piano. He’s been on a US postage stamp. Although Paul Newman was the actor other actors looked up to, he was also a man of many diverse interests.

Paul Newman died of lung cancer in September 2008, with family by his side.