“It’s efficient. My conversations with myself go very smoothly,” joked Edward Norton about writing, directing, producing and starring in the detective noir “Motherless Brooklyn.” He discussed the film with press and industry on Friday, October 11, at the New York Film Festival, where it was the closing night selection. Watch his complete press conference along with co-stars Willem Dafoe and Gugu Mbatha-Raw above.
“Motherless Brooklyn” is set in 1950s New York City, where a private eye with Tourette syndrome (played by Norton) tries to unravel a political conspiracy at the highest levels of the city’s government. It’s based on the 1999 novel by Jonathan Lethem, which Norton had heard about even before it was released. “Nothing more high-minded than the greedy actor in me was like, ‘Ooh let’s check that out,'” and when Norton “chased it down” he was “very taken with this character he had written: this hot mess of paradoxes — funny and touching, sympathetic.”
But while being a one-man-band of a filmmaker might be efficient, Norton admitted he was “scared of it,” even though he had directed himself before in the 2000 comedy “Keeping the Faith.” Who better to allay his fears, then, than Warren Beatty, who wrote and directed himself in films including “Heaven Can Wait,” “Reds” and “Bulworth.” Beatty told Norton how people doubted, for instance, the appeal of “a three-hour movie about American socialists with documentary footage from the era,” but Beatty told those naysayers, “But I want to see it. It matters to me. I think it has something to say about who we are, and I’m going to do it.”
Of course, Orson Welles was also famous for directing himself, and though Norton was quick to dismiss a comparison between himself and the legendary filmmaker, he did cite Welles as another inspiration: “Many of us have been inspired by people who took big swings … at making a big film about the American character. What inspires me about ‘Citizen Kane’ is that it treats people like adults … It assumes that people are smart enough to listen to a meditation on character.”
Before its New York berth, “Motherless Brooklyn” premiered at the Telluride Film Festival on August 30. It officially opens in North America on November 1.
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