Labor of love gets a boost as Edward Norton’s ‘Motherless Brooklyn’ screens for NYC guild crowd

Warner Brothers screened “Motherless Brooklyn” for around 100 WGA, Oscar and DGA voters on Sunday, November 24, in Manhattan. The event was hosted by actor/director Bob Balaban, who welcomed the crowd: “I’m here for absolutely no reason at all. I’m not connected to the movie in any way. I just love it.” But writer director Edward Norton did bring along a couple of his actor friends who do costar in the film: Alec Baldwin and Willem Dafoe.

“Working with these guys was one of the privileges of my career,” Norton told the room. “So many people made this happen, but Warner Brothers has been really great taking a chance to put out a film like this.”

“Brooklyn” is like “Chinatown” set in New York during the ’50s. Bruce Willis is a gumshoe offed early in the noirish throwback, and Norton is the Tourette’s-afflicted sidekick who tries to solve the case. The film looks expensive. Multiple locations around the five boroughs look terrific.

“Our New York producers helped us make this film independently, and it was a bit of a ball-buster,” Norton added. “I called on every actor that I know from New York who comes from the stage and knew how to do this in 46 days. Move fast, work with focus, and everyone on this cast deferred fees so that I could get the movie made. Actors practically financed the movie.”

He admitted, jokingly, that the favors he called in may cost him down the line. “I’ll never be able to repay the debts that I have on this film. If you see me in ‘Die Hard 8’ and say to yourself, ‘That’s beneath him,’ just remember I’m paying off ‘Motherless Brooklyn.'”

After the screening — held in the fancy-pants new Warner Brothers digs in the also newly minted Hudson Yards — Dafoe and Baldwin told me they did the film for Norton. “He’s a terrific friend, and I wanted to help,” Dafoe said. Baldwin added, “It was great. I got to swim in a park swimming pool in Harlem,” referring to a morning workout his character enjoys in the film.

Norton stayed until the very end, chatting up nearly every attendee. When I reminded him that he was pretty hard on Willis in a Comedy Central Roast last year, he laughed. “This is the film I was talking about when I said he’d show up anywhere for me.”

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