Edward Norton found fame in the ‘90s after making a major impression with his role as psychopathic altar boy Aaron Stampler in the 1996 thriller, Primal Fear. He went on to become one of the most well-regarded actors of his time, earning three Oscar nominations and appearing in classic films like Fight Club and American History X. But for more than a decade now, the actor has appeared in fewer movies and faced rumors that he’s been blacklisted from Hollywood because he’s difficult on set. Is Norton hard to work with? Or has he just decided to take a break from acting? Here’s an investigation into what happened to Edward Norton.
His Reputation Of Being Difficult To Work With
Rumors about Norton’s difficult behavior started in the early 2000s. According to the Observer, when the young actor landed his breakthrough role in Primal Fear back in 1995, he signed a three-picture deal with the movie studio making the film, Paramount Pictures. When Primal Fear came out and Norton’s notoriety suddenly skyrocketed, he was inundated with movie offers and Paramount found it difficult to get him to honor his original commitment.
Norton kept turning down roles Paramount offered him in favor of films being produced by other studios. The actor even managed to negotiate his three-film deal with Paramount—the movie studio that helped launch his career—down to just one film. But even then the studio had trouble getting him to cooperate. While he did end up appearing in the 2003 Paramount film The Italian Job, it took plenty of legal wrangling to get him to commit.
There were also reports that Norton clashed with Tony Kaye, his director on American History X. In a 2002 article Kaye wrote for The Guardian, he revealed that when Norton saw the film and did not like it, he used his star power to get the studio to agree to let him make his own cut. That cut was what ended up making it into theaters, much to Kaye’s chagrin.
“The movie they put out was crammed with shots of everyone crying in each other’s arms,” the director wrote. “And, of course, Norton had generously given himself more screen time.”
Why Norton Was Replaced As ‘The Hulk’
Perhaps the most famous reason for Norton’s difficult reputation is that he was not asked to return as The Hulk in the sequel to Marvel’s 2008 movie, The Incredible Hulk. Many suspect it was because, in a scenario similar to what happened during the editing of American History X, Norton clashed with the studio over how the film should be cut. This ended up delaying the release of the film, which did not make the studio happy.
When the news broke that the role of Hulk had been recast and given to Mark Ruffalo, Norton initially expressed disappointment. “It seems it won’t work out for me,” he wrote in a Facebook post (as reported by the Hollywood Reporter). “I sincerely hoped it could happen and be great for everyone, but it hasn’t turned out as we all hoped.”
But a few years later, the ex-Hulk changed his tune, making it sound as if he never wanted to continue in the franchise in the first place. “My feeling was that I experimented and experienced what I wanted to,” Norton said about playing The Hulk in a 2014 interview with NPR. “I think you can sort of do anything once, but if you do it too many times, it can become a suit that’s hard to take off, in other peoples’ eyes.”
Was He Blacklisted From Hollywood?
While many people float the idea that Norton’s demanding behavior got him blacklisted from Hollywood, that’s probably not the case. The Moonrise Kingdom star has always been selective about choosing roles, and he has appeared in a handful of films over the past few years, including 2014’s Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), for which he earned an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor. He’s also a favorite of Wes Anderson and has appeared in four of his films since 2010. Plus, he’s appearing in the mystery thriller Knives Out 2, which is due out in late 2022.
It’s also possible Norton’s priorities have changed now that he has a family. He married his long-time girlfriend Shauna Robertson in 2012 and welcomed his first son, Atlas, into the world a year later. Since that time, the actor admits that his ambitions have changed.
“If you are lucky enough, [acting] leaves a lot of time to engage in other things,” he said in a 2015 interview with the Independent. “And if you are engaged in other things that are really compelling or interesting or challenging to a different part of your brain or your personality, paradoxically it raises the threshold that a piece of work has to meet to interest you and pull you away from all that other stuff. Whereas before my ambition was almost unilaterally focused on acting, it’s not anymore.”