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 over a decade now, the actor has appeared in fewer and fewer movies and faced rumors that he’s been blacklisted from Hollywood for being difficult on set. Is Norton really that hard to work with? Or did he simply decide to take a break?
Here’s an investigation into what happened to Edward Norton.
Edward Norton’s Difficult Reputation
Norton’s reputation for difficult behavior is nothing new. In fact, it started in the early 2000s with his breakthrough role in Primal Fear. According to the Observer, the young actor signed a three-picture deal with Paramount Pictures. But after the movie was released and Norton’s fame skyrocketed, he was inundated with movie offers, and Paramount found it difficult to get him to honor his original commitment.
Norton turned down multiple roles Paramount offered him in favor of films being produced by other studios. He even managed to negotiate his original three-film contract to just one film. 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 Norton used his star power to convince the studio to make his own cut. Much to the director’s chagrin, Norton’s cut—one “crammed with shots of everyone crying in each other’s arms” and “generously more screen time” for Norton—made it to theaters.
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 delayed the film’s release, 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 Edward Norton Blacklisted From Hollywood?
The rumor mill often floats the idea that Norton’s demands got him blacklisted from Hollywood, but that doesn’t appear to be the case. The Moonrise Kingdom star has always been selective about choosing roles. Moreover, appearances by Norton in several buzzworthy films in recent years, including Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014), Motherless Brooklyn (2019), and Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery (2022) seem to debunk these blacklisted rumors even further.
And despite his rocky past with previous directors, Norton is an oft-featured favorite of Wes Anderson. In addition to Moonrise Kingdom, Norton has collaborated with the American filmmaker on The Grand Budapest Hotel, Isle of Dogs, and The French Dispatch. If his 2014 Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor is any indication, he’s still in the Academy’s good graces as well.
It’s also possible that 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.”