Sitting opposite Ed Norton in an empty conference room in a skyrise, one can’t avoid thinking about the hyper-charged situations he’s glared down on film. Clad in a black shirt and noticeably relaxed, he takes a moment before responding to a question, pressing a small washer-like object into the table and letting it spring back. It allows a brief window to search for the chiseled Nazi skinhead who forced a thug to tooth a curb in American History X. And for the office drone who scaled barbwire fences late at night to steal the excess fat of women and absorbed grueling punches in Fight Club. And for the smack dealer in 25th Hour who walked man’s best friend by a World Trade Center-less horizon, as unprepared for a future in the clink as the U.S. was for its uncertain present.
Norton is obsessively drawn to characters whose scariest adversary is in the mirror. It doesn’t matter if the playing field is a study in madness or a testy, possibly concluded, stint in the Marvel Universe as Bruce Banner. His latest film, a thoughtful thriller entitled Leaves of Grass, puts a literal spin on his interest in duality. He plays formerly estranged, highly intelligent twins—one a respected and reserved philosophy professor, the other a shaggy distributor of hydroponic marijuana.