Edward Norton's Fight Club Improv Was More Than Brad Pitt Bargained For

As the title makes clear, there's a beating for almost every character in "Fight Club." None more so than the film's unnamed Narrator (Edward Norton), a white-collar worker whose existential troubles spiral out of control when he becomes involved with diabolical soap-salesman Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt). Hijinks ensue as the two bond over their shared disillusionment, forming a fight club that eventually blossoms under Durden into a multi-cell terrorist operation he names Project Mayhem. The cherry on top, of course, is that our unreliable Narrator's suave and vehemently masculine friend doesn't actually exist but was dreamt-up to find fulfillment.

David Fincher's adaption of Chuck Palahniuk's novel doesn't pull any punches when it comes to its fight scenes. Both Norton and Pitt's characters find themselves beaten black and blue, but obviously, the actors weren't taking any real hits ... right? Given how ferociously bloody the film's best fight scenes are, there's no way a director would let his two lead actors wallop one another. But while the characters of "Fight Club" beat each other to a pulp just to feel something beyond the numbness of their daily lives, for Pitt, a little numbness would've probably been welcome during the filming of one scene.

Pitt gets an earful

Given the number of punches thrown in "Fight Club," you have to wonder if anyone ever took a hit that wasn't pulled as much as it should've been. Or even if the actors themselves had trouble finding a balance between selling the fight scenes and not actually hurting one another. Norton revealed on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon it was actually a bit of both — while filming their first fight in the film, the actor really hit Pitt:

"It's the first punch in the movie and I hit him in the ear. Fincher came up to me and said, 'Hit him, connect with him somewhere.' I didn't know what to do and I hit him in the ear. He says in the film, 'Ow! Why the ear?' Yeah, that was real."

Norton's punch feels off-balance and beautifully mirrors his character's initial hesitation and timidness. Pitt takes the clearly painful hit like an absolute champ — wincing at an earful of knuckles — before giddily sucker-punching the Narrator in the gut. Luckily, that hit wasn't real, but the improvisation works perfectly in these early scenes where the duo's friendship hasn't yet spiraled out of control. Not to mention the awkward and playful nature of their first fight greatly contrasts the intensity and brutal deliberation of the ones in the fight club itself.

Judging by the lengths Pitt went to nab and prepare for the role of Durden, going so far as to get his teeth purposefully chipped, he must've thought he'd already immersed himself enough into the role ... though Norton's fist clearly had other ideas. But the instigating Fincher probably couldn't have asked for a better result from both actors.