Moonrise Kingdom Needed Some Movie Magic To Get Edward Norton Carrying Harvey Keitel

In moments of extreme duress, human beings are allegedly capable of amazing physical feats. This phenomenon is called "hysterical strength." There can be no accurate study of the condition because the surge of adrenaline (or possibly norepinephrine) is highly situational and momentary. So all we've got to go on are unverified stories of, say, a woman lifting a car that had fallen off its jacks to save her baby — an incredible event comic-book legend Jack Kirby claimed to have witnessed, which led to the creation of the Hulk.

Esteemed actor Edward Norton knows a thing or two about the Hulk. He also knows about bulking up for a role (the man got positively chiseled to play a skinhead in Tony Kaye's "American History X"). He is a fiercely committed performer who'll do whatever it takes to do what the screenplay and his director demands of him. But when it came time for his Scout Master character to hoist Harvey Keitel's disapproving Scout Commander onto his back and carry him to safety, Norton could not get those panic juices flowing, thus forcing Wes Anderson and his crew to equip the actor with a fabricated Keitel.

The unbearable non-lightness of Harvey Keitel

During an interview with Fresh Air's Terry Gross, the NPR host asked Norton about this scene, remarking that it felt like a "children's scale" riff on a classic war-movie scene where an inept young officer proves his worth by saving his superior's life. Norton replied, "Yeah, although there's nothing small or children's scale about Harvey Keitel. He weighs, like, 240." The actor continued, "[H]e's got a density of muscle that you've never seen in a man that age and carrying him on your back is something."

The task of picking up the formidable star of "Bad Lieutenant," let alone running with him, was so clearly impossible that Anderson was forced to commission the creation of what Norton calls a "Harvey Keitel backpack dummy." According to the actor, the Keitel doll was made of foam and "had straps on the chest so that I could wear it and run with him because three union grips couldn't carry Harvey, let alone one, you know, 155-pound actor."

Anderson executes the sequence with enough chutzpah that you believe Norton is pulling off this remarkable feat. Again, as Gross notes, we've seen this scene in countless war films, so there's nothing truly astonishing about it. Alas, Norton must live with the stigma of not being able to summon that hysterical strength when his craft called for it. Let's hope he never has to lug Keitel from a burning building. Ol' Harvey's gonna come out well done.