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Toronto 2009: Edward Norton Talks to Himself

Toronto 2009: Edward Norton Talks to Himself (photo)

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“I walk around talking to myself anyway,” Edward Norton told the packed Ryerson Theater after Monday’s premiere of “Leaves of Grass” at the Toronto Film Festival. “Maybe this was just the way to get paid for it.” Although the “Fight Club” star’s played a few characters with dual personalities, this new comedy from Tim Blake Nelson marks the first time Norton has played two distinct characters. The Kincaid twins have gone their separate ways in life — Bill is a well-liked philosophy professor at Brown, while Brady is a deceptively smart hydroponic weed dealer. The brothers reunite when the straitlaced Bill returns home under the pretense Brad has died, only to discover that he’s been unwittingly enlisted in one of his sibling’s elaborate criminal schemes.

For Nelson, whose previous work behind the camera has dealt with heavy themes of small-town violence (“Eye of God”) and the Holocaust (“The Grey Zone”), “Leaves of Grass” is a venture into unfamiliar territory. But he achieves the rare feat of making a raucous comedy with substantive ideas behind the action. The title alone is a canny reference to Brad’s marijuana enterprise and to Walt Whitman famous poetry collection, in which he broke away from prescribed meter in favor of free verse — an allusion to the interruption in Bill’s life that causes him to reflect on what he’s missed out on in his pursuit of academia. Beyond fully realizing the details of the Oklahoma burg where “crossbows are inexplicably popular,” Nelson creates a world rich with verse-quoting Okie noodlers (Keri Russell), Shabbat-worshipping drug lords (Richard Dreyfuss) and, of course, Norton’s squabbling set of siblings. I got a chance to talk to Norton and Nelson the morning after “Leaves of Grass” premiered about their unique collaboration.

When did you guys meet?

Edward Norton: We met in New York, because I read a different script that Tim wrote.

Tim Blake Nelson: Yeah, and we have a mutual friend named Avy Kaufman, who always said “you and Edward would be real soulmates.” I offered him the lead role in this other movie [“Seasons of Dust”] and we met to talk about it and he ultimately declined, but he was so gracious in doing so, the meeting stuck in my head. When I was writing my next script, I basically wrote it with him in mind.

Tim, you’ve starred in comedies, but haven’t directed one, and Edward, you’ve directed a comedy, but rarely star in them — is there a reason for that, and what was the appeal of this one?

EN: A lot of the flow of choices you make just has to do with the karma of what comes to you. When Tim sent me this script, I wasn’t really in the mood to do any acting. I had a happy window of writing and being relatively unbusy. He said, “well, I hate to say it, but I think when you read it, you’re really going to want to do it.” I laughed so much reading it — it’s very, very difficult to not smile thinking about how you would play two characters who interact in this way.

But I also thought that underneath all this madcap comedy was a smart, lovely idea about a person trying to find balance in his life. I was impressed with the degree to which Tim had woven an actual movie about philosophy into this pot comedy. It was irresistible — not because it was a comedy, but just because it was so good.

09162009_LeavesofGrass3.jpgTN: I didn’t have a doubt in my mind that Edward would be wonderful in a comedy. He’s just too good an actor. I’m an actor and interested in doing serious material as well, and I’m constantly told, “well, you’re a comic actor,” [so] I wasn’t going to let that sort of prejudice stop me from letting Edward show the world what he’s able to do — which by the way, he’s done in “Death to Smoochy” and “Everyone Says I Love You.” He’s really light and funny in that.

EN: Actually, one young journalist yesterday [asked a similar question], and every time someone says “I don’t expect to see you in a comedy,” I say “isn’t ‘Fight Club’ one of your favorite movies?” Did anybody miss that that’s a comedy?

Edward, you’ve played many duel personalities, but when you’re playing two separate characters, is it harder to play when you’ve fully developed and thought out the motivations of your twin?

EN: The best thing to do, I found, was to go through the process of discovery and imagining funny improvisations well before. The demands of the day when we were [shooting scenes with both twins on screen] required a certain amount of precision, since what we were doing was fairly lo-fi, not much more than locked off cameras. Once one character is done, the other character’s rhythm has to fit within at least one of those takes, so you end up needing to consult together and figure out which one of those is our one to match–

TN: –usually Brady.

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Give Back

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.

Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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GIFs via Giphy

Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.


Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…


IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.


IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).


IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.


IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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