Edward Norton on challenges of portraying character with Tourette syndrome in Motherless Brooklyn
As director, star, screenwriter, and producer of Motherless Brooklyn, Edward Norton had his work cut out for him.
In the film, Norton plays Lionel Essrog, a private investigator living with Tourette syndrome who looks into the death of his mentor, Frank (Bruce Willis). During an appearance on EW Live on SiriusXM, Norton talked about the unique challenges of the film, in particular portraying someone with Tourette syndrome, a disorder of the nervous system involving repetitive movements or sounds.
“There’s really two challenges going on with the representation of someone with a condition, whether it’s cerebral palsy or cancer or Tourette’s syndrome. You’ve got to do the basic groundwork to understand the nature of the thing,” he explains.
Norton says that the other main challenge comes from keeping the portrayal from falling into “the Hallmark version of the thing,” which he says occurs when “all you’re doing is the nobility of the person living through the thing.”
“The [portrayals] that are good are the ones that deal with the complex humanity of the person apart from the condition,” he says, pointing to Daniel Day-Lewis‘ portrayal of a man with cerebral palsy in My Left Foot as an example. “The character is a great character because of all of the complexity of his humanity that he shows you was there despite the condition. He doesn’t make him a hero because he had the condition, he makes him a hero because he refused to be defined by the condition.”
Motherless Brooklyn, which also stars Alec Baldwin, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Leslie Mann, and Willem Dafoe, hits theaters Nov. 1. For more with Norton, check out the video above.
EW Live airs weekdays at 2 p.m. ET/11 a.m. PT on SiriusXM Stars channel 109.