Edward Norton – A Noir Look at New York City in “Motherless Brooklyn” | The Daily Show

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-Welcome to The Daily Show.
-Thank you. And congratulations
on making a movie that has taken you,
what, two decades -to finally put together?
-(chuckles) I-I read the book. I read the book
about the time we were f… -putting out Fight Club,
so 20 years ago, yeah. -Right. So you read this book
when you were making Fight Club, and, like,
the story gripped you, and then you were like,
“I’m gonna make this movie.” Yes. Well, it’s a great…
The character, um… In case you don’t understand
what you just saw there, uh, he has…
he has Tourette’s syndrome and obsessive-compulsive
disorder. And, uh, he’s-he’s a detective, but he-he trips himself up
quite a lot, -as you can see.
-Right, right, right. Um, he’s not exactly the, uh, the Bogart smooth, um,
smooth detective. -Um… -Right, it’s a…
it’s a different type of story. -Yeah. -And, I mean, that’s what
made the-the book interesting, was it was a story of a P.I. who has Tourette’s
and also has OCD but is brilliant. -Yes. -And as the reader,
we fall in love with this character, you know, because we-we root
for the underdog, you know? And-and you’ve taken that story, and you’ve turned it
into a movie. But what’s interesting
is the book was set in the, like,
the modern-day era. -Yeah.
-It was, like, in the ’90s. And then you’ve taken it
to the ’50s. Why? Well, it has a… It… The-the power of the novel
is just what you said. It’s-it’s your deep
identification with this guy with his very chaotic,
uh, hilarious, -poignant mind.
-Right. And, um, the plot… It’s hard to explain.
In the novel, it feels like
a ’50s gumshoe novel though it’s set
in modern Brooklyn. -Interesting.
-But in a way, what we wanted to do
was stick to the feel of it. -Right.
-And, um, I’m a… I’m a big fan of films
like, um, L.A. Confidential and Chinatown
and things like that. I love those films
that really take you… take you back into a-a sensual,
atmospheric time where, um… You know,
the magic of movies when it’s… You-you go into those worlds,
and you go, “Wow, this is… “this is really cool.
The music is great. “The actors are adult and great, and the dialogue is great
and…” And then they-they take you down
into sort of a… a-a dark, uh, weave of-of the dark things
that are going on in society. But-but I really liked the idea
of doing that with, um, a character
who’s a little different than your-your typical gumshoe. It-It’s interesting that you say the story takes us back
to a time, because although the story’s set
in the ’50s, it feels very much applicable
to what life is like today. Because–
I won’t spoil anything for you– but this is basically a story about a racist landlord
from New York -who’s destroying the world.
-Yes. (laughs) I… (laughter) Um… And he’s played by Alec Baldwin. -(laughter)
-Um… -Well…
-Yeah. -(applause)
-Um… I want to qualify that, uh, because
there’s no wigs involved. No small hands.
Um, this-this… And it’s not… it’s not based
on our insane clown president. Um, it-it’s not.
It’s really not. There was a…
there was a, uh… there was a true Darth Vader
in New York in the 20th century named Robert Moses who, uh, unlike, uh, others,
was a genius. -Right. -He-he was a genius.
A dark genius but-but kind of like
Anakin Skywalker -gone over into Darth Vader.
-Uh-huh. Uh-huh. He-he was this, uh–
this great, progressive thinker who went very dark and to a degree that people
really don’t understand. He ran New York City
like an imperial fiefdom for nearly half a century, and everything
that was done in this city that, in some ways,
baked discrimination into the infrastructure
of the city was done by him. -Right. -Um, and so our–
In the same way that, let’s say,
Chinatown is sort of the story of how L.A.’s original crime
is that it stole all its water, what we wanted to do
was sort of tell the secret history of New York,
in some ways. It-it really does make it a
story, because, on the surface, everyone will immediately jump
to Trump. But, as you’ve said,
what it really does– and I guess noir
is a perfect format for this– is that, like,
it-it tells the understory -of the ugl-ugly underbelly
of New York -Yeah. and how people
were forced to live where they were forced to live and how this shaped their lives, oftentimes,
in a really negative way. Yeah. And, look, I think–
I think that… It’s true. N-Noir films, you know, it’s not-not
the dime-store gumshoe novels, but real noir is– it’s a great tradition
in American film. It-It’s a commentary that,
in some ways, we have this narrative
of our country. -We’re proud of it. We’re
invested in it. -Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. And we go along
in our daily lives trusting it, for the most part. Noir kind of peels the corner
back and says, “Hey, there are things
going on in the shadows “that we should be concerned
about. “There are people
who are rigging the game, and if we tolerate it too much,
they’re gonna do us damage.” -Right. -And I think, um–
I think that remains a very– a very healthy, uh, challenge
to the public narrative. And I think, um– In some ways, the only tricky
thing on this one was I was essentially going
to people and saying, “Hey, it’s, um– it’s
sort of like L.A. Confidential but Rain Man is
at the center of it.” -And, uh, some people…
-(laughs) some people’s eyes
sort of crossed. Um, but I do think–
I do think that, sometimes, an underdog,
like someone who you root for not-not despite their affliction but because of it and because
of their unique characteristics, -it-it engenders your empathy.
-Right. And I think when you feel
empathy for a character, it-it reminds you, in some ways, like, what you care about
the most. Uh, you want to be
the kind of person who roots for Forrest Gump
or G– -you know, Rain Man.
-Right, right, right. And I think, um– And I think that,
in a lot of ways, to me, Motherless Brooklyn,
the title of this great novel, it-it was not just applicable
to the idea of people looking out for
each other on a personal level but the idea that we’ve–
we need to– we need to not orphan
our own communities. We need to stand up as citizens
and-and take care of each other. And I think, uh,
it’s-it’s, uh– We’re in the middle of
that argument again, amazingly, I think, whether we’re gonna
confer a heroic value in America on the idea
that we take care of each other or whether
we’re gonna romance power. And I think, um– and I think that’s-that’s
what this digs around in. I think it digs, it digs deeper
and then you enjoy a movie. But at the end of the day,
you walk out and you’re like, “Damn, I’m living in the 1950s, “modern-day version of a 1990s, “2017, 2019, modern-day, old-time movie that you’ve,
like, put together.” You directed, um, starred and produced
and wrote the movie. -Like, this is…
-I’m getting exhausted -as you say-say it. I’m-I’m…
-Right. Yeah. That’s-that’s, like, really
complicated for somebody to do. Like, did you– Like, was there
ever a point where you, like– you thought you were working
with other people and then, -at the end of it all, you
were like… -It was all me. -You were like, it was all you.
-Yeah, yeah. It was Tyler Durden -times five. Yeah.
-Yeah. It was just you all over. But that must have been
a weird p– Why did you choose
to-to take all of that on? Well, look,
there are some times when a story is rattling around
in your head and when– and I’m not joking–
when it is a little strange, when the mash-up
is a little strange. And, like, the music is done by
Thom Yorke and Wynton Marsalis, -you know what I mean? Those
are things I love. -Mm-hmm. They don’t necessarily go
together, but they do. -Right. -You have to have
conviction in a way that the mash-up of things
you’re interested in -is gonna lead to something
original and great. -Right. And, um– But sometimes, uh, sometimes, y-you know,
you don’t– you don’t want to try
to direct something through someone else’s hands. But, plus, honestly,
like, a lot of the f– You know, when I was 18 or 19
and Do the Right Thing came out, um, it was– it was one
of the seminal experiences of my young adult life, in terms of here’s this guy,
Spike Lee. He’s this kid. Who is he?
He-he wrote and produced -and directed and starred
in a movie -Mm-hmm, mm-hmm. about his neighborhood
in Brooklyn, uh, and it was
wildly entertaining, with great music and mash-ups of Public Enemy and jazz
and all this stuff. And it was also this deep
commentary on American life. It was, uh– it was
as trenchant and explosive, uh, a forced conversation
about race without easy answers. And for a lot of us, a film
like that just rewrote the-the– you know,
what we were aspiring to. -Right. -And I-I think when
you’ve done this long enough and you get a chance, you– sometimes you want
to take a swing at doing something like that, like tell a story
that matters to you and tell it
in an interesting way and do something, uh, original. I was very inspired by Spike. I was inspired by Warren Beatty, who directed Reds, you know, and-and wrote it
and produced it. And sometimes,
sometimes it’s hard to explain to people
why you want to do something. And when you feel that way,
you just got to do it. Well, you did it
and you did it well. -Thank you so much for joining
us on the show. -Thank you. -Yeah.
-Congratulations. Motherless Brooklyn
is in theaters now. Edward Norton, everybody.

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