Breakout Role: Edward Norton in “Primal Fear” (1996)

Richard Gere and Edward Norton in “Primal Fear” (1996.)

A fellow Boston-born actor, Edward Norton, made his film debut in 1996 with Primal Fear beating out 2, 100 other actors for the role, including Matt Damon.  Apparently,” When Norton met with the director for Primal Fear (1996), he told them that he, like Aaron, came from eastern Kentucky. Norton even spoke with the twang, which he prepared by watching Coal Miner’s Daughter (1980.)”–From IMDB. Additionally, “According to the Blu-ray behind-the-scenes information, it was Edward Norton’s idea to stutter as “Aaron,” as it appeared nowhere in the original book or script. In addition, when “Roy” shoves Vail (Richard Gere) against the prison cell wall, Gere’s shocked reaction is genuine, as that was another Norton ad-lib. Yet another Norton ad-lib is Roy’s slow clap at the end just before the exposition when Vail realized what had happened.”–From IMDB.

Edward Norton has always been an interesting actor for me to keep up with. He’s intelligent (he went to Yale.) He’s multilingual (he speaks Spanish and Japanese.) The fact that he managed to fool the casting director and production team with his accent is really impressive too. He’s gone on to star in blockbuster films and even received an Oscar nomination for his film debut. I think he was amazing in the role, and the praise is more than justified. I’d love to work with him one day, just to witness his process. I’ve always been impressed with this film and with his performance.

Here’s a look at a key scene:

Acting with An Accent: British

Some actors are really really good at accents: Daniel Day-Lewis, Meryl Streep, Toni Collette, Kate Winslet, Hugh Laurie, Gwenyth Paltrow, & Johnny Depp–just to name a few. One of the most basic accents that we learn in acting school is the British accent and its many forms: RP (received pronunciation: think the BBC version of the accent) and cockney are probably the first ones we learn. Heck, I was in Oliver! so many times, that if I didn’t learn how to do a cockney accent by the the time I was finished, that would just be sad. There are certain actors, however, who really really need to work on their dialects. They might be fantastic actors, but the minute something false comes out of their mouths like an accent, the illusion of reality is gone.

Keanu Reeves, do yourself a favor and work on your dialects; especially if the general public will be seeing it in a movie. Case in point:

Anne Hathaway did a Yorkshire accent in One Day and has gotten a lot of flack about it. But it’s difficult to master accents in a short period of time. To her credit, at least she tried:

As actors, we have to think about what goes into the preparation of doing an accent before we criticize it. A lot of people simply don’t have an ear for accents. George Clooney told a casting director at an audition that he “doesn’t do accents” and she found that confession honest and refreshing. Actors sometimes want to believe that they can do anything, especially accents. But accents themselves have to be more than mimicry. They have to have some semblance of truth to them. One of my acting coaches, Ken Schatz, recommended a site to me that I use whenever I need to do an accent. Whether it’s some form of British, a twang of the American South or as far away as Iran, I go to the site and listen to people who are from those areas. It’s the International Dialects of English Archives (IDEA) and it utilizes real people from the different areas, of varying education levels and ages. For example, a woman born in the 1930s who has never left their small town in Louisiana will sound vastly different from a woman born in 1984 who is from the same area, left to go to college,  and lives elsewhere currently. Your life really does travel with you in the form of your voice. The archive, is extremely interesting, and not just something to be utilized by actors, but historians as well. Instead of listening to those dialogue CDs, do yourself a favor and save your money. Go to the website and explore. You might find an accent you never knew you could do.