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Edward Norton goes back to movie prison

October 5, 2010 |  9:45 am


In "Stone," John Curran's psychological thriller that hits theaters Friday, Edward Norton portrays Gerald "Stone" Creeson, a convicted killer who tried to cover up the murder of his grandparents with a handy bit of arson.  Eligible for an early parole, all he has to do is convince Robert DeNiro's grizzled prison counselor that he's a changed man who has paid his debt to society.

Despite Norton's faux tattoos, a corn-row hairstyle that would make Snoop Dogg envious and a hayseed accent that seems to channel both Larry the Cable Guy and George W. Bush, for some movie fans there will be something instantly familiar about the character.

Edward Norton in a prison jumpsuit. ... Edward Norton behind bars. ... Edward Norton convicted of a serious crime. ... It's getting to be a pattern. Indeed, "Stone" marks the actor's fourth movie go-round playing a convict.

Considered one of the finest actors of his generation, Norton has dramatized incarceration more than just about anyone in Hollywood. So what, then, can we surmise about the Yale graduate -- a former history major known for rewriting scripts and backseat directing -- and his willingness to again and again portray guys who are either rotting in the slammer, newly paroled or are headed to the big house?

The easy assumption may be that the two-time Oscar nominee is drawn to the material. Never mind that with a patrician mien and self-styled intellectualism, he seems unlikely to even get pinned with a jaywalking ticket -- his filmography presents the actor as a four-time offender:

• In his 1996 screen debut, "Primal Fear," Norton inverted those character traits to portray Aaron Stampler, a stuttering altar boy charged with murdering a Catholic archbishop.

• For "American History X," Norton packed on 30 pounds of muscle (and got inked up with a large fake swastika tattoo) to play Derek Vinyard, a white supremacist who must serve three years of hard time for a hate crime.

• In the Spike Lee-directed drama "The 25th Hour," Norton played Montgomery Brogan, a drug dealer reflecting on his life one night before he's set to begin a seven-year sentence in Otisville Federal Prison.

And then, of course, there's "Stone." At a recent news conference for the film, Norton explained that his research to portray Creeson involved meeting with a number of inmates at a prison north of Detroit. "A lot of people ask what you pull on from your own life for a character," the actor said. "But that’s not how things work for me. I get more from people who have really lived these lives."

-- Chris Lee

Photo: Robert DeNiro and Edward Norton in 'Stone.' Credit: Overture Films

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You missed Rounders (he gets out of prison early in the movie) and Leaves of Grass (where one of the twins he plays has served time). Of course, his role in these does not hinge on his time behind bars.


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