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Quint chats LEAVES OF GRASS, Richard Dreyfuss, Tulsa Jews, WSOP and more with Edward Norton and Tim Blake Nelson!

Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with a little chat I had a few months back with Tim Blake Nelson and Edward Norton for their flick Leaves of Grass. This is a great little flick where Norton once again gets to play two different people. This time it’s literal since he’s playing twins. The interview was conducted at SXSW, but the movie was pushed and so I’ve held on to it until it sees release. Now it is hitting Austin cinemas and, I believe, is opening in some other limited release theaters. Leaves of Grass is a sweet movie, a funny movie and has Richard Dreyfuss playing a Tulsa Jew Drug Dealer, so you have to see it. It’s a movie law somewhere, I’m pretty sure. Enjoy the chat!

Quint: Oh no, it’s definitely an Alamo movie. That’s a movie that you play in a place that serves beer and some greasy truck stop food…

Tim Blake Nelson: Yeah. Edward Norton: Oh, I love that. When I heard that, I was thinking “How is that going to be?” I really like the way they… They do it in a pretty fun way.

Quint: William Friedkin brought THE HUNTED here for an early screening and he demanded that they not serve food during the movie because he thought it was going to be like waiters walking up during the movie and all of that stuff, but it’s such a low key thing. They kind of have it down to a science.

Edward Norton: Yeah, with the high counters. It works. Tim Blake Nelson: And no heads in front of you which is a great plus. It’s so fantastic.

Quint: I love it. I love the Alamo. They’re a big reason why I’m still in Austin and why I survive the summers here while there’s the crazy 110-degree weather.

Edward Norton: We said last night, but it’s true… We begged and cajoled and pleaded to push the release to after SXSW so we could bring this here before it and last night I thought was total vindication, because it was like… We knew… They were laughing at noodling jokes and “Guzzle your custard” and then laughing at “You have neatly described academia” and epistemology jokes… It was like “We are in heaven!” “Where are we? They get everything here.”

Quint: Austin’s got a great crowd.

Edward Norton: Yeah, but a particular… You heard people sort of murmur when…

[A loud vibrating noise is heard.]

Edward Norton: That’s your goddamn phone, Tim!

[Everyone Laughs]

Edward Norton: Yeah, you had people digging that it was John Prine music and I mean I just felt like this was the place that most straddles the things that the movie straddles.

Quint: Cool, well before we jump into the movie I just read that you got to play in the World Series of Poker and as a poker fan and player, I have to ask what that was like.

Edward Norton: It was sort of before it blew up like this. The whole thing really, the movie hadn’t hit, ROUNDERS hadn’t hit, and the whole poker resurgence really hadn’t happened yet, so it was still at Binion’s and it was still like a pretty modest crowd. It was really cool. I was at a table with some really big time players and it was great, but it wasn’t the white-hot attention that the tournament gets now, you know? It was… You know, it’s a level of adrenaline, like when you know you’re in out of your depth, your whole face is vibrating. I did okay, you know, and me and Matt Damon both lasted through the first lunch break and everything. I play pretty well. I made a few moves early and then… No Limit Hold’em is kind of like you have to make moves and if you get crushed, you’re going to go out and that’s kind of what happened to me. I ultimately played a really, really great hand, frankly.

Quint: (laughs)

Edward Norton: No, I really did. I turned pocket 9 into a full house of 9’s over 10’s and in a very unreadable way and this very famous guy, Surinder Singh, he ended up with quad 10’s. So I went all in against a really big player with a full house and he had four 10’s. It was one of the worst things to ever happen to me.

Quint: (laughs) Oh man, you’re making my stomach clench up just thinking about that. Do you still play now?

Edward Norton: You know, now and then.

Quint: You must have some sort of happiness that you were, because ROUNDERS is a big movie for poker players.

Edward Norton: Oh yeah and I got to meet really great players and get advice from them, but what’s really interesting is in the immediate aftermath of the film, knowing even as much as we did, Matt and I both talked about we could go sit in on Harvey Weinstein’s stupid game and really beat up on people, you know, but now over ten years later like everybody plays now and all the advantage is gone. Everybody has gotten good. All of my friends are reading books and so it’s just a drag.

Quint: And you’re part of the reason for that, because I know ROUNDERS is one of the things that helped…

Edward Norton: I know. I feel like Matt and I should have residuals on every… We should have a cut of every amateur player who… Every Chris Moneymaker should have to pay off me and Matt. (laughs)

Quint: You should get a cut of the…

Edward Norton: The rake! Damon and I should get a 10% on anyone who was inspired by ROUNDERS and becomes a big money winner.

Quint: Now, Leaves of Grass is an off kilter movie, but it’s not inaccessible. Do you know what I mean? It’s a comedy, it’s funny and when it gets serious, it gets really serious, but you don’t usually expect those flavors at the same time. So, I guess we could talk a little bit about that and how you were able to craft that in the writing and, ultimately, the directing; how you found that balance.

Tim Blake Nelson: Yeah, the movie is very ambitious tonally and that’s what we were after and we didn’t shy away from that. I couldn’t have been more excited than the day we shot the moment in which Pug is killed and just the far reaches of that violence because I was also aware of how extraordinarily funny Edward was in the film as both characters, so I knew that we were going to achieve a certain narrative organized depiction of the messiness of life because life is all of that. It can be funny and poignant and then you can be sideswiped and so if you are not going to have ambitions in the aesthetic choices in movies that reflect that, then those movies really aren’t going to reflect the dichotomies in life. Edward Norton: But also, I think Tim’s… The movie is referencing classical literature and philosophy and have you ever seen those plays? They cut people’s hearts out and eat them. Do you know what I mean? Tim Blake Nelson: Right… Edward Norton: I mean like they are the bloodiest… Like MEDEA, do you know what she does at the end? So I feel like it’s actually really consistent to even the traditions, the classical dramatic traditions that its characters are talking about, those stories or Shakespeare’s or whatever, they explode into graphic violence, but you know… Nothing happens in this movie that… When Steve Buscemi gets shot through the face in FARGO, I remember just going like “I love these guys.” You know what I mean? I don’t mean to say this at all in a catty way, I do feel that sometimes people coming at films in a critical role, they will discuss things like tonal shifts and project onto an audience an inability to handle those shifts, when the truth is that audiences delight in them.

Quint: Those are my favorite things in movies.

Edward Norton: Me too.

Quint: I love it when… I know a lot of people gave movies… Take FROM DUSK TILL DAWN for example, they gave that shit for being “The first half is a Tarantino movie, then the vampires show up,” but that’s what makes that movie work, though.

Edward Norton: Yeah, or like PINEAPPLE EXPRESS went off the deep end with machine guns and…

Quint; It was probably the most violent movie I’ve seen in ten years.

Edward Norton: Or on a totally different level, did you get to see this documentary CATFISH, yet?

Quint: No, I haven’t yet.

Edward Norton: It’s… You should really have a thing where if somebody begins to speak about it, don’t let them talk. Don’t let them say a word. You talk about tonal shifts, it’s one thing and then you think it’s entirely a different thing and then it. It’s got three distinct things and it’s the most marvelous experience. We had moments where people were like “Maybe you should just try to soften it” and we were like “Let it ride, man.”

Quint: You’ve got to give the movie it’s edge.

Edward Norton: Also, there was no evidence when we showed it at Toronto or Peter Travers showed it to his very middle aged New Jersey screening set and they loved it. We had grandmothers going like “I just thought it was… I loved how many different things were happening.” So I think sometimes you just have got to let it be all that it is.

Quint: You guys have to promise me that if you ever decide to come back to this world, that you have to do a prequel based on Richard Dreyfuss’ character.

[Everyone Laughs]

Quint: I loved him so much in this movie. I loved the final “Stand up and fight” moment that he has, it’s like… I just loved him as a character.

Edward Norton: “If you prick me motherfucker, I’m sure as shit going to bleed!”

[Everyone Laughs]

Edward Norton: Come on!

Quint: I’ve heard that Dreyfuss has a little bit of a difficult relationship with filmmakers sometimes. Did you find that at all?

Tim Blake Nelson: No. He was great. Edward Norton: He was great with us.

Quint: That makes me happy, because I love the dude on film.

Edward Norton: You know what, though, he told of he had had this recent experience on another film where he had felt really battered by it and we were so into having him there that I think just the fact that… I think he was delighted by how excited we were that he was there doing it. Tim is so good to actors, so I think he felt really…

Quint: He felt wanted and appreciated and not just kind of thrown in there.

Tim Blake Nelson: What you do with great actors, and this is true with Edward as well and certainly true with Richard, is you give them room and don’t confine them. I think probably, and I haven’t been on those sets where people have said that about Richard, but my guess is that those who have had difficulty with Richard just haven’t given him the room he deserves and that’s really simply all that it took. He’s had an extraordinary enough career and delivered an extraordinary enough array of characters that my guess is that those directors with whom he’s gotten along and those experiences for him that have been success far outweigh any number of those that haven’t. It’s just that you hear about the ones where there’s trouble. He was fantastic.

Quint: I took my name on the site “Quint” from JAWS, because it’s my favorite movie.

Edward Norton: I know, like you say “Richard Dreyfuss” and I hear him going “Big shark!”

[Everyone Laughs]

Quint: Let’s go ahead and talk a little bit about Melanie [Lynskey] now. Melanie, and well everybody from Susan [Sarandon], Melanie, and Keri [Russell], I think you just cast the movie so well and they all felt so grounded in the film.

Tim Blake Nelson: There was no shortage of actors and actresses who wanted to be in this movie, luckily, and even for Melanie’s role, which is a very important role, but not one of the largest ones in the movie, there were… I don’t know, probably about a hundred options…

Quint: Really?

Tim Blake Nelson: Yeah, and extraordinary, very well known actors coming in actually to read and in some cases meet. Nobody found the essence… I started to worry. Melanie, who is from New Zealand, came in with this perfect Oklahoma accent, an intuitive understanding of who and what the character was and an ability to take notes and make changes that was just utterly captivating and exquisite because of course I knew Edward was going to be fantastic, but what you want to know about an actress is whether they are going to be able to make adjustments that fit the spine of the movie, which is going to be really lead by the main character and in this case both main characters played by Edward. She just showed ability in every single respect and also, she was just a great citizen on the movie. Edward Norton: She’s so funny. Tim Blake Nelson: What an angel to be around. Edward Norton: It’s so funny, though, she’s like doing this perfect sort of trailer trash kind of thing and then you’d get off and she says… She could hardly say my name; she’d say “Eedwahd.”

Quint: I love that accent.

Tim Blake Nelson: But she’s just the very essence of the character in the film. It was great.

Quint: And she’s so sweet and that’s what you need to temper Edward’s character. For as crazy as he is, you need to have that balance. It humanizes him. It really does. I think that’s very important.

Edward Norton: Well, you can also see that he’s good to her, that he’s… I think they have a nice thing, yeah.

Quint: I really loved your scenes with Susan Sarandon in the movie, in particular I love that relationship because I have friends that don’t have very good relationships with their mothers, but there’s always that innate love that a son will have for his mother and vice versa, but it’s an interesting dynamic whenever there’s a little bit of resentment and hatred kind of thrown in there, but there’s always that in the background, that kind of love and I feel that in your scenes with Susan.

Edward Norton: Tim said, and I really think it’s true, that there’s kind of traditions both in classical literature, but also even in southern fiction and stuff like that of the difficulty of coming home you know and I think for Tim a lot of the film is infused with the way that where you are from calls you back, but you resist it. I think a lot of it is Bill has sort of denied where he is from, including his mother and the need for a mother figure in his life to soften his intellectual edge, but he’s got to come back into confrontation with it to be more whole as a person, you know.

Quint: Yeah, well the feeling I get from Bill as a character is that he just reacted so strongly against where he was and where he came from and that he kind of went too far the other way and pretty much this movie is him finding the middle ground.

Edward Norton: Absolutely, yeah. I think the film is all about balance and you call it middle ground or balance, but it’s about finding your way between those sort of poles of your personality and in a weird way, I think all Tim has done is taken his own schizophrenic life and split himself into two characters and one seems chaotic, but the truth is he might have found a better balance between his brain and his joys than Bill has and I think Bill has got a lot of notions about happy life, but he hasn’t actually achieved it. I think he has to bring himself into balance.

Quint: Did you pull a lot from Tim specifically to shape your character? Were there any beats there that you just randomly stole?

Edward Norton: Oh, a lot. Everyone was like “Oh, where did you study these characters?” I was like “I really didn’t have to go very far. It was pretty much Tim.” I think anyone who doesn’t know Tim Blake Nelson and sees the film will know a lot about Tim Blake Nelson. I think it’s very personal to him, but you know I really have got to say movie’s that stick with me are clearly ones that people make because there’s something that they really understand personally in them. Take a movie that rocked me when I was like 18 or 19, DO THE RIGHT THING, you know? That’s Spike Lee going “This is what I know. This is what I’ve come up in. This is what I see. These are tensions that I see in my world and that I want to deal with” or all of us making FIGHT CLUB and saying “This is what I see. This is what we see in the world. This is what we see people our age experiencing.” I feel like when people do that, when you make it personal and true, it comes through and I always felt this about Tim. I like to make films with people who are doing something that matters a lot to them. I think you are going to get into interesting territory when you are with a filmmaker who is doing a piece that base it about things that they really feel and know.

Quint: So you’re saying that this movie is DO THE RIGHT THING with Tulsa Jews?

Edward Norton: (laughs) Yeah, it might just be the DO THE RIGHT THING with Tulsa Jews…

Quint: In the massive, all encompassing, genre of the Oklahoma Jewish community.

Edward Norton: And with this and A SERIOUS MAN, it might be the year of the southern Jew… or the Midwest.

Quint: Just “Year of the Jew” is fine.

Edward Norton: “The year of the Middle American Jew.”

Quint: Done!

Hope you guys dug the chat. Seek out this film! You’ll dig it! Now on to Fantastic Fest! Stay tuned for some coverage of one of the most badass festivals in the world. -Quint Follow Me On Twitter

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