Edward Norton

25th Hour

Interviewed by Stella Papamichael

Following stand-out performances in "Primal Fear", "American History X" and "Fight Club", Edward Norton was proclaimed one of finest actors of his generation. After a couple of unconvincing performances in "The Score" and "Red Dragon", he returns to form with Spike Lee's powerful post 9/11 drama, "25th Hour".

Your character's rant against New York - and all that it stands for - is at the heart of "25th Hour". How did that scene help your understanding of the character?

The thing in the mirror is in David Benioff's book. He has this conversation with himself in which he vents his anger. It's about the fact that many other people are getting away with so many other things and so Monty can't accept why he has to go down for this [dealing drugs]. But then, he says, "No. More than anything it was you: Monty Brogan." David didn't put that in his screenplay. He told me once he thought it was too interior a moment. But Spike and I both circled it in the book because it's the first moment Monty acknowledges responsibility for what he's done.

What struck me, too, is that Spike said it was like a love poem to the city, and that's true. What Monty is doing is preparing to leave it all. When he does leave, all these things he loves about the city come back to haunt him.

What about the decision to set Monty's story against the aftermath of 9/11?

Of course there's a political context to that event, but there's also an emotional context that has nothing to do with politics. It's part of the fabric of New York now. If I felt at any time that we were losing the focus of the story and digressing into a political comment, I'd have been very uncomfortable with that. Not that you can't make a political comment on those events, but that's not what this story is about.

That same summer we were shooting in New York, they were making "Maid in Manhattan". OK, you're not going to point the cameras at Ground Zero if you're making "Maid in Manhattan", but we were making a film about loss and about the consequences of choices, and taking things for granted. To not allow that new emotional reality into the background just seemed like an insane kind of denial.

Monty is a likeable character but never shows any remorse, specifically about pushing drugs. How did that figure in your thinking?

It's not my instinct to judge a character. I ask: does the story, as a whole, make a statement I can get behind? And this film is a very strong and unequivocal statement about the consequences of not examining the morality of what you're doing.

I think David [Benioff] pulled a very neat trick here. The story doesn't start with a couple of kids buying drugs off Monty, it starts with showing him saving this broken down dog. So David is pulling you into a relationship with this character that's complicated and will put you in a difficult position when you realise he's going down. I can't even take credit for the decision to make Monty likeable; it's a very present part of the book. It's part of David's story that this guy is a complicated human being with a lot of commendable qualities. Most importantly, you get the sense that Monty had a great deal of potential and he's flushed it and, for me, that's where the message lies.