How ‘Motherless Brooklyn’ Director-Star Edward Norton Approached Playing a Man With Tourette Syndrome (Video)

“People get fixated on different words and physical twitches are different,” the writer-director-actor says

Last Updated: October 30, 2019 @ 12:07 PM

Edward Norton and his “Motherless Brooklyn” co-stars visited TheWrap’s studio at the Toronto Film Festival to discuss his upcoming film, an adaptation of the Jonathan Lethem novel about a detective with Tourette syndrome who investigates the murder of his agency’s boss.

Along with starring as the detective, Lionel Essrog, Norton also wrote and directed the film to give himself the creative freedom to depict Lionel the way he wanted to. The star told TheWrap’s Beatrice Verhoeven that while other physical and mental disorders have a set group of symptoms, Tourette syndrome manifests itself in unique ways depending on each person.

“People get fixated on different words and physical twitches are different,” Norton said. “So in some ways, it was a great liberation for me in that I could come up with the blend of those things that I felt served this character and this story and be somewhat improvisational in those scenes.”

Norton was joined by Willem Dafoe and Gugu Mbatha-Raw, whom he praised as “very generous, very patient, and very nimble.” It’s not uncommon for a director to also star on the film he’s working on, but Norton acknowledges that it creates a different dynamic on set than when the director is always behind the camera.

Dafoe, however, said that he loves it when his director is his scene partner.

“You don’t have this relationship where you’re performing for an outside eye. That outside eye is in there with you and you become an extension of that person,” he said. “It’s a beautiful way to also personalize the world for you because it takes away the call and response you sometimes have when you think of a director as being outside the story, judging and guiding. The guide is right there, with you in the story.”

Watch more with the cast of “Motherless Brooklyn” in the clip above and catch it in theaters on November 1.