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08/24/2005 - Larry Turman's Thoughts (No. 2)

The original spec script for American History X by David McKenna ended with the neo-Nazi lead character, played by Edward Norton, rushing off, presumably to avenge his murdered brother's death. I felt, and still do, that if the film ended that way, it would not be worth making. That's right, as good as the many good parts of that film are. But, by my lights, it would not have added up to a meaningful dramatic experience if the Norton character had not acknowledged his responsibility. In the film, this is manifest by Norton cradling his dead brother in his arms and crying out in anguish, "What have I done?!" That one tiny moment in the script, which took some maneuvering and some fighting for, made all the difference to me and, I submit, to the value of the film.

One reason I championed Tony Kaye to direct American History X as his first film was that, in our interview, he talked about the importance of the subject. And he shot the hell out of it, did a fine job, until he couldn't see the forest for the trees and couldn't let go of it. He was summarily removed by New Line and the producers. He went publicly ballistic. Even though he shot every frame of the film and directed every scene in it, he couldn't tolerate the subsequent editing changes, even though they were minor. Because of his public outburst he hasn't, to my knowledge, been able to direct a film since. A juicy tidbit: Norton was so eager for the role that he tested for it. This after receiving an Academy award nomination for his very first film, Primal Fear. But Tony Kaye didn't want him and prevailed upon the studio to allow him time to search out an authentic street person. But finally they, and we producers, insisted and Edward was in the film, for which he rightfully got his second Academy Award nomination. During
the second or third week of shooting, Tony sidled up to me and said, "Edward Norton is the best piece of luck I ever had." Luck, huh?


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