American actor, filmmaker and activist Edward Harrison Norton was born on August 18, 1969, in Boston, Massachusetts, and was raised in Columbia, Maryland.
His mother, Lydia Robinson "Robin" (Rouse), was a foundation executive and teacher of English, and a daughter of famed real estate developer James Rouse, who developed Columbia, MD; she passed away of brain cancer on March 6, 1997. His father, Edward Mower Norton, Jr., was an environmental lawyer and conservationist, who works for the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Edward has two younger siblings, James and Molly.
From the age of five onward, the Yale graduate (majoring in history) was interested in acting. At the age of eight, he would ask his drama teacher what his motivation in a scene was. He attended theater schools throughout his life, and eventually managed to find work on stage in New York as a member of the Signature players, who produced the works of playwright and director Edward Albee. Around the time when he was appearing in Albee's Fragments, in Hollywood, they were looking for a young actor to star opposite Richard Gere in a new courtroom thriller, Primal Fear (1996). The role was offered to Leonardo DiCaprio but he turned it down. Gere was on the verge of walking away from the project, fed up with the wait for a young star to be found, when Edward auditioned and won the role over 2000 other hopefuls. Before the film was even released, his test screenings for the part were causing a Hollywood sensation, and he was soon offered roles in Woody Allen's Everyone Says I Love You (1996) and The People vs. Larry Flynt (1996). Edward won the Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Supporting Role and received an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in Primal Fear (1996). In 1998, Norton gained 30 pounds of muscle and transformed his look into that of a monstrous skinhead for his role as a violent white supremacist in American History X (1998). This performance earned him his second Oscar nomination, this time for Best Actor.
He received his third Oscar nomination, for Best Supporting Actor, for his work in Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014). His most prominent roles also include the critically acclaimed Everyone Says I Love You (1996), The People vs. Larry Flynt (1996), Fight Club (1999), Red Dragon (2002), 25th Hour (2002), Kingdom of Heaven (2005), The Illusionist (2006), Moonrise Kingdom (2012), and The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014). He has also directed and co-written films, including his directorial debut, Keeping the Faith (2000). He has done uncredited work on the scripts for The Score (2001), Frida (2002), and The Incredible Hulk (2008).
Alongside his work in cinema, Norton is an environmental and social activist, and is a member of the board of trustees of Enterprise Community Partners, a non-profit organization for developing affordable housing founded by his grandfather James Rouse.