If Matt Damon Hadn’t Starred in ‘The Rainmaker’, Edward Norton Would’ve Never Done ‘American History X’ — Here’s Why

Ed Norton is universally regarded as one of the best actors of his generation. Having delivered unforgettable performances in films such as Fight Club, Birdman, and Primal Fear, it’s easy to see why he’s held in such high regard. 

And while all of his acting in all of these films has been great, his performance in American History X is what catalyzed his stellar career. 

The interesting thing is, Norton would’ve never starred in American History X if Matt Damon hadn’t accepted the lead role in Francis Ford Coppola’s The Rainmaker

Edward Norton wouldn’t have done American History X if Matt Damon hadn’t gotten ‘The Rainmaker’

Edward Norton attends the Talking Pictures screening of "Motherless Brooklyn" during the 31st Annual Palm Springs International Film Festival
Edward Norton attends the Talking Pictures screening of “Motherless Brooklyn” during the 31st Annual Palm Springs International Film Festival | Rich Fury/Getty Images

Norton discussed his relationship with Damon during a 2019 interview with The Off Camera Show

“Matt was already on my radar,” Norton said. “Matt had been good in stuff, but you know what’s really funny is Matt and I were both up for The Rainmaker.”

Norton was initially interested in The Rainmaker and admitted that he wouldn’t have done American History X if Damon hadn’t gotten the role.  

“That was after I’d done Primal Fear … I’d done a couple of things, and I didn’t know Matt, but I knew who he was. And I think we were in the shortlist on that. And if I had gotten [The Rainmaker], which Matt got, I wouldn’t have done American History X. Because right around then I had read it, and I was feeling it, I was kinda feeling that one,” Norton recalled. 

Edward Norton’s agent demanded that he meet with Francis Ford Coppola 

Around the time that The Rainmaker was being cast, Norton’s agent was pressing him to meet with Coppola. However, Norton was more attracted to American History X, which had more of an indie feel to it. 

“But my agent at the time, who was this very very famous older agent … I was like, ‘I kinda wanna do this little film at New Line about a skinhead and everything,” Norton recalled. “And he’s like, ‘Francis Coppola is inviting you to come up to Napa to talk to him.’ And he goes, ‘If you don’t get on that plane and go take that meeting, I am firing you as a client.’ And I was like, ‘Ok.’ 

Norton was more interested in American History X because he felt the role was too “square.” He had already played a lawyer in Primal Fear, so he felt like it would’ve been too repetitive if he chose a lawyer role again.

“So I went, I met Francis … I was probably really stupid in that he said, ‘What do you think of it?’ And I said, ‘Well, I think it’s pretty square.’ And he went, ‘Oh, it’s entirely square.’”

Francis Ford Coppola advised Edward Norton to do ‘American History X’

When Norton expressed his lack of interest in The Rainmaker, Coppola was curious to know what he was thinking of doing instead. 

“He said, ‘What’s lighting you up right now? What do you want to do?’” Norton recalled. “And I started telling him about [American History X]. And he goes, ‘You should do that.’”

Norton attempted to walk back his comments after Coppola advised him to do American History X, but Coppola continued encouraging him to do what he was passionate about. 

Edward Norton thought he made a big mistake, but the risk paid off

After their conversation Coppola moved forward with Damon instead of Norton, leaving Norton feeling like he’d made a huge mistake. 

“Matt got the part and everything, and I was like, ‘I’m an idiot. That was a movie star role. I just blew it, and blah, blah, blah,” Norton said.

However, later on, Norton ran into Coppola during the Oscars that he was nominated for Best Actor with American History X. Norton was under the impression that Coppola wouldn’t remember him, but Coppola ended up approaching him to congratulate him. 

“He comes over and he goes, ‘I told you,’’ Norton concluded. 

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