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Edward Norton
Ed Norton – poster boy

Edward Norton is impenetrable, says the London Times newspaper, quoting approvingly a line he was once allegedly overheard whispering to a lap-dancer in a bar: “I want you to come for a ride in my new electric car.”

Since he arrived in Hollywood, Norton has played a series of conmen, tricksters, schizoids and award-winning shysters who keep the rest of the world at a firm distance, yet he has championed providing solar panels to low-income families, because the subsidies available through the state and the city were substantial enough that it made good financial sense and was a way of saving money over time.

Norton works with Enterprise Foundation, the largest nonprofit developer of affordable housing in the country, which his grandfather founded in the late 70s.

We had a celebration. My colleagues and friends who had participated in the program Danny DeVito, Rhea Pearlman, Brad Pitt, Salma Hayek, Daryl Hannah, Alicia Silverstone came down and met with the families that have gotten systems. We got about 25 systems on families homes in the first year, which allowed us to qualify for a $500,000 grant that will supply 40 or 50 new installations. And more people are getting involved. Bruce Willis called and wants to put an installation on his house in the Caribbean. Larry King agreed to do it. We’re trying to go beyond Hollywood to bring in broadcasters, politicians, sports figures, and musicians. I’m hoping for a snowball effect.

Norton told Grist he hated the Bush administration: Their agenda adds up to complete sellout of American public interest to corporate profit. It is to the shame of this administration that amidst all that’s going on in the country and in the world right now, no one is saying that conservation and alternative energy need to be as seriously and aggressively explored as drilling in the North Slope of Alaska.

The London Times calls him a whipsmart Yale graduate and polymath who speaks fluent Japanese, is conversant in Chinese history and social anthropology, flies planes, directs charities, writes music, plays guitar and dates power babes.

It added in passing that he is a virtuoso actor who explores the mechanics of his craft from within his own performance.

The son of a teacher mother and a federal prosecutor father, his grandfather was the civic activist and real estate developer James Rouse, who invented the shopping mall and popularized the concept of urban renewal.

The lesson he learnt from Marlon Brando, he says, is to insulate yourself from hype. Otherwise you’ll be polluted by the nonsense that people say about you. In Norton’s case this includes his relationship with Courtney Love after they worked together on The People vs Larry Flynt. Love herself told Vanity Fair in 2003 that she was still madly in love with Norton and had left everything to him in her will.

Norton says that our contemporary celebrity culture is toxic. He won’t engage with it because it destroys the mystique around his work and muddies the effect of his performances.

He says that he has a lot of interests outside movies, including flying aircraft and the creation of the programme to provide free solar heating for low-income Californian households. Let’s say this, he announces to The Times, after an epic 13-second silence. Some of the novelty of doing the work may not be as fresh as it was for me. So yes, I fully expect at some point that I’ll stop wholesale doing this.

Buy our book - OFF THE GRID - a tour of American off-grid places and people written by Nick Rosen, editor of the off-grid.net web site

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