Edward Norton Shares His Vision For The Music Of 'Motherless Brooklyn' : World Cafe Songs from Wynton Marsalis, Radiohead's Thom Yorke and a pulpy score from Daniel Pemberton all help set a noir scene for the film's 1950s New York setting.

Edward Norton Shares His Vision For The Music Of 'Motherless Brooklyn'

Edward Norton On World Cafe

Edward Norton Vava Ribeiro/Courtesy of the artist hide caption

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Vava Ribeiro/Courtesy of the artist

Edward Norton

Vava Ribeiro/Courtesy of the artist

Motherless Brooklyn is a new film about a private detective trying to solve a murder in 1950s New York. It's based on a novel by Jonathan Lethem and features an ensemble cast that includes Bruce Willis, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Bobby Cannavale, Cherry Jones, Michael Kenneth Williams, Leslie Mann, Alec Baldwin, Willem Dafoe and Edward Norton, who adapted the novel for the big screen.

Motherless Brooklyn is film noir with a twist. Norton plays a private detective named Lionel, but not like the kind made famous by Humphrey Bogart or Jack Nicholson. Norton's character has Tourette's syndrome, which means he can't always control what he says out loud. "I really liked the idea of a detective who, at every moment that the smooth-talking tough guy would do a certain thing, this guy does the opposite," Norton says.


Music is a big part of Motherless Brooklyn, and the film's soundtrack sets the mood with several elements. There's an original score, some classic jazz from Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk and Charles Mingus, as well as a song from Thom Yorke of Radiohead, the band that came to mind when Norton first read the novel in the late 90s.

"I had this intuition, this feeling when I was reading this character of Lionel, with his sensitivity but then this incredible jangley dissonance of his Tourettic mind. That was the era of Radiohead [releasing] OK Computer ... I remember having this thought [about] the way Thom Yorke's voice had that longing in it but the music had this wonderful electronic dissonance and fracture. I thought to myself 'That's a great modernist rendition of the way this guy's mind works in Motherless Brooklyn.' "

But Thom Yorke wasn't the only one who helped Norton with the film's music. Norton tapped American virtuoso trumpeter and composer Wynton Marsalis to help curate the classic jazz songs in Motherless Brooklyn and composer Daniel Pemberton for the original score.

Listen in the player above as I sit down with Norton to talk about the sound behind his vision and how he came to write, direct and star in Motherless Brooklyn.