Presented annually by the Casting Society of America, the Artios Awards celebrate excellence in casting film, television, and theater. This year at the 35th Artios ceremony,  Casting Director Deborah Aquila (La La Land, Shawshank Redemption, Dexter, and Sex, Lies, and Videotape) was recognized for her myriad of achievements. In turn, one of the many actors she discovered along the way gave a speech honoring her work—Edward Norton. 

The 50-year-old star reflected on his breakthrough into the biz: portraying Aaron Stampler, an altar boy who’s charged with murdering a Roman Catholic Archbishop in the 1996 noir drama Primal Fear. Aquila selected the then-unknown Norton from a pool of two thousand other actors, but he only came onto her radar because he initially sent her a fax. That’s right—the cutting-edge technology of the time.

“I sent a fax to her at Paramount—dating myself—trying to desperately say … you saw me for this animated short in front of an independent at Sundance, or something like that, and I’d love to get in [for an audition],” Norton told the Artios crowd. “[Aquila] responded to it. I got that audition. She was seeing thousands and thousands of people for that part. What happened, happened, and then there were lots of stories about the way it could have gone down. It started to kind of focus on me.”

One actor who passed on the role was Leonardo DiCaprio who had his hands full with Titanic at the time. So Norton took the opportunity to show Aquila the best he had to offer. He continued:

“When I went in to audition for ‘Primal Fear,’ I asked if I could come into the room. Then, Deb came into the room, and I was sitting on the floor by the couch in the scene in the prison cell. Deb took a look at me and grasped that I didn’t want to chat, that I just wanted to get into it. She came over, pushed the table aside, and sat down on the floor with me. I looked at her and realized, ‘There is no assistant. She doesn’t have a script in her hand. She’s sitting down to do the scene with me. So, let’s go.’ And she did.”

Primal Fear went on to be Norton’s feature debut and earned him a Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor as well as his first Academy Award nomination. On top of it, the film was a box-office hit, and it kicked off his prolific acting career. Norton’s subsequent films include Fight Club, American History X, Rounders, 25th Hour, The Score, FridaMotherless Brooklyn, and The Incredible Hulk. And over the years, he’s received a total of three Oscar nods—one for his performance in American History X, another for the black comedy Birdman, and of course, another for Primal Fear

Raised in Maryland, Norton discovered his intrigue with theatrical productions as a kindergartener after seeing a local musical production of Cinderella. At the age of eight, he made his professional debut in the musical Annie Get Your Gun at a local theater. And as a teen, he won the acting cup at an annual summer camp for boys in New Hampshire. After graduating from Yale College in 1991, Norton moved to New York with aspirations of becoming an actor, worked odd jobs and took acting lessons. 

Deborah Aquila not only has a keen and remarkable eye for talent, but she clearly has an open mind when it comes to new talent. And as Norton presented her with the Artios’ Hoyt Bowers Award, he let her know just how much he appreciates that.