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NORMAN

About The Production
Writer/Director Joseph Cedar's story of Norman Oppenheimer, humble New York fixer, is a reimagining of an archetypal tale that has played out in history and literature for thousands of years: the Court Jew. "The narrative of a Court Jew follows a classic structure," says Cedar. "A Jew meets a man who eventually becomes a man with power, but he meets him at a point where his resistance is very low. He offers the man a gift or a favor, and when the man ends up being in power, he brings the Jew into his court. The Jew rises to become a senior consultant, until he becomes subject to a lot of antagonism, at which point the Duke or King, or whoever he is, has no problem getting rid of him. He's a liability and it's easy to get rid of the Jew."

The fact that being a banker was one of the few career paths available for Jews in those days, created both expertise and a network, as Jews were able to move money around in ways that the establishment couldn't. It was a means of survival, both for the Court Jew personally, and for the Jewish people he was able to protect. Unfortunately, his success stoked resentment among the already anti-Semitic common people, envious what they saw as the Court Jew's undue influence over the King-leading inexorably to the Court Jew's downfall.

This story goes back at least as far to the Biblical era, with the tale of Joseph and the Pharaoh. Other characters, like Shakespeare's Shylock in "The Merchant of Venice," Fagin in Dickens' "Oliver Twist" and Leopold Bloom in James Joyce's "Ulysses," don't follow this specific story but the men share certain traits. "Each one of these is an attempt to understand who this Jewish character is," says Cedar. "Why is he hated? Why are we so fascinated by his role in the world?"

Cedar began contemplating the Court Jew narrative when he worked on a never-finished film about Veit Harlan, director of the Nazi's JUD SUSS, the most notorious anti-Semitic film ever made. JUD SUSS was a hate-filled misrepresentation of the life of Joseph SUss Oppenheimer, an 18th Century German banker who became Court Jew for Duke Karl Alexander of WUrttemberg, Germany, and was arrested and executed after the Duke's death. (Other treatments of SUss's life, like Lion Feuchtwanger's 1925 novel Jud SUss and its 1934 British film adaptation starring Conrad Veidt, were more sympathetic.) Whether SUss committed abuses during his time in power is under dispute, but what's clear is that his story ends with redemption-when he is offered the opportunity to save his life by converting to Christianity, Suss remains true to his faith. During his research, Cedar found documents that described a conversation between Oppenheimer and his rabbi in his cell the day before he's executed, talking about his complicated personality and how he wasn't sure whether he did good or bad for the world and for Jews. "I was amazed by how familiar I found him," says Cedar. "In trying to understand him, I wondered if these characters get the bad end of the deal and end up with the unfair reputation of being selfserving, and manipulative. By making NORMAN, I'm trying to correct part of that, or at least offer another perspective on this type of person."

Looking for a modern counterpart to the Court Jew, Cedar set on the idea of a "fixer," someone who helps powerful people get things they want, by taking actions they are unwilling to openly do themselves. These kinds of people continue to exist today, as they always have, because they are necessary, even though they are often scorned for it. The open question is: Why would somebody want to play a role like that? In the case of the film's hero, Norman Oppenheimer (Richard Gere), the answer is that he has to. "Norman knows that if he's not offering something to someone, there's no reason that anyone will stay in contact with him," says Cedar. "It's so sad to imagine someone really knowing that about himself, or even only feeling it without full awareness." Says Gere: "Norman is outside and he's trying to find a way to get in. You find guys like this circling the edges of every business, saying: 'What can I do to help you? I can get you a better table at that restaurant. I can get you a discount.' It's how Norman tries to make himself look valuable."

Because he has nothing real to offer, Norman establishes his worth by name dropping VIPs he can provide access to, even if his actual link to these people is remote to nonexistent. Typically he employs a reference to his wife and daughter, who "used to work" or "babysit" for the important person. "Talking about his family is like a shorthand," says Gere. "It personalizes his life and makes him immediately sympathetic." Says Cedar: "He's discovered that whenever he is not being allowed in, using that card opens something. It allows a little more confidence in the person he's trying to attract." The irony is that the film never establishes whether Norman ever was married or had a child. "I found it to be true of all the people who were models for this  character," says Cedar. "Everybody knew who they were but nobody knew anything about them. No one wants to ask because they are afraid of the answer."

Norman's non-stop "exaggerations" can strike some people as annoying, but he never comes off as a completely bad person. "There is something child-like about him, the way a child can tell a story and they believe it as they're telling it," says Gere. "With all of his bluster and half-truths, he really only wants everyone to feel good around him. He's not angry or jealous or resentful. There's not a mean bone in his body." Says Cedar: "When you understand that Norman's behavior is rooted in deep loneliness, you see there's nothing conniving about it-it's just a survival tool."

Norman Oppenheimer is very distant from the kind of role Richard Gere typically plays. Gere and Cedar began working together almost a year before shooting began, discussing what Gere's version of Norman might be. "Transforming Richard into Norman was very delicate," says Cedar. "We didn't want to play too much with his appearance, but we still wanted to give him something that changes his body language, changes his own perception of himself." Says Gere: "There's a whole different physicality about Norman. He's not an alpha male, this is not a guy who has flirtations with women-he's kind of bound up. There's always stuff around him; his coat, hat, earbuds, and briefcase, and the coat and hat are always tight. I did a thing with my ears where they stick out quite a bit more than mine do-it just seemed to hunker him down into himself in a funny way."

Cedar sees Norman's strenuous efforts as akin to a child haplessly competing in a game of musical chairs. "Norman's trying his best to push his way to the right spot at the right time, so he can get a seat," says Cedar. "But for whatever reason, he just doesn't have the elbows to get in there-and he always ends up without a chair. That was an image I kept in mind when we were making the film. Not so much to literally choreograph a scene, but to choreograph the mood of every scene."

"I think the whole world revolves around Normans," says Cedar. "They're like bees going from one flower to the next. They are absolutely necessary, which is why they exist. Resenting the Normans is natural on one hand, but it's very unfair. It creates this tragic situation that breaks my heart. Everything that you can say negatively about this character has a positive opposite to it. It's just a question of whether you feel compassion towards him or not."

Norman's unquenchable need to be valued leads him into trouble because all his strategies center on getting something for nothing, as he lacks the resources to put his own skin in the game. He is only able to truly matter to the world after he's willing to pay a price himself. This choice puts his negotiating skills to a positive purpose, providing true worth, redemption, and even a legacy. "The prayer the Cantor sings at the end says: 'All those who faithfully occupy themselves with the needs of the community, may God grant them their reward, remove from them all sickness, preserve them in good health, and forgive all their sins.' says Cedar. "Norman deserves credit. And our forgiveness."

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