I recently had the good fortune of talking to Edward Norton for his new film Stone, a prison-set psychological crime thriller that stars him as a convicted arsonist who looks to manipulate a parole officer (Robert De Niro) into a plan to secure his parole by placing his beautiful wife (Mila Jovovich) in the lawman’s path. Check out what he had to say for himself below.

Your famous for doing your homework. How did you prepare for this role?

Edward Norton: This role for me was pretty straight forward because the environment that the character is living in is so specific. We were very lucky that we had a prison in the north of Detroit that was very assessable and very accommodating for us. They made a number of the inmates available to me to speak with. That was my main resource other than John (Director John Curran). Just trying to dig in to what those guys are experiencing. It was nicely contained for me.

Your character goes through a big transformation through the movie. What part of that evolution do you think you identified with the most?

Edward Norton: First off the cornrows were real (laughs). There weren’t any hairstylists in Hollywood who could do cornrows properly so we found a lady called Crystal from Detroit who does a nice clean set of rows.

A lot of people ask me what do I pull on from my own life in the characters I play, but in all honesty it’s not really something that works that way for me. I tend to look at these things as an imaginative process, a challenge of imagination, an empathy to some degree. I get more out of meeting people who have really lived these lives than I do digging around in my own limited experiences. The most I can say is that I thought the idea was very interesting that a person who’s struggling or having a lot of anguish about his condition, might have a radical shift in perspective or a sort of enlightenment through an experience as opposed to a specific spiritual practise or a religion. The fact he can have a revelatory experience by just witnessing something, I think that is something I can relate to. The idea of a transformative experience. John really helped me with that moment in the film. I originally had a problem with the script understanding what causes this – if we are to believe this was authentic in him. John had seen this documentary about a prison where there had been a murder and in the actual footage from the security camera you could see that as the murder was taking place you could see a man in the holding cell behind the bars dropping to the floor and staring at this man who had been killed. John said don’t you think that would be a great moment to create in the film, where Stone has an experience of enlightenment.

What do you learn from each film you make? And when do you see yourself directing again?

Edward Norton: Yeah, on a technical level things are constantly changing. With every film I work on it feels like there’s a new interesting set of gear and things that are making filmmaking easier and easier. Not creatively easier, but I definitely find it interesting with the expanding ways to capture a story. I don’t have any immediate plans to do that. With every single film my favourite part of it is that you get to have a skeleton key that allows you to explore every room, you learn extraordinary things. Things you would never have any reason to investigate, or any opportunity to investigate. Just the couple weeks I got to sit around in this prison and talk to these guys who are incarcerated, it was a revelation for me, it was a hugely memorable experience. I love that part every time.