Edward Norton on Milos Forman: 'An Infectious Optimist and Lover of Life'

"He was my first real mentor in filmmaking and ... I’ve never worked with anyone who matched his wizardry at cultivating 'unrepeatable moments'," actor says

Edward Norton, Milos Forman Credit: Joe Russo/Variety/REX Shutterstock, Matt Baron/BEI/REX Shutterstock

Edward Norton, who starred in Milos Forman's The People Vs. Larry Flynt, penned a tribute to the director following Forman's death at the age of 86.

"Milos was one of my true artistic heroes," Norton wrote in a statement. "Not just because he was a great film director but because of his capacity to sustain an exuberant belief that individual human spirit can triumph over institutions of oppression and his conviction that art can and must play a role in that fight for the health of a society."

Forman's films, especially as part of the Czech New Wave, were informed by his upbringing in communist Czechoslovakia and his revolt against societal mores.

"He was an infectious optimist and lover of life, despite losing both of his parents to the Nazis as a boy and then finding his way as a young man and artist under the Kafka-esque oppressions of a totalitarian state," Norton wrote of the director, who also helmed the Best Picture Oscar-winning One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and Amadeus.

"And, if you were lucky enough to get to know him and hear about these experiences and how they forged him, you realized that for all the success and privilege that came to him, his own perspective was that he was lucky to simply be alive and free and that he had an obligation to keep using his work to shake his fist in defiance."

Norton portrayed lawyer Alan Isaacson opposite Woody Harrelson's Larry Flynt in the 1996 biopic that detailed the Hustler publisher's First Amendment battle. Four years later, when Norton made his directorial debut with the comedy Keeping the Faith, he cast Forman in the role of a priest.

"He was my first real mentor in filmmaking and, to this day, I’ve never worked with anyone who matched his wizardry at cultivating the 'unrepeatable moments' that made his films so magical," Norton continued. "The innumerable wonderful memories I have from working with him on The People vs Larry Flynt, having him act in my first film and traveling with him to his beloved Prague remain one of the greatest gifts of my career."