Talking Charity and Sunscreen With Edward Norton
By Michelle Ruiz Posted May 14th 2010 11:44AM
Edward Norton is best known for hard-hitting turns in cult-classic films like 'Fight Club' and 'American History X,' but he recently took a brief break from butt-kicking to launch Crowdrise.com, a social networking site that helps users raise money for the causes they care about. (Think of it as a super socially-conscious version of Facebook.) Crowdrise is shaping up to be as star-studded as Twitter, with Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill, Russell Brand and Elizabeth Banks all creating pages to raise money for their favorite charities. PopEater caught up with Norton to talk about his new venture, his charitable life and why he may help Will Ferrell's cause, but he won't use his patented "sexy" sunscreen.
Congratulations on your new site! What inspired you to create Crowdrise?
It was a couple of things. One was that I had been looking for an easier way to be able to quickly share with a lot of people something that I was making a fund-raising pitch on. I'm involved with a lot of organizations and causes, and I would find that I would want to let a lot of people know about something in a way that was better than just an e-mail blast and there wasn't a really easy and good tool for doing that. We realized we could just build this ourselves and put it out there for people to use.
It's really cool to see a social networking site used for great causes instead of just procrastinating at work. How does Crowdrise work exactly?
Crowdrise works in a way that will be very familiar to anyone who uses Facebook or Twitter or MySpace. It's very interactive. It's very flexible and it's very user-friendly. Individuals and groups and even big organizations can set up pages on Crowdrise to let other people on the Web know about their causes and they can link their efforts together and ask for donations. It's the kind of thing where you can design your own presence on it within like 15 minutes. Most social networking, just like you said, it's a way for people to say, "Here's what I am. Here's what I'm doing." All we wanted to add to that was, "Here's what I care about and here's what I'm trying to contribute to." We wanted to make it really, really easy for individuals to support organizations and causes that they care about, and we wanted to make it really easy for organizations to get their existing base of supporters to become fundraisers for them. If you're an organization that was raising $100,000 a year and you get everyone who was donating $100 to raise $1,000, suddenly you're getting a million dollars a year. It's an incredible multiplying effect.
As one of your celebrity supporters, Jonah Hill, put it: "Crowdrise uses an incredibly non-abrasive technique to get lazy people to do something good while putting out very minimal effort."
I 100 percent agree. I would say that two of my ultimate test cases on whether this site was easy enough for the average dude who doesn't do very much fund-raising to use were Jonah and Seth Rogen. I ran into Seth last night and he was like, "That was ridiculously easy." He goes, "It took me, like, 7.2 minutes," and he set up this really funny page for something he really cares a lot about, which is the effort to battle Alzheimer's. If Seth Rogen can set his page up in 15 minutes and come back to me and say, "It's awesome and it's easy and I'm raising money," then I think we've done it.
You have a lot of really funny celebrities up and running at Crowdrise, including Elizabeth Banks, Paul Rudd and, of course, Will Ferrell, who is selling his patented sunscreen to benefit Cancer For College, which gives scholarships to cancer survivors.
It's great to have them on the site. On our main page, under our heading, it says, "If you don't give back, no one will like you." You can see that we're all doing this with a smile. Will's page -- that's a good one.
Have you used his sunscreen, "Sexy Hot Tan"?
No, I have not. I'm afraid it would make me pale and hairy like Will. If you're already pale and hairy, then I wouldn't worry. But if you're not, it might be problematic.
Crowdrise gives users "points" when they participate or donate or "vote" for each other. Last we checked, you were the top points-getter with over 130,000 points!
Really? I would have thought Glen Hansard would have been way up there. Glen Hansard raised like $43,000 on his page.
You and Glen (the singer and Oscar-winning star of the movie 'Once') are doing a really cool thing, raising money to get the Maasai people of Kenya a truck.
Glen had come out to Kenya with me and seen this area where we're doing this work with the Maasai Wilderness Conservation Trust and he was really inspired by it, and he heard that they needed a truck and he generally loves Land Rovers and he said, "Oh, I'll buy the truck," and I said, "Oh that's so nice. But you can't afford to just throw down for a truck -- you're a folk singer!" And he was like, "Oh, right." So I said, "Why don't we do some concerts to benefit it and set this up on Crowdrise and put this out to your fans and stuff." He's done this very dynamic thing and raised $43,000 and he's on his way to the $70,000 they need for the truck.
Will your acting ever take a backseat to your charitable work?
I guess it ebbs and flows. This year, I've been really busy with this kind of stuff, but one of the nice things about my day job is that it's not a 9 to 5 job and it's sort of fluid and lets me work on a project like Crowdrise and engage with it for a few months.
You've created a social networking site and you're on Twitter, but we read on your Twitter feed that you spent a month in Indonesia without your cell and computer. Do you have a love-hate relationship with technology?
I do, at times, feel a little bit shackled to it and that's my own fault. I would love my computer more if I worked on it less and watched movies on it more, you know what I mean? I think my problems are not the technology -- they're my own "workaholism." That said, the only way I can go right now in my life to Indonesia for a month and have a pretty good time is that I have a BlackBerry with me so that I can sort of manage some situations from afar. So even though I do feel shackled to it, sometimes it does give me a little bit more freedom to be able to go away.
What's the best part of giving back and being able to create a site like Crowdrise?
It's a great feeling to achieve something that's not about yourself, either you've done something that's a benefit to your community or helped figure out some of the solutions to an issue, like environmental sustainability or whatever -- that's all great. For me, selfishly, it pulls me out of the narrow scope of my own world and gets me involved in things where I am just learning a lot. I think the times you feel most alive are when you're learning something new. I've never wanted to do the same thing all the time -- I find it dull. The things I engage in kind of open up my life into totally interesting chapters and people and places I really would not have ever expected I would end up walking around in. It just makes life more interesting.
Edward Norton Snapshots
Director Tim Blake Nelson, actress Keri Russell, and actor Edward Norton attend the after party for a special screening of "Leaves ofat Levant East at the Hotel on Rivington on March 25, 2010 in New York City.
Getty Images North America
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