As actors, they can both chew scenery and are often preceded by their own reputations.
Farrell's bad-boy rep has sometimes swelled larger than his screen presence. But while the 32-year-old actor might still chain smoke, he is sober, he says, after 15 straight years of constant drinking.
At the same time, his acting chops have been increasingly obvious this year, both in Martin McDonagh's "In Bruges" and with his more villainous turn in "Pride and Glory."
Norton's renown is less the tabloid kind, and more as a much respected actor, known through Hollywood for his passionate behind-the-scenes involvement in projects - involvement that doesn't always coincide with studio goals. (His disagreements with Marvel over "The Incredible Hulk" became public earlier this year.)
The two cheerfully convened for a recent interview together in New York, which provides the gritty setting of "Pride and Glory." Directed by Gavin O'Connor, the film is about a family of cops (Jon Voight plays father to Norton and Noah Emmerich, and father-in-law to Farrell) who must balance ethics with their family and their department.
Farrell: So the trickiest question I've had so far is, "What is like to work with Edward Norton?" because we didn't really work together.
AP: You have only two or three scenes together, the Christmas family dinner scene and the climactic fight scene.
Norton: (Laughing) All we did was fight.
Farrell: The Christmas scene was (Jon) Voight, really, wasn't it? That was the best scene of the film. You have six characters at a table, it can just disappear into the realms of the unspecified. And then Jon had this idea, you know. It came out of nowhere. None of us expected it.
Norton: Jon's a weird cat. I talked with Phil (Seymour) Hoffman about this. There's something about the guys from that era. There's something about the way we all work, I don't know why. I always feel more straight or more square. Somehow when I get around Voight or (Harvey) Keitel, they have a way they come at things that for a lot of us is somehow more unfamiliar. Like when I'm working with Colin or Noah, I feel on a footing where I'm like, "I know how to work with these guys." We kind of have a reference base that's the same. Then you get with those guys and you keep wondering where they're going to bring it from.
AP: Those actors from that era redefined masculinity on the screen, often appearing vulnerable in a way leading men hadn't before. It seems that's something you both contemplate, whether it's you, Colin, in "In Bruges" or Edward in a film like "Fight Club."
Norton: You have this aspiration to hit something visceral or masculine or an intensity. The longer I work and watch other people's work, I think exposing vulnerabilities is by far the hardest thing to do. It's really much easier to cocoon yourself or portray aggression or a physical behavior. Whether it's Clint Eastwood, it's really interesting to watch actors get older and see if they start to peel away some of the exterior that's made them well known.
Farrell: I've played in - I hate the word "career" - but in the last 10 years, I've played various characters who have a cock-of-the-walk - I don't want to say they're impenetrable, but there is a toughness to them on the exterior. And I've always tried to find what hurts them.
AP: What got you interested in this film? It's obviously a kind of movie that's been done before.
Norton: I get how this might be "our take" on a cop corruption film, then it gets a little more active for me. I don't mind that it's a genre. I don't really care that other people have done one because if I can see in it things that I recognize as an experience - a set of problems that people are going through right now - then I start to feel like we're doing what we ought to be doing, which is helping people sort out the themes of the day. For me, I do like to feel like on some level it's a document of the moment, of the kinds of things we were wrestling with in the moment. If you can find that, it's nice. Then it's not just a gig.
Farrell: I just loved the script, man. ... It was also egregiously violent. Somebody asked me the other day, "How can you say that there's not scenes of gratuitous violence?" - particularly referring to (a scene in which his character threatens a baby with an iron). For me gratuitous violence is when you don't show the cost of the act.
AP: For a while, this film struggled to find a release when the studio, New Line Cinema, dissolved into a subsidiary of Warner Bros. As actors of both studio and independent film, are you cynical about where the business is going?
Farrell: I have been both idiotic enough and fortunate enough to keep myself out of the fray that is Hollywood over the last 10 years. I really have. ... My whole thing from the get-go was - and this isn't me trying to portray a generosity - is that I was hurting for Gavin more than I was for any of us. I had visions of it in a bargain bin in Blockbluster.
Norton: I can't explain why, I just didn't have that much worry about it. I had moments of going, "Oh, this could be rough." But, forgive me, but I don't even really think the story is that interesting or impenetrable. Despite the odd limbo, we've had a really excellent experience. ... I think it's come out at a really great moment. It's actually the perfect moment because of some of the themes of the film. The election ...
Farrell: Wall Street. One of the most latent questions of the film is the idea of institutions under the guise of protecting the greater good that end up protecting their own ends. It's the idea of self-governance. Can we self-govern as a people? It's ... Orwellian. Does it all fall to "Lord of the Flies"? If no one is looking over our shoulders, are we inherently generous enough as a race? Or will we just rape and pillage?