Raised in Columbia, Maryland, Norton was drawn to theatrical productions at local venues as a child. After graduating from Yale University in 1991, he worked for a few months in Japan before relocating to New York City to pursue an acting career. He gained immediate recognition for his debut in Primal Fear (1996), which earned him a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor and an Academy Award nomination in the same category. His role as a reformed neo-Nazi in 1998's American History X earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor. He also starred in the film Fight Club (1999), which has garnered a cult following.