In the Moment: with James Norton
I had the acting bug from a very early age,” says British actor James Norton. “I remember when I had friends over, they would all be desperate to play football or cricket, but I would insist upon making a little piece of theatre that I could write, direct and star in. I think they got fed up in the end and went to play at my other friends’ houses!
“It takes a lot of courage, when everyone is asking you what you want to do, if you say that you want to be a musician or an actor, as people can be condescending and say, ‘Oh, that’s so sweet. Good luck with that.’ So for a long time, I thought I’d be a lawyer, even though I harboured this dream to act.
“My parents both come from the world of academia, but I don’t think I ever felt pushed to go down an academic or acting route. I loved my degree in theology [Norton studied at Cambridge University]. It was great, even though it doesn’t have any relevance to my current profession. It’s not even on my CV, but I would never turn the clocks back.
“Cambridge is incredible, because you’re blessed with these amazing alumni: world leaders on a topic, who will be there to supervise you through an essay. Trevor Nunn came back to direct a production of Cymbeline for the centenary of the Marlowe Society, which was an amazing experience. There’s this famous thing in the industry called ‘Being Trev’d’, where he comes over to give you a note and he will take you in his arm in an affectionate headlock and say, ‘James, my son’ – it’s like an impressive bear hug.
“When I got into drama school, that’s when I knew that I could safely say I wanted to be a professional actor. Having that confidence and self-belief is an incredibly important thing
to take to auditions, because if you walk in and are in any way apologetic about your choice of career, you’ve lost at the first hurdle.
“I’ve been pretty lucky; the last few years with Happy Valley and then Grantchester have been very special. I’m still waiting for that duff job with the diva-ish cast or aggressive and cruel director. Playing Tommy, the psychopath in Happy Valley, was a great step for me. It was a real privilege because it’s not often that you get to play a role so different to yourself, and in the industry, producers inevitably cast by type. It was a distressing place to be because his view of the world is incredibly hateful, but even though that was the case, it was still immensely rewarding. I loved it.
“I was warned by a journalist that I would get loads of handbags around the head – that classic soap-opera thing when there’s a villain and people are completely unable to distinguish between the character and the actor. The funniest was when the public gathered on set when we were filming Grantchester. My character, Sidney Chambers, is loosely based on Robert Runcie, the old Archbishop of Canterbury, and you could see them looking at me, trying to process this memory of a psychopath who is now wearing a dog collar!”
MAKING A SPLASH
CAMBRIDGE “It was certainly useful for my latest role that I studied theology at Cambridge. The character I play in Grantchester, Sidney Chambers, also studied theology at Cambridge. The producer said, ‘That’s a bit too good to be true.’ Cambridge is so magical. It was lovely to go back and film there; it’s kind of a home from home for me”
COUNTRY LIFE “I grew up in the countryside, so I had quite a feral life up until the age of about 14. I had the safety of that environment, so I was able to run wild and let loose. It was totally idyllic”
STYLE “My style is quite classic. I wear a lot of jumpers and brogues, and I love a good suit. I’m really into vintage, too; for a long time, I had a market stall where I sold men’s vintage clothing”
“I do love clothes, and I do love M&S. All my underwear is M&S!”
TOP IT OFF
A considered choice of accessory, like this trilby in a complementary tone, will round off an everyday look