He won British audiences over with roles in Happy Valley and Grantchester - and now Yorkshire actor James Norton has his sights set on Hollywood. Gemma Dunn reports.
Cut-glass accent. Tick. Movie star good looks. Tick. A top-notch education. Tick. A trail of slick screen performances. Tick.
There’s no denying James Norton has had a fair crack of the whip when it comes to fame – but his latest starring role in the remake of the cult 1990s classic Flatliners is set to propel his star to new Hollywood heights.
The sci-fi psychological horror – directed by Niels Arden Oplev and co-produced by Michael Douglas, no less – follows five medical students, obsessed by the mystery of what lies beyond the confines of life.
Taken by the element of the unknown, they soon embark on a dangerous experiment – a near-death experience, which gives them each a first-hand account of the afterlife.
But you guessed it: trespassing to the other side doesn’t come without consequences.
“I think everyone is preoccupied by the question of ‘what happens to us after we die?,” says Norton, a 32-year-old who grew up in Malton and attended Ampleforth College.
“It’s quite plausible now with the technology available to medical students, that ambitious and slightly brazen people would put themselves to death to explore that. To try and answer those questions,” he elaborates. “It’s a brilliant question.”
It’s not the first time the striking actor has broached the subject of ‘afterlife’, however: before training at RADA, Norton read theology at the University of Cambridge.
“Do you know, it’s weird, I did do a lot of work in my degree on near-death experience and we did a load of essays and reading and research into people’s reports of what happens,” he recalls.
“The white light, going down a corridor... And there’s both scientific explanations for that, you know dealing with asphyxiation and things,” he adds. “But there are also people who jump in when there’s a gap and say, ‘It’s God’ or it’s this particular religious explanation, so yeah it was interesting for me for sure.”
Did he have a head start when it came to his character, “loveable rogue” Jamie, then?
“I mean, our afterlife isn’t particularly Christian or anything...” he notes, candidly. “It’s pretty specific to the movie; we hope the real afterlife isn’t as dark as our movie is, but we’ll see.”
It meant all the more that it was his first major Hollywood epic, too.
“I was running around having the time of my life, because it was all new!” he admits. “And it’s an experience to have that kind of support from a studio like Sony – some of the set pieces, which you just don’t have access to television, are really fun and really exciting.
Beaming, he follows: “Driving down the freeway on a motorbike on my own at 100kph was like the best theme park ride of my life.”
Considering his rapid rise to fame in the past three years alone – Norton terrified millions with his BAFTA-nominated portrayal of murderer Tommy Lee Royce in Sally Wainwright’s Happy Valley; not to mention his take on troubled vicar Sidney Chambers in Grantchester, Norton seems destined for even bigger success in the next few years on both the large and small screen.
In fact, Norton is already set to cause waves next year with the lead role in a brand new BBC thriller, McMafia, in which he will play an English-raised son of Russian exiles.
Does he ever fret about the next level of celebrity, though. The next rank of fame?
“No, I don’t think I worry about it,” he answers thoughtfully. “I mean, I hope that... You’re constantly trying to do different jobs and open new doors and build on what you’ve done before. There’s an amazing amount of brilliant writers and directors in this town (Hollywood). So if this allows me maybe an entry into that, then great.”