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A quick Q&A with James Norton from hit series Grantchester

2017-06-20 13:11

Johannesburg - James Norton is back as crime fighting Vicar Sidney Chambers in the third series of Grantchester, currently on ITV Choice (DStv 123) on Tuesdays at 20:00. 

James sat down for a quick Q&A about the new season. 

Watch a trailer here:

How does it feel when the first Grantchester script of a new series arrives?

It is a bit of a homecoming for me every time. Grantchester is always beautifully balanced between being familiar and welcoming, both for us and the audience, and having that sense of nostalgia and affection. But also it always has that bite in the stories.

As soon as you get the script it’s a complete page turner and I can’t wait to see what happens next. Not least with each episode but also what they do beautifully is maintain that narrative between Sidney and Geordie (Robson Green).

Then the next question is ‘Who’s going to play all the guest roles?’ We’ve got some incredible casting directors who fill each of the roles with such high calibre actors. That’s always another great moment when we find out who’s playing who. I love it.

Do you believe that this new series, currently airing in South Africa, is slightly darker?

If you described Grantchester to someone and they hadn’t seen it, they might assume it simply has that cosy, nostalgic, crime story feel. But as anyone who has seen the show knows it is so much more. It has so many more layers and is so much richer, deeper and darker than that.

What brings the darkness is partly to do with the way they don’t shy away from the issues of the time. We did an episode, for example, about the death penalty and homosexuality being illegal in the 1950s, along with various other themes of the period.

The further we get to know the characters and the further we go into the series the darkness starts to revolve around their lives and the choices they make. It is darker but that’s partly because we know and love these people so much. Then the choices they make which hurt other people feel so much more painful. I think it’s partly darker because we as a cast and the audience are more invested and know these people as friends. So when people you’re close to trip up or hurt other people it feels so much worse.

Series three is a very personal series. It’s perhaps less about the period, what defined the ‘50s in comparison to now, and is much more about the inner turmoil and personal journey of Sidney and Geordie. It’s about guilt and conflict. The conflict between love and duty. It is shocking and it is dark but in a slightly different more personal way.

Baby Grace is played by twins. How was it acting with them?

Our twins were wonderful. One of them was slightly better behaved than the other so we gravitated to that one! It was a bit like having Dickens on set. When you have babies of three or four months old on set, everyone just turns into these mushy gooey messes. Those little girls were literally handed around a crew of 100 people and didn’t seem to bat an eyelid.

It always feels like a family on Grantchester. It’s no secret that Grantchester is a very happy set and one of the reasons why we get so many great actors on each episode is because it’s an enjoyable place to be. So when you’ve got children around that sense of family and fun is added to. The days when we had the twins and then Dickens bouncing around our heels, it did feel like the Grantchester family was complete.

Gary Beadle plays new Archdeacon Gabriel Atubo. How does his arrival impact on Sidney?

When you have this duty versus love conundrum, the duty part very much is manifested in the church. At the end of series two with the Archdeacon being sent away in disgrace, it started to lay the seeds of Sidney’s doubts in the actual church. Archdeacon Gabriel arrives and is really charismatic. He provides this older brother type mentor, father figure in Sidney’s life. He gives really wise words of advice when Sidney is struggling.

But it’s not enough. It’s not just Sidney’s love of Amanda which is eating away at him; it’s also his doubts within the institution of the church.

The courts and justice system were put on trial in series two. In series three it’s the church itself that’s put on trial. Gary Beadle and I have very fiery theological debates within the script in some great scenes. Then we’d be standing outside having a cup of tea in our costumes talking about something really mundane afterwards. He’s a great actor and plays that role beautifully.

Do you get a lot of Grantchester fans watching filming?

This is my first experience of this type of returning drama. I’ve never done the third series of anything. We have a very loyal fan base. People who fall for the show and fall for it hard. It’s lovely because they know everything about it and they have relationships with the characters. They know more than us often about the world of the show. So they come to watch filming, especially when we’re in Grantchester itself, and they are just incredibly happy to be there. We also get attention when we’re filming in the centre of Cambridge. We’re lucky to have such a loyal fan base.
For three years Robson and I have been trying to persuade the producers to have some Interpol story so Sidney and Geordie have to go down to Tuscany to rescue some wayward vicar or something. But they’re not having any of it, sadly.

You get a lot of attention from both the public and media. How do you keep your feet on the ground?

I’m very lucky to have family who are really supportive. My dad is a regular extra on Grantchester. He usually does a day as various people. But we’ve never been able to persuade my mum. Until now. She is in series three of Grantchester with my dad as guests at a policeman’s ball. She was slightly terrified at how much she looked like my granny when she got the proper perm on and everything. They’re amazing. The come to set and support me. But they’re also very wise and grounded themselves. My family and friends make life feel normal.

It’s also the people you work with. The crew and production team and rest of the cast are great. Robson Green has banked more TV hours in the UK than mostly anyone else. And yet he’s one of the most grounded, loyal, feet on the ground people I know. He always has a word for everyone. So unjudgemental and inclusive.

I’ve been lucky to be surrounded by great family who don’t allow my feet to leave the ground, but if they do I get firmly slapped back down. And similarly with people I work with, like Robson. I look and learn from people like him. He was bombarded one day with fans and I said, ‘How do you deal with this?’ And he said, ‘These people are the reason you are able to go on these amazing journeys and play these roles. They enable that career. So it’s a contract. You give them time because they give you this career.’ It was a wise moment and I banked it. He’s a good man.

The third series of Grantchester is currently on ITV Choice (DStv 123) on Tuesdays at 20:00.

(Photos supplied:  ITV)

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