These are a couple photo’s from a photo shoot I did a while back for a friend of mine, an artist. She apparently loved the profile of my face, and was inspired to do this Victorian-type bust for her art series.
“When people go on about the way that you look…what they’re seeing isn’t really you. Well, you can’t show up with a beer belly,” he says, with a laugh, “but you can’t be in incredible gym condition either – that’s just going to look ridiculous. Hopefully, we’ve struck the right balance.”
Norton says he is unconcerned about being “objectified”. “Well, it’s been so long, hasn’t it, that women have found themselves in that position? And so now, it feels right that it is happening the other way round. From a personal point of view, when people go on about the way that you look or how attractive you are what they’re seeing isn’t really you. It’s the character. Prince Andrei, for example, was set up to be a romantic hero, but that’s not who I am. If people saw me through a keyhole, as my life really is, they’d go: ‘Oh!’ The risk is that you start to read this stuff about yourself and engage with it and believe it. Then, I think, you’re really in trouble.”
Just as well, that this now 30-year-old actor is bright, hugely affable, able to laugh at himself and comes from a family that both delights in his success but, you imagine, wouldn’t put up with too much posturing or nonsense.
Born in London but raised in rural North Yorkshire, he’s the son of two teachers, Hugh and Lavinia, with a sister who does “a proper job” as a doctor. “Because none of them is anything to do with the industry, they’ve always been slightly bemused by the fact that I wanted to act ever since I played Joseph in the nativity play at the age of four.
“After that, I’m sure I was an annoying, precocious little kid who just wanted to dress up and get all the attention. I’d write all these weird little plays and force all my friends to act in them, when they probably just wanted to play football. But, amazingly, everyone has always been incredibly supportive.
“Mostly producers worry about casting against type. They want the character to walk through the door because that makes everyone’s life easier. But, as actors, that’s frustrating because it’s our job to transform. So it’s pretty wonderful that they were willing to take a risk with me and, hopefully, I’ve shown that the way you look or sound, or the class that you’re from, doesn’t limit you to a certain kind of role.
“Teenage years are tricky for everyone, but when you’re 15 and it’s an all-boys boarding school, as it was then, and you go through puberty late, it makes a huge difference. You’re a little boy in a testosterone-fuelled world – and, in my case, one who was into arts and music when everyone else was into rugby. So you’re standing on the pitch going ‘Oh, my God!’ I look back now and it seems ridiculous but, at the time, it felt quite big. There was a guy called Father Peter who I’d go and chat to in an attempt to work through all my angst. And, for a short while, I became a bit religious myself, which I’m not especially now. But, still, being at Ampleforth, and then going on to study theology at Cambridge, gave me a lack of cynicism about faith and a respect and fascination for all religions.”
“You could sit around a table in a pub with people of my generation and talk about being gay or transgender and everyone would be like ‘Cool! Let’s get another drink.’ But if you were to say you were a Christian, people would go, ‘Whoa!’ And that’s kind of odd. Part of the reason that I love Grantchester is that it’s a show in which the hero is a man of faith. He’s not a comic device or a villain. He’s just a very normal, very sympathetic young man who most people can identify with. My love life right now is infinitely less interesting than that of any of my characters"
For research, Norton read the latter’s autobiography, The Reluctant Archbishop. “And the reason it’s called that is because he never intended to become one. He was always a modest man without hubris or ambition. He found himself head of the church through sheer personality and charisma but the truth was that he also loved to drink, he loved to flirt, he loved jazz, but he also had faith and it wasn’t cynical in any way. I think I would have liked him very much, just as I also like Sidney.”
The occasions when James Runcie has been on set, he says, have been emotional. “Especially during the first series, when we played out the war scenes. Like Sidney, Robert had been a tank commander – he won the Military Cross and was among the first troops to liberate Bergen-Belsen – and James said it was bizarre seeing this kind of reincarnation of his dad in uniform. I was completely moved an honoured by it.”
Norton feels things deeply – just one in a package of qualities that would make him attractive to the modern woman, although right now, he is single, living in Peckham, south London, with a male flatmate who’s a primary school teacher.
“My love life right now is infinitely less interesting that that of any of my characters,” he says, but in time is looking forward marriage and fatherhood. I definitely want that, because my sister and I were raised in a really close family and my parents are still very much in love and living in Yorkshire. That’s the kind of end game that I would love, too.”