“It’s a show about Catherine, who just so happens to be a police officer,” she said, explaining that these were her influences Julia Bravoa favorite when she was a teenager, and sister Jackie. “Sally is somehow able to write each character and not only their choices but their dialogue as well, as if she embodies that person completely,” says Norton. “Many writers are able to write the protagonist because they feel an affinity for that character. Sally can write Catherine and make her every decision and every line as informed and embodied as Clare’s (Siobhan Finneran’s), Tommy’s, Ryan’s.
“And she writes how people speak, which sounds obvious, but it’s not. Writers are so rarely able to capture dialogue in its truest form, capturing on a larger scale what it means to be human, but also the essence of a moment between two people. With very few words, Sally somehow manages to capture it every time. She sees people, she sees the matrix.
“She also loves to give you a feel for a character and allow you to make assumptions based on tropes and stereotypes and then pull the rug out from under you. Tommy is a classic example. In the first season he is a kidnapper, a raping, murdering psychopath. Then in the fifth episode, after finding out about his son and he was stabbed, possibly fatally, he sits on the kitchen floor sobbing and says, “I got a really bad hand. I could have been anything and I wasn’t given the opportunity and I really regret it. So you suddenly see this humanity, even though he’s a horrible man doing heinous things.
“Sally and the BBC sent me to see criminal psychologists who have had direct contact with such people. The way I found the soul and heart of him was to understand that in most of these people it stems from trauma and abuse and he was a victim of that as a child. When he’s older, he finds control and clings to that control. He sees the world as an inherently hostile place: dog eats dog, and if he doesn’t strike first, he’ll get hit.”
While Royce and Ryan’s relationship takes center stage in the new season, the drama continues to explore the social environment, a harsh place riddled with problems: drug and alcohol abuse, domestic violence, corruption, crime gangs. Life is tough and Tommy is a product of his environment.
“I’m often asked if playing Tommy is uncomfortable and the truth is, it’s not, it’s exciting and empowering,” says Norton. “Of course, violence is always unpleasant and complicated. But actually embodying that headspace is kind of liberating, because he doesn’t care what people think: he firmly believes the world is a shitty place, and he’ll fight to the death.
“I’m the opposite: I worry all the time about what people will think of me, but Tommy is so centered. I worked a lot on it: I listened to choral music and tried to slow down my internal tempo because I’m a naturally hectic person. He’s alert and he’s a reptile. But it comes from an impenetrable trust and a tremendous brand of fatalism – that the world is so dark and life is so worthless – until he meets Ryan. This is the wonderful curveball. Tommy didn’t give a damn, and then there’s this boy and all of a sudden he finds this sense of what it means to love and everything spirals out of control because now there’s a reason to be alive.”
One of the notable qualities of Norton’s performance from the start is his predatory silence. “I gave a very quiet, calm, fairly gentle performance,” he recalls of his audition tape. “I knew there were a lot of actors who could play the really obviously aggressive, violent thug better than I could. It was something that came instinctively and I think that attracted Sally.”
He describes the development of Royce as a voyage of discovery he and Wainwright undertook together. “The other thing we found is a kind of boyishness, a kind of infantilized, stunted boy. Sally lets her actors run wild: she’s so cooperative. She said: “I’d like to find a few places where we could really find that boyishness, some playfulness. If you can think of anything, do it.” So in the first episode of the third series, he’s lying on his bed in jail, playing with a plastic cup, like a little boy playing with his toys.”
Norton says of his time as Tommy, “He was the ultimate mystery, the ultimate puzzle, and every actor loves a great puzzle to chew on. I loved trying to coach him. And every season it got richer and richer, taking us further and further away from any kind of stock villain.”
happy valley is on BBC First, Mondays, 11am and 9.25pm and Foxtel on Demand.
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https://www.smh.com.au/culture/tv-and-radio/he-will-fight-to-the-death-james-norton-s-killer-role-in-happy-valley-20230102-p5c9ts.html?ref=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_source=rss_culture James Norton returns to Happy Valley as Tommy Lee Royce