The Version Interview... James Norton on the return of Grantchester

James Norton and Robson Green return as the unlikely 1950s crime fighting duo, Vicar Sidney Chambers and Police Inspector Geordie Keating, in the third series of Grantchester, produced by Kudos.  The six-part series is based on The Grantchester Mysteries by James Runcie. 

Tessa Peake-Jones is back as Sidney’s sharp tongued housekeeper Mrs Maguire who keeps the vicar in check; Morven Christie reprises her role as Sidney’s forbidden lover Amanda; Al Weaver returns as the timid curate Leonard Finch; Kacey Ainsworth is back as Geordie’s long suffering wife Cathy, Lorne MacFadyen puts his police helmet back on to play DC Phil Wilkinson and Seline Hizli returns as the feisty police secretary Margaret.

James Norton tells us more.

Q: 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. I get little teasers from writer Daisy Coulam, producer Emma Kingsman-Lloyd and executive producer Diederick Santer because we’re friends now. So when I know it’s being written I start to try and sneakily get some glimmers. Then when it arrives it’s lovely. 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 over-arching 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.”

Q: Is this new series 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 if 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.”

 

Q: Episode two features a village cricket match. Was much acting required when you were batting?

“At the end of filming for the first series we had a cast and crew versus Grantchester villagers cricket match. I don’t think I’d played since then. My cricket during filming for this series was even ropier than it was back then. “Although I’m reassured by the fact I’m always a little bit better than Robson Green who is just completely rubbish at cricket. I think I took less takes to make contact with the ball than he did. Sidney hits a boundary for four in the script. That was achieved with a couple of kind camera angles and probably one or two flukily-hit shots which luckily were caught on camera. “I really enjoyed it. We were filming a little later in the year for this series, filming into the autumn and winter. We wrapped the whole series on the 23rd of December. But we filmed the cricket scenes for episode two in an amazing Indian Summer. We were so lucky with absolutely sweltering heat. So there was no trick of the camera there. We were having a lovely couple of days in the sun knocking around a cricket ball.”

Q: You posted a photo online of a huge Grantchester tattoo on your back when the series three clapperboard reached ‘Slate 500’. What was all that about?

“Some people thought I actually got a tattoo and that I was obsessed with the series. I love Grantchester but that would be a bold tattoo to have on my back! We have an amazing camera clapperboard guy called Laurence. And every time we got to 100, 200, 300 slates etc, he would make the slate an occasion. They would get more and more elaborate and ornate. “The 500 slate in the final block of filming came as we were filming in a Romani community and lots of tattoos were being worn. So he got me in early that day to make the 500th slate into a temporary tattoo. Then when we got to it I took off my shirt and someone took immense pleasure in slapping my back, which was representing the clapperboard. He didn’t tell me it would take about two weeks to get off. It’s really hard to scrub your back. But it was a lot of fun. Again, it just goes to show the spirit of Grantchester. That sense of everyone having a bit of fun.”

 

Q: 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.”