Sunday 25 September 2016

'Breakout young star James Norton is running the risk of overexposure' - Pat Stacey

Star appears in Happy Valley (BBC 1, Tuesdays) and Grantchester (UTV Ireland, Thursdays)

Pat Stacey

Published 03/03/2016 | 11:03

James Norton in Grantchester
James Norton in Grantchester

When RTE One broadcast its three-part drama about Charlie Haughey last year, a popular jibe was that it featured virtually every actor that had appeared in Love/Hate. It was an exaggeration, although one not without a few grains of truth.

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Apart from Aidan Gillen as Haughey and Tom Vaughan-Lawlor as his spin doctor PJ Mara, Charlie also found room for Love/Hate alumni Laurence Kinlan, who’d played audience favourite Elmo in the gangland saga; John Connors, who was the philosophy-spouting Traveller assassin Patrick; and Peter O’Meara, whose character Andrew the dodgy dentist ended up being suffocated with a 22-cent plastic bag by crazy Fran, played by Peter Coonan.

Just for the record, Coonan wasn’t in Charlie. I imagine he would have been, though, if the script had called for plastic bags rather than brown envelopes.

The same joke did the rounds during 1916 drama Rebellion, which featured three Love/Hate stars, Charlie Murphy, Ruth Bradley and Brian Gleeson, in leading roles and a number of others from the series in smaller parts.

The impression that there are only about 12 to 15 employable actors in Ireland is reinforced by this year’s other 1916 drama, TV3’s The Trial of the Century, which stars Vaughan-Lawlor as Padraig Pearse and Aobhinn McGinnitty, who played Nidge’s wife Trish in Love/Hate, as a woman whose innocent son is shot dead during the Rising.

You can’t blame actors for grabbing every television role that comes their way. Acting is a parlous way to make a living and the work could dry up at any moment.

But there’s no great mystery about why the same handful of familiar faces keep turning up on our screens. Take Olivia Colman, currently the busiest female actor working in British TV.

She tends to be top of casting directors’ lists, not because she has some compromising photos of them stashed in a locked safe somewhere, but because there are few actors of her calibre around.

Plenty of other women could have played Detective Sergeant Ellie Miller in Broadchurch; not all of them, however, could have invested the scene in which Miller learns her husband is a murderer with the raw emotional power Colman brought to it. But for any actor, no matter how good, a pitfall is rarely more than one step away.

Colman, excelling yet again in BBC1’s dazzling adaptation of the John le Carré novel The Night Manager, has already been the subject of a mild backlash on social media and in the online comment sections of newspapers. Never mind the quality of her performances, her ubiquity has begun to work against her, just as it once worked against James Nesbitt.

For a period of about 10 years, from Cold Feet through to Murphy’s Law, the public seemed to get it into their heads that Nesbitt was on television all the time. He wasn’t, of course; it just seemed that way, largely because of that irksome Yellow Pages ad campaign he appeared in.

Nesbitt, never anything other than an excellent actor, overcame all that nonsense with outstanding performances in Jekyll, Occupation and The Missing. He’s fine, too, in Sky 1’s Lucky Man, even if the concept itself is a bit of a clunker.

If any actor needs to be aware of the double-edged nature of fame, and of the near-invisible line between exposure and overexposure, it’s James Norton.

Up until 2014, the only programmes involving the name Norton any of us knew about were The Graham Norton Show and the anti-virus software.  And then along came Happy Valley, and with it a ferocious breakout performance by 30-year-old Norton as heinous killer Tommy Lee Royce. Since then, Norton has been all over television.

He returned as Royce in the second season of Happy Valley. He scored another hit as Andrei in the lavish War and Peace. Last night, he was back in ITV’s cosy but popular murder mystery Grantchester, in which he stars as crime-solving 1950s clergyman Sidney Chambers.

Success tastes sweet, but sometimes really sweet things can make you feel sick.

HAPPY VALLEY, BBC1, TUESDAYS; GRANTCHESTER,  UTV/ITV/UTV IRELAND, THURSDAYS

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