Happy Valley’s James Norton criticises “ridiculous” posh-bashing of actors

The Grantchester and War and Peace star says preconceptions about actors from certain backgrounds often means they "aren’t allowed the opportunity to transform"

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War and Peace star James Norton has dismissed arguments that acting in Britain has become the preserve of the posh, describing the criticisms as “ridiculous” and joining the likes of Benedict Cumberbatch and Alexander Armstrong in expressing dismay at the frequent complaint.

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Speaking in the latest issue of the Radio Times, Norton says “It’s a real shame […] when you get somebody like Eddie Redmayne, who is such a great ambassador for British drama – two Oscar nominations in two years, it’s extraordinary – and at least half the press coverage on him is about the fact he went to Eton. 

“What’s their point? Are they asking him to take that into account and maybe take his foot off the accelerator for a while? It’s ridiculous.” 

Norton, who attended Yorkshire’s Ampleforth college and read theology at Cambridge, also discussed his own experiences with such preconceptions, and the wider issues of actors being typecast based on their backgrounds.

“There’s two discussions to be had. One is that producers are afraid of taking risks on actors; they somehow forget that actors are there to transform – it’s kind of the point of what we do,” he says.

“When Happy Valley first came up, I was in South Africa. So I auditioned on tape and sent it off. Which turned out to be lucky, as they didn’t know that I didn’t usually speak in a Yorkshire accent. They probably realised once they did a bit of research, but they took the risk, and I will be forever grateful.

“So many actors aren’t allowed the opportunity to transform because people have so many preconceptions about them and make so many judgements about them, just on the way they speak.

He added: “It’s also true that there’s a lot of period drama done here. Americans love it, we love it, and we’re good at it. Often in these dramas there’s a disproportionate amount of RP [received pronounciation] speakers, so it follows that if there’s a higher amount of period drama, there’s a higher amount of ‘well-spoken’ actors.”

James Norton returns to Happy Valley on Tuesday 9th February, while War and Peace concludes this Sunday

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