James Norton tells Chris Evans about playing ‘fascinating’ Happy Valley villain Tommy Lee Royce

Virgin Radio

13 Dec 2022, 11:37

James Norton at Virgin Radio.

Actor James Norton joined The Chris Evans Breakfast Show with Sky to talk about returning as Tommy Lee Royce in the hotly-anticipated third and final series of Happy Valley.

The new series - which comes six years after the second series ended - kicks off on New Year’s Day on BBC One. James returns to play psychopath and violent criminal Tommy, who has been imprisoned since series one. He told Chris: “Basically all the characters have moved on and a lot has happened in seven years, obviously. For Tommy, his life’s been pretty small. 

“He’s been obsessing about two parts of his life: the son he loves and the woman he hates, and he’s becoming more and more obsessed about those two different binary aims."

The new series will see Sarah Lancashire’s Sergeant Catherine Cawood discover the remains of a murder victim in a reservoir, and a chain of events is sparked that leads her straight back to… you know who. Meanwhile, her grandson, Ryan, is now 16 and has ideas of his own about the kind of relationship he wants to have with the man Catherine refuses to acknowledge as his father. “We all discussed what had happened in the interim seven years, and for the other actors, of course, life had moved on in a much bigger way, because they had their full life, so there was a lot more to fill in,” James said about returning to the role of Tommy. “For me, it was about going back to those two extremes of love and hate. He must have spent seven years just meditating on those two different things.

“I've never had that before, where you jump back into a character. There is something lovely about repeating series, because you feel empowered and you’ve got this bank of memories, like a human-being would have, so you have an instinct, you know what they might do in a certain scenario.”

On getting back into Tommy’s head, the actor said: “It’s always slightly dark and yet there’s something quite enticing about it, because we all get drawn to the subversive, dark fringes of humanity, and Tommy is fascinating. So, I love it, but do I love him? I mean, I love the experience of making the show. I love the people, Sally [Wainwright, creator] is the best, I think, at drama, at dialogue, Sarah Lancashire is obviously the queen.” 

He added: “Tommy is your distant friend who you despise but you can’t tear yourself away from."

Describing the “unique” character, James explained: “What Sally often says to me is, even though he’s kind of this horrible, monstrous, terrifying presence, he’s also a child. He’s infantilised by his trauma which he experienced, and he can’t get rid of that, and no-one has ever helped him, so he’s got a lot of problems. And so we try to find these moments where we eke out this little boy, the toddler.” 

And regarding Tommy’s aesthetic in series three, James told Chris: “True to Sally’s form, she always likes to give me a really novel look, and this time she went for Jesus, so you can see the scar on the head, and the big hair!”

With the BAFTA-winning drama set to finish for good at the end of this upcoming third series, James said: “As far as the way this big trilogy of Happy Valley, the three series, has come to its conclusion, I don’t think people are going to be disappointed.”

Away from Happy Valley, bookies have given James 10/1 odds of being cast as the next James Bond. However, the acting star was quick to pour cold water on rumours that he is set to slip into 007’s tuxedo. He said: “It’s all noise, and it’s still bemusing, I will never get fully used to it, but it’s nonsense.” 

Happy Valley series three begins New Year’s Day at 9pm on BBC One. Series one and two are available to watch on BBC iPlayer now.

For more great interviews listen to  The Chris Evans Breakfast Show with Sky, weekdays from 6:30am on Virgin Radio, or  catch up on-demand here.