Belfast Telegraph

'You're always trying to do different jobs and build on what you've done before' - James Norton sets his sights on Hollywood

He won British audiences over with roles in hit television shows such as Happy Valley and Grantchester, and now James Norton has his sights set on Hollywood, having bagged his first major film role in the reboot of Nineties flick Flatliners. With the world at his feet, he tells Gemma Dunn of his hopes for stardom

Cut-glass accent. Tick. Movie star good looks. Tick. A top-notch education. Tick. A trail of slick screen performances. Tick. There's no denying British star James Norton has had a fair crack of the whip when it comes to fame - but his latest starring role in the remake of the cult 1990s classic Flatliners is set to propel his star to new Hollywood heights.

The sci-fi psychological horror - directed by Niels Arden Oplev and co-produced by Michael Douglas, no less - follows five medical students, obsessed by the mystery of what lies beyond the confines of life.

Taken by the element of the unknown, they soon embark on a dangerous experiment - a near-death experience which gives them each a first-hand account of the afterlife.

But, you guessed it: trespassing to the other side doesn't come without consequences.

"I think that everyone is preoccupied by the question of 'what happens to us after we die?'" Norton (32) maintains of the 'modernised' film's appeal.

"It's quite plausible now with the technology available to medical students, that ambitious and slightly brazen people would put themselves to death to explore that.

"To try and answer those questions," he elaborates. "It's a brilliant question."

It's not the first time the striking actor has broached the subject of afterlife, however: before training at RADA, Norton read theology at the University of Cambridge.

"Do you know, it's weird, I did do a lot of work in my degree on near-death experience and we did a load of essays and reading and research into people's reports of what happens," he recalls.

"The white light, going down a corridor... and there's both scientific explanations for that, you know dealing with asphyxiation and things," he adds. "But there are also people who jump in when there's a gap and say, 'It's God' or it's this particular religious explanation, so yeah, it was interesting for me."

Did he have a head start when it came to his character, "loveable rogue" Jamie, then?

"I mean, our afterlife isn't particularly Christian or anything..." he notes, candidly. "It's pretty specific to the movie; we hope the real afterlife isn't as dark as our movie is, but we'll see."

As for Jamie: "He isn't the most serious of students," Norton confesses. "He likes to party, he likes the girls, he's full of bravado and confidence and makes no bones about the fact that what he's really after is recognition. He wants to be a celebrity doctor."

It's a self-assurance that's balanced out by his fellow 'scholars', helmed by Ellen Page, Diego Luna, Nina Dobrev and Kiersey Clemons.

"In any movie, any performance, the trust involved between a group of actors is immense," insists the Londoner. "You have to open yourself up and within a few days show your soul and become incredibly vulnerable with strangers. And that takes an enormous amount of trust.

"So it's no surprise that actors generally become very close very quickly," confides Norton, who is currently loved up with his former War and Peace co-star, Jessie Buckley.

"And that was what happened on this movie, which was great because this movie is all about trust," he adds. "These characters are literally putting their lives in each other's hands and saying, 'Get me back, take me back from death.'

"So the fact that we all got on so well, that we all trusted each other off camera meant that the relationships and the stories of our friendships on camera was much easier."

It meant all the more that it was his first major Hollywood epic, too.

"I was running around having the time of my life, because it was all new!" he admits. "And it's an experience to have that kind of support from a studio like Sony - some of the set pieces, which you just don't have access to in television, are really fun and really exciting. Beaming, he follows: "Driving down the freeway on a motorbike on my own at 100kph was like the best theme park ride of my life."

Other first-time adventures included enrolling in the 'medical bootcamp' in order to learn how to carry equipment correctly and give injections and intubations the way a real physician would.

"It was a really great bonding experience," states Norton.

"But it was also very important that it all looked genuine and authentic because we don't want to draw the eye. It was a challenge; it was a lot to learn in a short space of time."

Don't expect him to exploit his newfound life-saving skills anytime soon, however.

"I'd like to think I was a bit better equipped..." he responds, with a laugh. "I was saying earlier, I think the problem in our CPR was preventing breaking the ribs, because it really does cause damage. So whilst we'd look great, we'd probably be really, really hopeless!"

But considering his rapid rise to fame in the past three years alone - Norton terrified millions with his BAFTA-nominated portrayal of murderer Tommy Lee Royce in Sally Wainwright's Happy Valley; not to mention his take on troubled vicar Sidney Chambers in Grantchester - it seems increasingly unlikely he will require a fallback career.

In fact, Norton is already set to cause waves next year with the lead role in a brand new BBC thriller, McMafia, in which he will play an English-raised son of Russian exiles.

Does he ever fret about the next level of celebrity, though. The next rank of fame?

"No, I don't think I worry about it," he answers thoughtfully. "I mean, I hope that... You're constantly trying to do different jobs and open new doors and build on what you've done before. There's an amazing amount of brilliant writers and directors in this town (Hollywood)," he concludes. "So if this allows me maybe an entry into that, then great."

Flatliners is in cinemas now

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