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Backstage with… James Norton who reveals he was left in tears over new film role playing a dying dad

Written by on 17 July 2021

James Norton’s new film was inspired by a true story that director Uberto Pasolini spotted in a newspaper – the single father of a young child had been given months to live and was searching for a new family for his son to go to after he died.

It’s a simple, yet devastating premise, and in Nowhere Special the story unfolds with relatively little dialogue, and instead is told through the relationship between the stoic window cleaner John, and his similarly quiet son Michael.

For Norton, the sparse script was part of the draw.

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“What’s interesting about this film and the script, particularly as I read it… even though it was very pared down and simple, I was crying by the end of the read,” he told Sky News’ Backstage podcast.

“So I knew that there was something there, the kind of kernel of something very special, and it wasn’t just the fact that it was a film about someone dying, approaching death, there was equally something uplifting about the love story between this father and son.

“And, you know, when you read that script and you find yourself crying by the end, you know you’ve got to make it.”

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The actor says rather than putting him off, the lack of dialogue actually attracted him to the role as it felt authentic.

“It’s a very private, quiet existence that they lead and so personally, I’m always drawn to those roles, that world where, you know, it’s a bit more contained and it’s a bit more behind the eyes.”

“It’s sort of less demonstrative, it’s more of a challenge, and I think that’s really often the way human beings live, when they’re at their most fraught, they don’t rail and beat their chest.”

Nowhere Special Image: Nowhere Special has little dialogue – one of the draws for Norton. Pic: Curzon Nowhere Special Image: Norton says he became very close with his on-screen son. Pic: Curzon

“Often pain and trauma can be quite quiet and so can falling in love I think in a way, it’s closer to the truth often, so for me, it’s a lovely opportunity.”

There’s a tired cliché about never working with animals or children, but Norton – who doesn’t have kids of his own – admits working with youngsters is something he has plenty of experience of.

“I used to be a children’s party organiser and I did hundreds of parties in my early 20s with kids from four to 10, which definitely, definitely put me in good stead,” he laughed.

“Actors are all kids ultimately we just dress up for a living and, you know, make believe, so we’re all just big kids anyway.

“And also when it works, when working with a kid or an animal works, particularly kids, it could be a disaster, but if it pays off, oh my God, the rewards are extraordinary.”

Nowhere Special Image: Norton plays a window cleaner who is nearing death in the film. Pic: Curzon

His on-screen bond with first-time actor Daniel Lamont, who plays his son, is really the heart of the film and Norton says they became very close in order to find that chemistry.

And while they were following a script, the nature of filming with a young child meant that some of their experiences were very real – such as when John teaches Michael about death.

“I read him a book about where dinosaurs go to die – so both Michael the character, and Daniel who’s four, who obviously doesn’t really understand what death is, never really has these kind of conversations, he’s looking at me kind of confused and learning as we go in real time.

“I didn’t have to do anything, I just looked at him and my heart broke, so it made my job really easy in a weird way, you know, the relationship was there and it was honest and the love story between the father and the son was also off camera.

“We had a really, really genuine affection for one another, so as I say when it works, it’s the best thing in the world and I think it was probably the most special experience I’ve ever had on a film set as a result.”

Like so many films this year Nowhere Special has had a difficult journey to release because of the pandemic.

The fact it’s now available to watch on big screens is something Norton is pleased about.

“I do think there’s that sort of sacred experience of going into a darkened room for an-hour-and-a-half and committing to the movie, there’s no phones, no other distractions, and I think this film should be watched in the cinema, it is a powerful, poignant journey to go on,” he said.

Nowhere Special Image: Nowhere Special is out in cinemas now. Pic: Curzon

“I want people to watch it in the theatres and go on that journey, and then when they leave the cinema afterwards, I hope they reach for their phones and call their loved ones or reach out to the person they’re with and give them a hug.

“The lockdowns we’ve had have taught people perhaps – family has been really important and we’ve had this moment of calm meditation and this film is a continuation of that I think.

“It’s all about family and pause and just cherishing the moments you have with the people you love, so maybe it’ll chime even more than it would have done pre-pandemic.”

Nowhere Special is in cinemas now – hear our review on this week’s episode of Backstage, the film and TV podcast from Sky News.

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