James Norton: ‘Weirdly, I read War & Peace while filming Happy Valley!’ (VIDEO)

James Norton reveals the strange connection between his groundbreaking role in Happy Valley and his new starring role in War & Peace…

Before landing the part of Prince Andrei in BBC1’s lavish production of War & Peace, James began reading the novel on the set of Happy Valley after his villainous character Tommy was seen with the book at a bus stop in the first series...

“The only time I’d read a bit of War and Peace was at the very end of Happy Valley when I was given it as a prop. In a day’s filming there’s a lot of waiting around, so I started reading the first 50 pages. And then, weirdly, a few months later along comes War & Peace! Quite a few people have picked up on it, funnily enough, when I got the role of Prince Andrei.”

Talking to What’s on TV at the launch of BBC1’s six-part series, James explained what drives Leo Tolstoy’s hero: “When you meet Prince Andrei at the beginning he’s fairly fed up, unfulfilled and disillusioned by St Petersburg society. He goes on this mad, wonderful journey, trying to find resolution. He tries military glory, falling in love, the quiet life of a farmer, but he can’t quite get any of it right. It’s been a wonderful character to play.”

“It’s quite a big responsibility to take on someone who means a lot to a lot of people, particularly over in Russia. So it was a responsibility and a challenge, but one that I relished and felt very privileged to be able to take on.”

Talking about his preparation for the role, James revealed: “My main resource was the book… I’ve genuinely read it all, finished it, and loved it. It’s a great book and deserving of its status as a treasured text.”

James also reveals his father (pictured) has a small cameo in the period drama: “He’s back! He’s in pretty much every job I’ve ever done. He’s retired and comes over for one day and he loves it. He said he fancied himself as a Count, but I’d to tell him he was a Russian peasant with a big moustache!”

"] Watch the video above for the full interview.

War & Peace premieres on BBC1 on Sunday, January 3.

Elaine Reilly
Writer for TV Times, What’s On TV, TV & Satellite Week and What To Watch

With twenty years of experience as an entertainment journalist, Elaine writes for What’s on TV, TV Times, TV & Satellite Week and www.whattowatch.com covering a variety of programs from gardening and wildlife to documentaries and drama.


As well as active involvement in the WTW family’s social media accounts, she has been known to get chatty on the red carpet and wander into the odd podcast. 

After a day of previewing TV, writing about TV and interviewing TV stars, Elaine likes nothing than to relax… by watching TV.