James Norton has said he doesn’t find filming sex scenes nerve-wracking, despite having his fair share of romps for new, BBC2, three-part drama Life In Squares.
The Happy Valley star plays gay artist Duncan Grant in the intimate tale, written by Bafta-winning Amanda Coe, which examines the revolutionary Bloomsbury Group who famously “lived in squares, painted in circles and loved in triangles”.
Shot in London and Charleston Farmhouse, the group’s iconic base in East Sussex, it follows the collection of friends and lovers who were pioneers of artistic and sexual freedom, including the often fraught relationship between painter Vanessa Bell, her sister Virginia Woolf, and Vanessa’s complicated alliance with Duncan.
James Norton and Phoebe Fox in Life In Squares (Robert Viglasky/BBC/Ecosse Films)
It’s already been described as one of the raunchiest period dramas of recent times and James has his fair share of romps on screen, notably with Ben Lloyd-Hughes, who plays David ‘Bunny’ Garnett, a bisexual writer and publisher with whom his character had an affair.
“I’m actually mates with Ben and we’ve played lovers before,” revealed James.
“You make it uncomfortable if you handle it in an insensitive way, but I don’t find it awkward. You build up a lot of trust. It’s a lot to do with the company and the crew. Someone like Simon [Kaijser, the director] is very sensitive and doesn’t make a big deal about it. It’s just part of the show and I think he handled the sex really well.”
The cast of Life In Squares (Robert Viglasky/BBC/Ecosse Films)
That said, James does admit it can seem a little surreal once they’ve finished filming the scene.
“The thing is, with a guy and a girl, there’s a way of sort of flirting or laughing your way out of it, but with a guy and a guy, particularly the first time Ben and I did it, I do remember huffing and immediately talking about football.”
After starring in War And Peace, Belle, Death Comes To Pemberley, Mr Turner and Lady Chatterley’s Lover, James admitted he likes period roles.
“There’s a lot of period drama being made and it’s great for young British actors like myself,” he said. “Something like War And Peace was one you couldn’t say no to because it’s so special, it’s just magnificent, so rich.
“Period pieces are usually those big, epic novels, but the reason they’re big and well-known is because they’re fantastic, so it’s no bad thing to be doing period work.”
James Norton has found success in a number of high-profile TV roles (Ollie Upton/BBC/Ecosse Films)
He described his role as psychopath Tommy, who brutally beat Sarah Lancashire’s police sergeant in hard-hitting drama Happy Valley, as an “antidote” to his period drama work.
He’ll be reprising that character in a second series, which will shot later this year, after filming has finished on another run of Grantchester, in which he appears as a vicar opposite Robson Green.
“One of the more shocking things coming out of social media, was quite young girls saying, ‘Take me to your cellar’. That was weird,” James said. “That was the only slightly sinister reaction, though. Everyone warned me that I’d get batted round the head on the street, but the hair makes a huge difference, as I dye it for the role.”
Life In Squares begins on BBC2, Monday, July 27, 9.00pm.