James Norton just passed his Bond audition with flying colors

James Norton as Happy Valley villain, Tommy Lee Royce – Pennsylvania

With one limitation, the potential for the next James Bond was free. In the latest episode of Happy Valley, the villainous Tommy Lee Royce played by James Norton did two extraordinary things. First, he got rid of the lousy male bun with which the hero was saddled during his imprisonment for unspeakable crimes (just because of the excess hair he deserved during six months in solitary confinement).

Secondly, he demonstrated his action-movie skills in a daring escape from a maximum security courthouse when he was due to stand trial. Then, admittedly not very bold, he burst into the kiosk, where he hid in the back, behind a row of Toblerone, then slipped out disguised as a lycra warrior biker.

The scene is complete and done in less than five minutes. And in the context of Happy Valley’s gloomy atmosphere and ceiling-to-floor misery, it feels a little cartoony and overcooked. But with the cutback, the segment launched another B-word. Did this demonstration of action hero skills put the 37-year-old Norton in the frame as the new James Bond?

More precisely, did he return to the frame? A handsome scion of an elegant family (his grandfather was a colonial administrator in what was then Tangaikya), Norton has been part of the 007 discourse for some time now. According to bookmakers’ estimates, he goes head-to-head with Bridgerton’s Regé-Jean Page. And right behind favorites Aaron-Taylor Johnson and Henry Cavill.

Norton has always dismissed the question of whether he might one day wear the most iconic slim-fit tux in the movie theater. When asked if he would be “willing” to be Bond, he recently replied with stunning tact. “It’s a hard question to answer,” he told Radio Times. “They’re thinking about what direction they want to take and they haven’t called me to be part of that conversation.”

James Norton is gearing up for his big break at Happy Valley

James Norton is gearing up for his big break at Happy Valley

Will Happy Valley and his recent biff-pow antics make him part of the conversation? His role as the rapist, murderer and most powerful Tommy Lee Royce hothead certainly refutes the notion that Norton is simply broad shoulders. Or that he lacks the dark charisma necessary for the role of Bond.

This was the charge against him when he starred in Grantchester, in which he played a bland, handsome minister. And in McMafia, in which he played the bland, shapely son of an oligarch.

His personal history also suggested that one slips through life in a haze of privilege. Norton’s wealthy family includes in its ranks not only MBEs and colonial officers, but also one archdeacon, a member of the Royal Engineers and a descendant of a line of Irish landed nobility. Educated privately, he went to Cambridge where he was a big cheese in the Marlowe Society and then for a period in the Council. Here is our greatest potential Bond yet.

However, in Happy Valley, he showed a completely different set of skills. Seemingly friendly, just below the surface, Tommy is the relentless antagonist of Sergeant Catherine Cawood Sarah Lancashire. He’s a predator and a deviant, but he’s driven by a combination of psychosis and flickering charm. Season after season, Norton has turned Tommy into a fascinating monster, not just a disgusting evil trader. That’s quite an achievement considering the character’s penchant for torture and murder (and his manipulation of naive son Ryan this year).

Norton’s chances of becoming Bond depend on what his handlers, the Broccoli dynasty, are looking for. If it’s the next Daniel Craig, it can stay hidden in the back of that kiosk. There’s no Craig chill or turbocharged grumpiness about it.

But if the Broccolis want to go in a different direction, Norton might be what they need. On and off screen, he is Daniel Craig’s adversary. The newest agent 007 was a grouch with a cuddly toy inside. He grumbled through his career as Bond before demonstrating hidden comic talents as Benoit Blanc in Knives Out. Norton’s Tommy is the opposite: nice on the outside, but cold as a knife on the inside. In this way, he perhaps refers to the original Bond by Sean Connery – a brutal sorcerer who killed without conscience.

Meanwhile, in real life, Norton shows great politeness. He’s a lively guy on Twitter. Right after the last Happy Valley, he took to social media thanking the director. And promising that “the next few episodes will be insane!” Never in a million years would Daniel Craig take to Twitter to share his enthusiasm with fans or throw exclamation marks like confetti. Norton pays no attention to it. After more than a decade of brooding Bond, could his license to charm be exactly what the franchise demands?

Do you think James Norton would make a good James Bond? Join the conversation in the comments section below

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