TV- Interview with James Norton, Life In Squares

Life in Squares
Programme Name: Life in Squares - TX: n/a - Episode: n/a (No. n/a) - Picture Shows: in Bloomsbury Square Duncan Grant (JAMES NORTON) - (C) Ecosse Films - Photographer: Ollie Upton

What can you tell us about Life in Squares ?

The title Life in Squares came from a description of the Bloomsbury group that “they lived in squares, painted in circles and loved in triangles.” It is a glimpse into the world we know in an academic sense – a lot of the characters are known by their work and being historical figures – but this drama pulls back the curtain and allows us into their world and personal lives.

What is special about your character, Duncan Grant?

Someone described the Bloomsbury group as being united by their shared loved of Duncan Grant. I felt that this is quite true, not in just an affectionate friendship-based love but it seemed a lot of them actually had sex with Duncan Grant! Despite not going to Cambridge, he does become the essence and embodiment of the group.

I loved playing him because he was a happy man – he was never suffering through life. He saw the best in people, and people saw the best in him. People became the best versions of himself in his presence, and he was always the best version of himself. He was a lovely character to play because he is so far from mundane and bland. I can see why people were attracted to him.

Did you feel additional pressure playing a real person?

You have a responsibility when you play anyone who is living or dead to honour them. There is a massive following for the Bloomsbury group, and being in Charleston and meeting these people we wanted to make sure we did it right in their eyes. I was lucky enough to meet Henrietta Garnett (Duncan’s granddaughter) when she came on set. She has a wonderful eccentric manner and Duncan’s otherworldly quality. When I was introduced as Duncan, she asked me to lie on the floor and pose like Duncan and when I got up she embraced me and said, “Oh Duncan!” I felt like I got her seal of approval!

One of the main dynamics focused on during the drama is the relationship between Duncan and Vanessa. How do you feel that their relationship evolved and changed throughout the years?

That was a lovely relationship to explore because we started the story in 1904 when he first met Vanessa. It is an incredibly complicated and very sad in many ways, but also beautiful. I think Duncan was probably aware but in slight denial of how much pain he caused Vanessa. She was the main casualty of his happy-go-lucky free lifestyle. Phoebe Fox is an old friend of mine, so it was nice playing old friends with a good friend like that too.

Do you think that their marriage of sorts worked?

I don’t think it worked, because Vanessa’s story is tragic. She becomes a diminished version of herself, and goes from this vitality and force behind the group to being a sad person. Duncan was never able to give her what she needed but he stayed with her until she died in the 1961.

With any imbalanced relationship, there is always someone who is more of a victim and one who is more of the perpetrator. Those were always the most interesting and heartbreaking scenes, especially when their daughter Angelica came in and affected their relationship because Vanessa finally got the family unit with Duncan that she desperately wanted, but he wasn’t able to be that father figure. It was very interesting to explore.

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