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James Norton as Prince Andrei Bolkonski: 'War and Peace’ Character of the Day

Just then another visitor entered the drawing room: Prince Andrei(Andrew) Bolkonski, the little princess’ husband. He was a very handsome young man, of medium height, with firm, clear-cut features. Everything about him, from his weary, bored expression to his quiet, measured step, offered a most striking contrast to his quiet, little wife. It was evident that he not only knew everyone in the drawing room, but had found them to be so tiresome that it wearied him to look at or listen to them. And among all these faces that he found so tedious, none seemed to bore him so much as that of his pretty wife. He turned away from her with a grimace that distorted his handsome face, kissed Anna Pavlovna’s hand, and screwing up his eyes scanned the whole company.”                     
page 21, War and Peace

 “The people I play are always searching for something. They are never passive, they are always very active and frustrated with their lot. Andrei is an extreme version of that. He is this conflicted young soul. He is hankering after something but he doesn’t know what it is. He tries lots of different things but none of them work. He tries running off to war and searching for glory, he tries a calm and simple lifestyle on his estate farming, and he tries St  Petersburg society.           
 Norton on playing Andrei

“ I don’t think he is a classic glamorous hero. He’s not very likeable.  He’s very flawed - he’s a bastard throughout. It’s the conflicted searcher. Andrei goes deeper and deeper into this existential mess.” 

On the subject of playing the Andrei in War and Peace, Norton goes on to tell the BBC ... 
It’s a wonderful privilege to engage with this incredible character who is on his journey and compare your life with his. It teaches you a lot about yourself and your own past and what you are looking for. I am very, very lucky to be playing him. 

I’m reading that many of the females who tuned into BBC’s War and Peace last night—we don’t get it in the US until January 18th—turned onto James Norton for the first time. If you want more Norton—and of course, you do—get hold of Happy Valley on Netflix wherein he plays a murdering bastard, then find Grantchester wherein he plays a crime-solving pastor. There’s also Lady Chatterley’s Lover which is rumored to be quite raunchy (what? like the book?) but I haven’t seen it.  Here’s more from the BBC interview...

Tell us about this adaptation of War & Peace
It’s about three families. The parents and their relationships with their children, and the children and their relationships with their lovers and their brothers and their sisters. They are totally recognisable, sympathetic and people that everyone can relate to. Most of them are Russian aristocrats of a very specific period, of a very specific class but they’re all shagging and fighting and flirting. It’s a big old soap opera which just happens to be set in the 1800s.

Why is the story seen as one of the all-time classics when the book is so hard to read? * 
I think ultimately what really makes it so special is that it’s a soap opera. It’s a perfect portrayal of humanity. It portrays a very specific class in the aristocracy, but it’s really about people falling in and out of love - revenge and jealously and loss and love. It is just about people.

Talking about the prince’s relationship with his father ...
The relationship between Andrei and his dad is a wonderful one. Most of their scenes are just two men totally unable to show any emotion but the night before Andrei goes off to war they have this shouting match, but then as Andrei leaves he gently rest his hand on his dad’s arm and so much is said in that one little gesture, and it’s so moving.

On Andrei’s relationship with Natasha
Andrei, like everyone is very flawed and is ignorant of some things and very educated about others. One thing I don’t think he gets right is love.

It’s wonderful to see him go from the “Russian Darcy” as Andrew describes him in that first scene and then slowly softening into almost a love sick puppy when he’s with Natasha.

(Director) Tom Harper’s been telling me that I’m not allowed to smile. He keeps saying stop smiling because I have quite a smiley disposition! Andrei, particularly at the beginning, is so disillusioned with everything and everyone– a bit like his dad – that he’s cantankerous. Then when he’s with Natasha these smiles start to bubble through and Andrei’s humanity starts to come out. It is a wonderful story and it’s very touching and moving to see him melt and to see the effect she has on him but it’s also incredibly tragic.

Had you read the novel before doing this job?
No. Weirdly enough, when I did Happy Valley, I did carry War & Peace at one point, even though I hadn’t got this job! My character went into a charity shop to disguise himself and picked up this red book, and it’s War & Peace. So the only bit I’d read before was when I was sitting at that bus stop waiting for the cameras to turn around. I got through about ten pages. But now that I have read it all, it’s brilliant - I love it. This job has actually been a great reason to read it and now I’m one of those smug people who can say they’ve read it!
image via James Norton’s Russian fans via JamesNortontumblr.com

* Im surprised Norton doesnt contradict the interviewer. Its long, but itnot hard to read at all. I hope the excerpt I’ve included demonstrates that!

Read the rest of James Norton’s profile at the BBC War and Peace page.