Why ‘The Nevers’ Star James Norton Says Playing Hugo Swann Was ‘Nerve Wracking’

In HBO’s The Nevers, James Norton plays Hugo Swan, a wealthy lord who owns London’s exclusive underground sex spot, The Ferryman’s Club. Norton’s character is unlike any other on the show. And he says there was one specific aspect of Hugo Swann that made him especially nervous. 

Tom Riley and James Norton in 'The Nevers'
Tom Riley and James Norton in ‘The Nevers’ | Keith Bernstein/HBO

James Norton is used to playing more dramatic characters

Norton is an English actor who started his career as a theater performer. He’s appeared in several films and TV series over the years. But his roles have mostly been dramatic. 

From 2014 to 2019, he played the crime-solving pastor, Sidney Chambers, in the British detective series Grantchester. And in the crime drama Happy Valley, Norton took on the recurring role of a drug offender named Tommy Lee Royce. 

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The actor’s more recent roles include Greta Gerwig’s Little Women and the BBC miniseries, The Trial of Christine Keeler

What drew James Norton to the role of ‘The Nevers’ Hugo Swann

In The Nevers, Norton steps into the role of Hugo Swann, a playboy who is equally charming and manipulative. And when talking to Town & Country, the actor noted that this duality is what drew him to the character. 

“It’s already been a couple of years since I first read the pilot, so it has been a long time being in Hugo’s head,” Norton said. “It’s funny, I very clearly remember the little brief in each script.”

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“They said something like Hugo has about five years left on the clock for his charm, which meant to me about five years away from middle age, and they ended with ‘but ultimately he’s gone down the light,’ and it’s true; he’s this wonderful, seductive, delightful man, but at the same time, he’s dangerous,” he continued. “That’s the kind of character every actor loves to play— he’ll both offend and seduce in equal measure.”

There was one aspect of ‘The Nevers’ character that made him nervous

A testament to his talent, Norton fits into the role of Hugo Swann seamlessly. But he admitted that there was one aspect of playing the character that felt like a challenge. 

“The scenes are big, and they are fast, so you really have to come prepared with your A-game,” Norton told Town & Country. “For me, the challenge I most enjoyed was that Hugo has these amazing lines, which are really funny—and I haven’t done much comedy.”

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Noting how little experience he had with comedic timing, Norton said he was worried about not being funny enough. “So, to play a role that has these really funny lines was intimidating because I knew that there was a potential for them to really sing, and being so I was worried that I was going to fall short or the rhythm wasn’t going to be there,” he revealed. “There was a part of me that was like, “Am I going to be funny enough?” And I think Hugo is funny, hopefully, so that was nerve-wracking.”

New episodes of The Nevers air Sunday nights on HBO and HBO Max.