Belfast-filmed Nowhere Special: 'It's a film about life, and cherishing the moments you have left'

Set and filmed in Belfast, Nowhere Special is an emotional watch inspired by true events. Georgia Humphreys finds out more from star James Norton and filmmaker Uberto Pasolini

James Norton as John with Daniel Lamont playing his son Michael in Nowhere Special. Picture by PA Photo/Curzon
James Norton as John with Daniel Lamont playing his son Michael in Nowhere Special. Picture by PA Photo/Curzon

IT might not have had the ending the country dreamed of, but there's no denying England's inspiring journey to the Euro 2020 final is film-worthy.

There's the cinematic nature of the beautiful game, the way this young team of admirable characters brought hope after a difficult 18 months, and Gareth Southgate's redemption story.

And if suggestions are needed for the casting of captain Harry Kane, what about London-born actor James Norton?

The former Grantchester and Happy Valley star (35) is delighted at the idea – but also takes a moment to muse over who else in the squad he could see himself playing.

"Physically, Harry Maguire. I'm quite tall, I feel like I could be a big defender," he says.

"I love transformative hairdos in acting, so shave it all off, get a little peroxide job [like Phil Foden]. All the kids want to be Foden right now; I watched the semi-final with my cousin's three kids, who are all under 11, and their mates are asking their mums, 'I want to cut my hair off and peroxide the roots'. That's the vibe."

Norton admires top flight sportsmen and women - "extraordinary gladiators and Titans" - and is fascinated by the fact that if they are interviewed after the match, game or contest, "usually they're completely different to what you would expect" suggests the actor, whose other film credits include 2019's Little Women.

"They're really magnanimous and generous and happy, or they're gauche and restrained and awkward," he says.

"It's so completely different to the person who's on the playing field. For me, I find post-match interviews consistently fascinating."

But before Norton takes on any sort of sports-themed role, he's got a new film called Nowhere Special, which premiered at the Venice Film Festival and is set in and filmed in Belfast.

He plays John, a single father who finds out he only has a few months left to live at just 35 years old. He has dedicated his life to bringing up his three-year-old son, Michael (Daniel Lamont), as the child's mother deserted them both soon after giving birth.

Knowing how little time he has left, John is determined – with the help of social services – to find a new family to care for his boy after he dies, and he wants them to be perfect.

He also needs to learn how to navigate such a traumatic situation, and whether he shares the reality of it with his son.

"My story with the film started with reading this article – basically a father dying of cancer spent his final month finding a family for his son," recalls Italian Uberto Pasolini, who wrote and directed the film.

"I thought, 'This is an opportunity to tell something about fatherhood, parenthood, the relationship between parents and children. 'What is a family? What is a good family? Is there one way of being a good family?' And, of course, 'Do you know your child well enough to choose to be able to choose the right family?'"

Nowhere Special writer and director Uberto Pasolini
Nowhere Special writer and director Uberto Pasolini

The film is beautifully truthful and understated, without dramatic shouting or crying scenes, but with plenty of powerful, raw moments.

Norton confides the project felt like an emotional undertaking.

"It was a very, very special shoot. It's really hard to completely encapsulate the experience, because it's not often you get invited to contemplate death for three months and really go there," he says.

"We all spend our lives doing everything we can to avoid thinking about death. So actually, to think about it in a quiet, considered space, to have a young boy looking up at me learning about death in real-time, as I talked to him... that was deeply profound."

There were scenes where the actor struggled not to cry – but he knew if he did, they would have to do the take again because he's playing this "stoic, strong" father who's keeping things together for the sake of his son.

"It was tricky," he admits. "But more than anything, it was cathartic and deeply rewarding."

What's particularly impressive about the performance is his connection with four-year-old Lamont – it's a very believable relationship.

"Some people have asked me whether the two in fact were father and son, and this is a testament to what James has done, in terms of building a relationship; a true love with young Daniel Lamont, so those scenes – which I thought would have needed to be manufactured in post-production, by cutting from one to the other – are completely natural, and are held in two-shot for continuous minutes," explains Pasolini, who's known for his work on films The Full Monty and Still Life.

Norton admits it was a bit of an experiment going into the project, as they knew it was unusual to have a grown-up actor doing a two-hander with a small child for a lot of a film.

"The beauty of it from my point of view, as the older actor, is there were little techniques. We learnt how to prompt him when he had to speak; if I was holding his hand, I gave him a little squeeze of his hand. So, there were some practical things," he explains.

"But on a deeper level, you only hope that what you're getting from your scene partner, as an actor, is real and authentic, because then it makes your job easy. Acting opposite a kid like Daniel, everything I got back was so real and so pure."

One thing's for sure – you'll feel the urge to hold your loved ones that bit tighter after seeing Nowhere Special.

"A lot of people who have watched it have said, 'I immediately rang my parents' or 'I reached for my kid' or 'I was with my partner and I grabbed them'," Norton says emphatically. "That's a wonderful legacy, or effect, a movie – a piece of art – can have on an audience.

"We've really tried to push that message, that it's a film about a man who's dying, but it's not a film about death – it's a film about life, and cherishing the moments you have left, reaching out to those people you love and recognising that your time with them isn't forever."

Nowhere Special is in cinemas today.