INTERVIEW: Graham Norton on the BAFTA TV Awards, bad losers and unlikely celebrity friendships
When I tell my friends and family that I am going to be interviewing Graham Norton about the BAFTA Television Awards, their eyes sparkle and they babble excitedly. It’s a far cry from the completely non-plussed “who?” I usually receive in response to telling them who I’ve spoken to this week. It’s not often celebrities are famous for just being themselves, and far less often their names are revered as a national treasure.
In real life, Graham Norton is just as welcoming as he seems on television. He’s easy to speak to (one automatically feels at home beside him) and he tells some absolutely wonderful anecdotes. In short, he’s a pleasure to interview, but then maybe he should be – he knows full well what it’s like to be on the other side. We’re here to talk about the upcoming BAFTA TV Awards, which take place this Sunday, May 8 at the Royal Festival Hall in London, and for which Norton will be host.
It’s not the first time Norton has been host of the coveted television awards, in fact, he’s become something of a regular: this will be the seventh time he’s hosted the event. When asked whether his regular appearances make him a bit of a pro, Norton laughs humbly, “Well I don’t know about that – I’ve done it a lot. More than I ever thought I would.”
Does it ever get boring then? “I think on the night, it’s not boring, because there’s a sense of occasion. And also, you know that people care, even if they’re pretending not to. In that moment when you say: “the next category is…”, you can see people in the audience kind of go [mimics sitting up] suddenly.”
On the topic of celebs who pretend not to care, we ask if he has ever seen any bad losers at the ceremony. The answer is a resounding yes, but Norton won’t give out names. “Sometimes people are quite bad at losing and I find it embarrassing. Of course you want to win and you didn’t want to lose, but now you have lost hold it together. Don’t make this worse. Don’t multiply the losing part of your evening.”
Norton is a seven-time winner himself, for his work on his prime time chat show The Graham Norton Show. What advice would he give this year’s winners on the perfect winner’s speech? “Well, short is obviously key. Then you can go in either direction – you can either go funny or you can go emotional – or do both. Laugh through your tears. What you don’t want is long lists of names of people you’ve never heard of.”
Speaking of this year’s awards, Norton admits that Suranne Jones’ turn as a cheated wife in Doctor Foster was a personal favourite, admitting: “I watched that religiously.” He says he also enjoyed Russell T. Davies’ LGBT drama Cucumber and the star-studded remake of The Dresser.
Who does he want to win, then? “As the host, what’s nice is if it’s someone from a show or a series that’s really popular, because it kind of adds to the energy of the night. Even if somebody’s given a performance which was absolutely award-worthy, if it was in something you haven’t seen, you will care less. Whereas if it’s in a huge big hit show, you know the people at home are going ‘gosh yes I watched that. She is amazing, he is great, I’m so glad they won.’”
And does Norton have a special shelf for his growing collection of BAFTAs? “It’s not a special shelf,” Norton protests, laughing, “but it is a shelf. From the dirt on the masks, it’s like a graph of my career – very dirty, then there’s big gap and then they get a bit clean and then there’s some very shiny ones.”
We move onto his highly-successful chat show, which is currently airing at 10.35pm on Friday nights on BBC One. What makes his show different to those of his rivals? “I think what we try to do is put together interesting sofas, interesting groups of people, and I think for me I’m always interested because I don’t know how the alchemy is going to be any week, or what the overall vibe of the show is going to be, and hopefully that keeps an audience interested as well.”
While the format clearly works – Norton’s show is now on its nineteenth season and its fourteenth on BBC One – putting celebrities who don’t know each other still sounds like a risky endeavour to me. Has the alchemy ever not worked? “In a way, the alchemy will always work – if there’s at least an alchemy, because people not getting on is as good watching as people getting on. The only time where it can you know fall flat is people who are in a bubble: ‘He’s talking to me, I will speak now. He has stopped talking to me, it’s like I’m not here, I’m just watching the monitor to see if there’s any shots of me.’ Those are the guests that are disappointing.”
And how does he deal with some of his notoriously hard-to-handle guests? Norton is diplomatic: “The vast majority of these people who have a reputation for being difficult, I don’t think they are. Robert De Niro’s not difficult, he’s a very benign presence, he’s a very lovely man. He just doesn’t tell anecdotes, he’s not chat show gold. And there’s no reason why any of these people should be, it’s not anyone’s job. Their job is to be good at acting, or good at playing guitar, or a good actor or a model or whatever – so if you do happen upon someone who’s good at [telling stories], a Chris Pratt or somebody – then great. It’s a real bonus.”
What can he tell us about the guests that – against all logical odds – formed friendships on his show? “I know this does happen, because I see pictures of them coming out of restaurants and think where was I?” he laughs.
“Lenny Kravitz became friends with somebody, and Bradley Cooper became friends with somebody on the show – maybe it’s Bradley Cooper and Lenny Kravitz? That would make sense.”
The BAFTA Television Awards take place this Sunday, May 8 at the Royal Festival Hall in London. The ceremony will be broadcast on BBC One from 8pm.