Sally Wainwright’s multi-Bafta award winning hit Happy Valley returns to the BBC for its third and final series, starring Sarah Lancashire as Sergeant Catherine Cawood.
When Catherine discovers the remains of a gangland murder victim in a drained reservoir, it sparks a chain of events that leads her straight back to Tommy Lee Royce played by James Norton.
James sits down to discuss Happy Valley and final season, his character and what he sees for the future.
Can you describe Happy Valley?
Happy Valley is set in the Calder Valley, Halifax, Hebden Bridge area stretching over towards Leeds. It’s about a family – a Police officer rather – called Catherine Cawood, played by the wonderful Sarah Lancashire, and her family; her sister, her grandson and her colleagues. She has a relationship with a man, Tommy who had a relationship, or a very abusive relationship, with her daughter. Her daughter had a son called Ryan, and so Tommy Lee Royce’s son, Ryan, is also Catherine Cawood’s grandson. It has inextricably linked these two characters and they become these two fearsome adversaries.
How would you describe your character, Tommy?
Tommy Lee Royce is an enigma and a puzzle and a kind of terrifying mess. Genuinely, I am still kind of working him out. I think I had certain preconceptions about him in the first series. We would talk about him quite flippantly as if he is a psychopath. And I did a lot of work into psychopathy and was introduced to some behavioural psychologists and criminal psychologists who were really wonderfully helpful in excavating Tommy and the mindset that he has.
What we know about Tommy is that he had a very abusive childhood and lives with horrible trauma. We know that because Sally has written it into the script and he is very, very mistrustful of the world. He sees everything and everyone as a hostility and a potential threat. I think he feels like the way to live a happy life in his head is to be on the defensive and to attack before he gets attacked. It’s quite a sad, lonely space that Tommy lives in.
How do you prepare to get into Tommy’s headspace?
The way into Tommy’s headspace has been challenging because by nature he lives in a very different space to me and most people I know – on that kind of fringe of humanity. As a result, it is one of the more challenging roles to find the shared experience with him. But that is kind of the joy when you are asked to empathise with someone who feels very distant from yourself. That’s kind of where you learn the most, if you go on that journey with empathy and understanding you get to see the world in an entirely different way. Tommy’s version is very different from mine, thank goodness.
Can you describe the relationship between Catherine and Tommy?
The relationship between Catherine and Tommy is kind of everything, at least for Tommy. Tommy has Catherine and Ryan, they are the big two poles of his existence. Catherine has her family and does not want to think about Tommy. Tommy constantly forces his way into her life and her consciousness. They are in the best way, in that sort of old-fashioned way, epic adversaries pitched against each other. They are obsessed with each other, there’s a kind of deep, deep hatred in the way that when you think about someone that you hate they inhabit part of your consciousness. There’s a sort of, not love at all but, there is a kind of connection and affinity. There’s a certain kind of shared experience they have in that they both obsess about each other. In that way they are inextricably linked and will always be in some way married together.
Where do we find Tommy at the beginning of series three?
We pick up Tommy seven years later and he is still in prison serving multiple life sentences. But he has changed, he has moved on and grown and he has matured. He has calmed down and there is a definite shift in his demeanour and his temperament. I think that’s because for the first time in a long time he has got hope.
What journey does Tommy go on in series three?
Unlike the Tommy we have seen of the first and second series he feels quite affable and in control, I think that’s probably because we arrive in the third series and Tommy has information about something we don’t know about yet. That information, that situation is giving him a sense of contentment.
Why is Happy Valley a must-see?
Happy Valley is a must-see because you have one of the best writers in the world, at the top of her game. You have Sarah Lancashire, also an absolute legend in our industry, giving the performance of her life. An amazing cast, Siobhan Finneran and others. It’s just a great community, a great group of people doing great work. I just think it’s a great story, it’s a great thriller. We have got fantastic characters driving it forward. We love playing the characters because they are so beautifully drawn. And while Sally is brilliant at character dialogue, she is also extraordinary at plot. There is always an absolute ride, rollercoaster of a plot and many people said in the first series that they would end up behind their sofa with their hands over their mouth. I think both the second and hopefully the third deliver on that.
What about Happy Valley are you most proud of?
I am immensely proud of the series as a whole. Immensely proud that I was able to have a part in it. And it’s wonderful to come back knowing there is such an appetite and a love for the show. I was really proud when I went to America and I realised how far reaching the show is. I think it’s such a specific show about the very specific part of England, and you know the accents and the temperaments and sensibilities of those characters are quite specific to the area. And yet when I go to America, I am amazed at how many people have watched it and how many people love it. And that was a really proud moment, when I realised how it wasn’t only a show loved in the UK but internationally.
How does it feel to be bringing Happy Valley back for series three?
To be back here filming Happy Valley feels great because people love the show and we love making it. It’s really, really wonderful knowing there’s an appetite for something. I have had so many interviews over the last seven years where people have asked me, or people in the street have asked me ‘when is it coming back?’ So now to be able to say we have shot a third series and it’s coming back and it’s as big and bold as ever is really wonderful.
What can audiences be most excited about for the news series?
I think the reason this series is particularly exciting is because everyone knows it’s the last and so everyone is going to be waiting for something to happen, and everyone is sort of predicting and guessing how Sally wants to end it. I have been predicting for the last seven years how she is going to end it so it was really wonderful to read the script and hear her ideas – and they don’t disappoint.
Happy Valley season 3 will air on New Year’s Day. The show will air weekly and is not being released as a boxset.