Talking to a four-year-old about death doesn't sound like the easiest job in the world, but James Norton embraced the difficulties of the process while filming his new drama Nowhere Special.
The film stars Norton as John, a single father in Belfast who – in the wake of a terminal cancer diagnosis – is using his final months to find the perfect adopted parents for his son Michael (Daniel Lamont).
"Most profoundly, this was about spending three months contemplating death," Norton tells Yahoo. "Usually we spend our lives running away from that, so to actually have to meditate a bit about death was really wonderful."
The old adage about being on a TV and film set is that nobody should work with children or animals, but Nowhere Special contains both. Lamont appears in almost every scene and he's often joined by an array of dogs, rabbits and even a beetle. Norton, though, says any superstition was soon tossed aside.
"There's so much risk involved [with child actors] because you just don't know what you're going to get and it could end disastrously," he says.
"We didn't know that after three days he wasn't just going to be bored and want to go back to his mates at school. It was a risk but, when it works like it did with our movie, it's absolutely breathtaking."
Norton says the relationship between himself and Lamont was "authentic and pure", with their bond just as close when they were on set between takes.
He adds: "I had a little boy of four look up at me with big eyes and ask me questions about death.
"Daniel, as well as Michael, in real-time was learning about these concepts. It was quite easy in a way to react to because it was so present and pure.
"The love you see between the father and son was real and we have that off-camera as well, so it was a pleasure."
Behind the camera is director Uberto Pasolini, who wrote the script after being inspired by a newspaper article about a terminally ill man searching for a new family for his son.
He reveals he was left with tears in his eyes on set and in the editing room after the "gods of cinema sprinkled some gold dust" in terms of the chemistry between his stars.
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"The connection that James and Daniel built up before the shoot and during the shoot was so strong that they became father and son for us," says Pasolini.
"I had people around the world who did not know James Norton's work that asked me if they were actually father and son. That is the best thing one can say about the film."
Pasolini describes his movie as a story told "on low volume", hoping to capture the small, natural moments between father and son rather than dealing in emotional grandstanding.
Norton has described making Nowhere Special as being a profound experience that enabled him to take time out to think carefully about death — as depressing as that sounds.
"What I found was that there's nothing to discover and it is completely incomprehensible," he says. "What you do find if you spend a bit of time thinking about death is that you will cherish the moments you have with your loved ones that little bit more."
The movie premiered to socially distanced audiences at the Venice Film Festival in September 2020, which Pasolini describes as an emotional moment for him given the city was the birthplace of his grandmother.
He is excited that the film will be able to play to big screen audiences in the UK, but says even venues still open with limited capacities will allow its power to shine through.
Pasolini says: "It's such an intimate piece that I think it can be enjoyed even if the cinema you are sitting in is not packed. I think you could even enjoy it if you just have one friend next to you and, at the end of the screening, maybe you give them a big hug."
Nowhere Special will be released in UK cinemas on 16 July.