Happy Valley family: James Norton could not be closer to Ryan Connah

Happy Valley family: James Norton could not be closer to Ryan Connah

January 15, 2023

One big Happy Valley family: James Norton has a tormented relationship with his screen son. But off screen, the Hollywood actor could not be closer to Ryan Connah

  • The actors who play father and son on BBC’s hit drama Happy Valley are close 
  • Sources say James Norton, who portrays convict Tommy Lee Royce, has become something of a father figure to his protege Rhys Connah, who portrays son Ryan
  • The pair often share pictures from their regular catch ups on social media 

It’s the gripping storyline that lies at the heart of the BBC’s hit drama Happy Valley – the efforts of Sarah Lancashire’s police sergeant Catherine Cawood to keep her grandson Ryan away from his psychopathic father.

But in real life the teenage actor who plays Ryan has forged a touching bond with James Norton, the Hollywood star who portrays dangerous convict Tommy Lee Royce with such manipulative menace.

Sources say Norton has even become something of a father figure to his protege Rhys Connah, who is estranged from his own dad.

In real life the teenage actor who plays Ryan, Rhys Connah, has forged a touching bond with James Norton, the Hollywood star who portrays dangerous convict Tommy Lee Royce

‘It is the most lovely bond that they have, they have loved working together throughout the three series and they keep in close touch away from Happy Valley. It has been so inspirational for Rhys to see James get more and more successful and famous.

Indeed, Connah, now 16, has been full of praise for his mentor, saying: ‘He brings so much to the character, like the energy. You see him on set between takes and he’s such a nice person, and then we’ll start filming and he’ll just instantly switch and there’s this psychopath.’

The pair have shared photos of their meetings on social media, including an afternoon in London where they enjoyed an orange juice when Connah was just seven.

They have also posted heart-warming pictures of themselves together on set. One shows Norton, 37, giving Connah a photo frame containing three pictures of them together, with a sign that reads: ‘The Boys’.

The pair play father and son, Tommy Lee Royce and Ryan, in BBC’s hit drama Happy Valley

Connah was brought up by his single mother, Jennie Hoolahan, 36. Away from acting, he uses her surname, rather than that of his absent father. Connah is his middle name and also the maiden name of his beloved grandmother.

All three of them live together in a three-bedroom terrace home in Oldham, along with Connah’s younger brother. In another instance of art mimicking reality, his Happy Valley character, Ryan, also lives with his grandmother. Jennie has posted pictures of her son watching Norton on another BBC drama Grantchester on social media, too.

And after the first season of Happy Valley aired, Norton told his Twitter followers to vote for Connah to switch on the Christmas lights in his nearby town of Heywood – although, ultimately, he was unsuccessful.

After filming the third Happy Valley series last year, the pair were reunited on the red carpet for its premiere at the Vue cinema in Halifax, Yorkshire, in December. They posed for photographs together and were seen in deep conversation and sharing a laugh at the event.

Since playing the breakthrough role of Tommy Lee Royce, Norton has gone on to star in movies including Little Women and Rogue Agent, as well as TV shows such as McMafia and War And Peace.

The pair have shared photos of their meetings on social media, including an afternoon in London where they enjoyed an orange juice when Connah was just seven

Connah has also been building his acting credits, appearing in the 2017 TV adaptation of Philippa Gregory’s novel The White Princess alongside Jodie Comer and Suki Waterhouse, as well as occupying the lead role in the 2019 British film The Runaways.

Wainwright rates Connah so highly that she waited seven years between the second and third series of Happy Valley so the actor could age a bit more, and allow his character to play a more pivotal role.

‘The plan was to wait for Ryan to be older so that he can make his own choices about whether he wants to have contact with his dad or not,’ she said.

In the third season, which continues on BBC1 at 9pm tonight, Ryan visits Tommy in prison behind his grandmother’s back.

She has been desperate to keep him out of Tommy’s life as she believes he is responsible for her daughter Becky’s suicide after he raped her.

Despite his acting achievements, Connah has remained grounded and is still a member of the Red Dragon Explorer Scout Pack in Heywood.

In November he was their flag-bearer for the Remembrance Sunday service. It surely won’t be the last starring role this talented young star takes on.

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