Jim Norton, Irish stage, film and television character actor, is born in Dublin on January 4, 1938. He is known for his work in the theatre, most notably in Conor McPherson‘s The Seafarer, and on television as Bishop Brennan in the sitcom Father Ted.
Norton is educated at Synge Street CBS. From an early age he wants to be an actor, and regularly attends performances at the Abbey Theatre. His mother, Frances, plays the violin and his father, Eugene, is a baritone singer and works as a bakery manager. He has one sibling, the late acting teacher Betty Ann Norton.
Norton has been acting for over forty years in theatre, television, and film, and frequently plays clergymen, most notably Bishop Brennan in the sitcom Father Ted, as well as roles in The Sweeney (1975), Peak Practice (1993), Sunset Heights (1997), A Love Divided (1999), Rebus: Black and Blue (2000), Mad About Mambo (2000), Boxed (2003) and Jimmy’s Hall (2014). He stars as Finian McLonergan in the critically acclaimed New York City Center‘s 2009 production of Finian’s Rainbow, and in October 2009 reprises the role in the Broadway revival at the St. James Theatre. His co-stars are Cheyenne Jackson (Woody) and Kate Baldwin (Sharon).
As well as Bishop Brennan in Father Ted, Norton also plays Albert Einstein in two episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation (namely “The Nth Degree” and “Descent“); the librarian Lieutenant James Porteous in the highly acclaimed 1970s British television drama series Colditz; Phil Harrister, a criminal involved in an intricate bank robbery, in The Sweeney episode “Contact Breaker”; O’Brady in the Minder episode “National Pelmet“; and Rory, a roguish but genteel Irishman who is diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver, in The Royal episode “Beggars and Choosers.”
Norton has appeared in two episodes of Van der Valk. On Babylon 5 he appears in a number of roles, including that of Ombuds Wellington in the 1994 episodes “Grail” and “The Quality of Mercy“; a Narn in “Dust to Dust” (1996); and Dr. Lazarenn, a Markab doctor, in “Confessions and Lamentations” (1995). In Fall of Eagles he plays Alexander Kerensky.
Other television work includes: 1990, Agatha Christie’s Poirot, Waking the Dead, Cheers, Frasier, Midsomer Murders, Maigret and Rumpole of the Bailey as Fig Newton, Stan Laurel in the BBC drama Stan (2006), Larry Joyce in the 2013 television drama Deception, and as the timid Gardener in the first series of the long-running CITV children’s series T-Bag: “Wonders in Letterland” (1985).
Norton makee his film debut with a small role in the 1965 thriller The Face of Fu Manchu starring Christopher Lee, and later appears in the 1969 epic film Alfred the Great as Thanet. He plays the part of Pongo in the screen version of Spike Milligan‘s war-time memoir Adolf Hitler: My Part in his Downfall. In 1971 he plays Chris Cawsey (aka “The Rat Man”), one of several villains in the controversial Sam Peckinpah film Straw Dogs starring Dustin Hoffman. His character has a deviously infectious, deliberately irritating laugh that helps build tension throughout the film.
Norton appears in the movie Memoirs of an Invisible Man alongside Chevy Chase in 1992. In the same year he also appears in the Irish-made film Into the West. He appears in the comedy On the Nose as Patrick Cassidy, along with Dan Aykroyd and Robbie Coltrane, in 2001. He appears in a cameo in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets in 2002 as Mr. Mason. He plays an Irish immigrant in the 2005 Australian/UK co-production, The Oyster Farmer. He plays Herr Liszt in the 2008 holocaust film The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas.
In 2011 Norton appears as the character Old Mr. Black in the film Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close directed by Stephen Daldry. He appears in the 2011 film Water for Elephants, in which he portrays a circus worker called “Camel” who befriends a character played by Robert Pattinson. In 2012 he appears as the character Tommy in the short film Homemade written by Matthew Roche and directed by Luke McManus. He is in the Ken Loach film Jimmy’s Hall which is released in 2014. He plays the role of Mr. Heelshire in the 2016 film The Boy. In 2018 he plays the role of Mr. Binnacle in Mary Poppins Returns.
Norton has a longtime partnership with playwright Conor McPherson, having originated roles in six of his plays in Dublin, London and New York, and for which he has won both the Tony and Olivier Award. Norton plays Jack in The Weir (1997), Joe in Port Authority (2001), Matthew in Come On Over (2001), Richard in The Seafarer (2006–7), Reverend Berkeley in The Veil (2011), and Maurice in The Night Alive (2013).