Sutton was born in Sutton Coldfield, West Midlands, the son Jeanette and Donald Cook. It is from his hometown that he derived the stage name "Sutton". He has a younger brother and two younger sisters. He grew up in Haughton, Staffordshire, and attended King Edward VI School in Stafford, Staffordshire. At the age of 14, he moved to Newport, Shropshire, where he attended the Burton Burough School. He went on to study drama at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff.
Prior to Hollyoaks, Sutton had roles in the Dream Team spin-off Dream Team 80s, playing Terry Glover, and in Lynda La Plante's Trial and Retribution X, playing a character called Barry Milne.
In September 2006 he joined the cast of Hollyoaks as John Paul McQueen. During this portrayal, his character came out as being gay and started having an affair with his best friend, Craig Dean. The storyline was nominated for, and won, many awards. He left the soap on-screen in September 2008. In Sutton's first post-Hollyoaks role, he guest starred as Eli Taylor who suffered from Narcolepsy and Cataplexy on the BBC series Casualty, in the episode titled 'Doing The Right Thing' which aired 13 December 2008.
On 23 March 2009, it was announced that Sutton would join the cast of ITV1's Emmerdale. Sutton played the role of mechanic Ryan Daniel Lamb, son of newcomer Faye Lamb and already established character Mark Wylde. Ryan's first appearance was on 15 June 2009.
On 8 February 2011, it was announced that Sutton would leave Emmerdale after approximately two years in the show. His last day on the show was 18 March 2011. His last episode was aired on Tuesday 26 April 2011.
In 2011 he took on the role of Orsino from Twelfth Night in the BBC Learning project "Off By Heart Shakespeare" and delivered the speech "If music be the food of love, play on".
Sutton made a brief appearance in the second series of Bedlam on Sky Living together with Lacey Turner (EastEnders) in Spring 2012. His character was a paramedic called Andy.
Sutton made a guest appearance in an episode of the BBC1 series Doctors on Friday 9 March 2012 "Firestarter". He also made a guest appearances in the second series of the hit ITV1 drama series Scott & Bailey which returned to the screens on Monday 12 March 2012 and Holby City on BBC1.
He returned to Hollyoaks as announced on Digital Spy on 12 October 2012. He returned to the show on Channel 4 18 December 2012.
In May 2012, he announced on Twitter that he had a new company, Broken Leg Workshops, which runs pop-up workshops for new actors offering help and advice of the kind he wished he had received when he first entered the business. The first workshop was held in Liverpool, followed by Manchester and Leeds.
Sutton is an avid fan of Liverpool FC.
In January 2015, it was announced that Sutton had become engaged to marry his girlfriend, model Kit Williams
Sutton is a supporter of the Labour party.
Hollyoaks was named Broadcast of the Year at the 2007 Stonewall Awards, held at London's Victoria and Albert Museum. The award was given for the portrayal of James Sutton's and Guy Burnet's gay affair storyline. Stonewall, an organisation that campaigns for equality for gay men and women, praised the show for its "sympathetic and convincing handling" of the "gritty and emotional" storyline.
Sutton was nominated for 'Sexiest Male', 'Best Actor' and 'Best Dramatic Performance' for The British Soap Awards 2007. He had been short-listed along with Gerard McCarthy (Kris Fisher) for 'Best Newcomer' for his role as John Paul McQueen, however McCarthy was chosen for the final nomination.
Sutton was nominated for 'Best Actor' and 'Sexiest Male' at the 2007 Inside Soap Awards, for 'Best Storyline' for "John Paul falls for Craig and comes out as gay", and, with Guy Burnet (Craig Dean) for 'Best Couple'. He did not win in any of the categories. Sutton was shortlisted for 'Most Popular Actor' at the National Television Awards 2007, alongside Charlie Clements (EastEnders), David Tennant (Doctor Who) and Antony Cotton (Coronation Street). The awards were voted for by the public and the ceremony took place on 31 October 2007. The award was won by David Tennant. Sutton was voted 'Most Popular Actor' and the John Paul/Craig storyline won 'Storyline of the Year'. Sutton was again nominated for the award of Best Newcomer, losing to Coronation Street's Craig Gazey.