June issue

Andrew Scott: ‘I think “romantic comedy” is very underrated’

Andrew Scott, best known for his stomach-fluttering role as the Priest in Fleabag, his sinister turn as Moriarty in the BBC’s Sherlock, and his Olivier-nominated performance in Hamlet at the Almeida in 2017, shares experiences gleaned from a career at the pinnacle of acting
Image may contain Human Person Andrew Scott and Finger
Steve Schofield

If you suddenly found around Easter last year that men in cassocks sent a frisson of excitement through you, you can thank Andrew Scott. Though his role as The Priest in Fleabag thrust him further into the mainstream after a four Bafta-winning seasons as supervillain Moriarty in the BBC’s Sherlock, Scott has been equally hailed over a twenty-year career on stage, landing an Olivier nomination for his two-year run as Hamlet at the Almeida Theatre, and another for his role in Noel Coward’s Present Laughter last year. Next up? An adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s Ripley novels. Talented indeed.

Andrew Scott spoke to GQ for this year’s Heroes issue about why he’s proud of Pride, why he’s never been afraid of typecasting (despite playing peerless villains), and how to break down the snobbery around Shakespeare. This is what he knows…

Steve Schofield

One of the reasons Fleabag came about was that I was searching for something that wasn’t villainous. After Sherlock, there were a lot of “sub-Moriarty” roles that were offered to me. I played a villain in one of the Bond films – I was like, “Yeah, I want to be in the Bond film!” – and that was a really good experience. But I think after a while you have to go, “No, I don’t want to do that any more.” I think “romantic comedy” is very underrated; I was always looking for something that explored romantic love in a really intelligent and human way and I felt, when I first started talking to Phoebe [Waller-Bridge] about it, that this was ideal.

I’ve never really worried about typecasting. At every given stage of your life, you’re associated with a particular role. The Priest was definitely a character that people were really interested in... So at the moment, that’s the one that’s front and centre, but it’s my job to smash that down and start focusing on the next thing. Usually what happens is that it’s the people with the most cash who want to see you doing the same thing again. They want to follow a certain prototype that makes them money, so they go, “Let’s get somebody who’s already done it.” So if you don’t follow those rules, there are opportunities out there. You just have to be a bit formidable about it.

This year, we had to do a lot of press for Fleabag. We were involved in the awards season in America. It’s like a whole new life; you go out there for a few weeks and there are so many awards shows. You forget that there’s a lot of people there who are also finding it bizarre, people who you really admire. You get to know them a little bit better, so that was cool, to hang out with people I’ve admired. We had a great time with all the crowd from Succession.

‘A four-hour Shakespeare play? People watch box sets for six hours...’

Pride is a remarkable film. A lot of really clever politics and a great message about humanity and solidarity is smuggled in through great comedy. It’s extremely funny, warm and pretty subversive. And it tells a story that has never been told before [of LGBT solidarity during the miners’ strike]. When it first came out, it didn’t do badly at the box office, but it didn’t have the numbers, initially, it deserved. Having said that, over the years, it’s the film people still keep writing to me about. I think we forget that, around the world, those films are really necessary. In places where the law has not changed, films like that are real handholds for people.

One of the things that makes me angry in the world is snobbery about art. The way it’s worked out for me is that people who have seen Fleabag or Sherlock come to see [me in] Shakespeare or Noël Coward. I think it’s been unfairly reported that fans of TV shows make noise in the theatre and behave like animals. That’s not my experience at all. And if people are a little bit more vocal or show their enthusiasm in a slightly different way than polite, reserved silence, then I don’t see the problem with that. We did a festival called “Hamlet For Free” at the Almeida when we started that [production]; it was for kids under the age of 25 who’ve never been to the theatre before. That really was one of the most brilliant experiences, because the verbal reaction to it was incredible. I always make the analogy about box sets. A four-hour Shakespeare play? People watch box sets for six hours and they watch them because they’re good. They don’t watch them because they have to, because it’s on the syllabus or it’s like, you know, eating more vegetables.

I’m definitely more interested in being involved in other aspects of storytelling. I’m going to be a producer on Ripley. I think, as an actor, you have to have a little bit of a director in you; you have to understand where your character fits into the story. What’s strange is that you’re incredibly involved in all aspects of filmmaking beforehand and then when it comes to the edits you’re nowhere to be seen. A lot of the time, that’s where the movies are really made. There’ll be many things in the future, I think, that I would be interested in producing.

I remember lodging a paycheque in a bank in Dublin when I started acting. I couldn’t believe I was actually earning money from this. And sometimes I still [think that]. That, to me, is success as an actor – if you can not have another job. So many actors supplement their income by working in a restaurant or whatever it is. I feel, genuinely, to be able to afford to continue doing this job and not have to supplement my income is an achievement.

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