If you want to make ndrew Scott visibly squirm in his seat, ask him how he feels about single-handedly causing a 162 per cent increase in searches for religious porn.
‘Yeah, yeah.’ A nervous laugh. ‘There you go. Right.’ A pause before a valiant stab at answering an impertinent question. ‘And somebody said for Halloween there’s a new priest outfit, so that’s pretty cool. I won’t be wearing it but, you know. Whatever floats your boat.’
In other words: while his turn as the hot priest in the raw, subversive (and hilarious) second series of Fleabag might have turned him into an unlikely sex god (religious pun intended) for six weeks this spring, as sex gods go, Scott is a reluctant one. There is no swagger, no bravado. ‘It’s embarrassing to even think about it,’ he smiles.
It is a blustery Monday on the last day of September and Scott, 42, is fidgeting on a bar stool in a pub on a scruffy stretch of New Cross Road. His crisp, dark green shirt is open at the neck, a slender gold chain resting on his chest. He is lean, a little tired after a madcap shoot in an eclectic costumier a few doors down (he arrived with no entourage and cooed over cashmere sweaters). Still, even when he is wiped out and demurring on uncomfortable questions, he is polite and generous; when you get him on something he actually wants to talk about, such as critiquing the Catholic church, sexuality or his ‘talented’ friend Phoebe Waller-Bridge — all of which more later — you can practically see the cogs whirring, a mercurial mind firing on all cylinders. When he’s really thinking, he kneads his face with his hands.
Scott will agree, with a bit of prodding, that 2019 has been an extraordinary year. It suddenly feels like he’s in everything, I say. ‘Oh God, I hope not,’ he says, eyes flashing with panic. OK, fine, a lot of things? A smile. ‘There’s no doubt about it. It’s been amazing.’
It has been. Fleabag was the headline act: the show topped a year of critical acclaim by winning four Emmy awards last month including one for Outstanding Comedy Series. He describes the Emmys as ‘absolutely incredible, completely joyful. This is a six-part BBC3 show and you’re there with these monsters of American television. Phoebe said to me, “You’ve got to come to America because you see how much they really responded to the show.” And they really have. It was brilliant.’
There was also a lead role in Present Laughter at The Old Vic this summer (The Evening Standard gave it five stars, calling Scott ‘glorious’) and an acclaimed turn as a desperate taxi driver in the new series of Black Mirror, released in June. Next week, he’ll star in Modern Love, the much-anticipated Amazon Prime adaptation of The New York Times column, in which he plays a neurotic New York film-maker. He’s currently shuttling back and forth between his south London homes and Wales, where he is filming his role as Jopari in the eagerly awaited His Dark Materials, also starring Lin-Manuel Miranda, whom Scott describes as a ‘dream to work with’. And, just days before we meet, news broke that he has also been cast as Tom Ripley in Showtime’s new adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr Ripley. Is it any wonder, then, that when I ask him about filming Black Mirror, he replies: ‘When the hell did I film that?’
Excitingly, he has reunited with director Sam Mendes for a role as a lieutenant in Mendes’s anticipated WWI epic 1917, in cinemas next January. The pair have worked together twice before: on the Bond film Spectre, in 2015, and in a Broadway play, The Vertical Hour, in 2006. The symmetry delights him. ‘Sam gave me a part on Broadway and I was ecstatic. I’d never even been to New York before. So to come back and work with him at a completely different stage in life is really nice, to have that continuity.’ Is another reunion, with Phoebe Waller-Bridge, also on the cards? ‘We have plans to work together. She’s a total delight. I love her. We’ve got exciting plans afoot.’
For a while, after a run that included the manic Moriarty in Sherlock and Spectre’s villainous enemy-of-the-state, Max Denbigh, Scott seemed destined to play the intense bad guy, swivel-eyed and hell-bent on chaos. But his recent parts amount to a thrillingly eclectic roll call, from fantasy (His Dark Materials), to a rom-com (Modern Love), to a blockbuster epic (1917). ‘You’re always looking to tell different stories,’ he says, seriously. Fleabag remains the only thing he has starred in (so far) that he doesn’t mind watching. ‘I usually find it very difficult to watch things I’m in. This time I’m like, “Yeah, I’ll watch that with you!”’
This might be Andrew Scott’s year but he’s been in the business for more than 20. He grew up in Dublin with his mother, an art teacher, his father, who worked for an employment agency, and two sisters, one older, one younger. He started drama classes aged eight. ‘I was very shy and had bit of a lisp, so I went to drama classes. And for some reason, even though it was terrifying, having to stand up in front of other kids, I really loved it.’ He is still a little bit shy now, he says, ‘but I’ve learned that I can’t be. You have to overcome it.’
At 17, he was cast in an indie film, Korea, leading to work at The Abbey Theatre, Dublin’s version of the National Theatre. ‘My dad used to drop me in and wait for me after the play was over,’ he laughs. ‘I was with all these professional actors and got an amazing run of roles. Now, if I saw an 18-year-old having these lead roles I’d think that was unusual. But when you’re young, you take it in your stride.’ At 20 he moved to London and continued to work methodically, ticking off plays at The Royal Court (in Crave, by radical British playwright Sarah Kane) and The Old Vic. In 2010 he was cast in Sherlock and played Moriarty over four seasons until 2016. ‘I didn’t think that 20 years later I’d still be here.’
In those first years in London, Scott lived in a little flat near Finsbury Park. ‘That’s where lots of Irish people go,’ he smiles. ‘I have happy memories of living there.’ But his early 20s were ‘troubled’. ‘I was fearful, still living with a lot of shame and isolation, shaking off the culture of Catholicism.’ He was raised in the church, but is no longer a member.
Scott is candid and urgent about the cruelties of Catholicism. The actor, who came out to his family in his 20s (and publicly in 2013), knows that the church does not condone his sexuality but says his conflict was about more than that. ‘I wouldn’t even say it was about homosexuality. It was about all sorts of sexuality. I think the most insidious thing about the Catholic church’s approach to sex,’ he says, stuttering a little on the hard C, ‘is that you can’t even speak about it. It’s like it doesn’t even exist. Any type of sex — never mind the kind that they banned.’ He starts laughing at the ludicrousness of this position. ‘One of the great joys of my life has been to emancipate myself from that. Not just joys; achievements. I feel very proud because it’s been a big, big journey.’
Indeed, it is for this reason, and not his sex-symbol status, as per some journalist’s glib questioning, that Scott is proud of his hot priest. ‘It wasn’t just a storyline for shock value. To see a priest who is a human being is important. To fall in love with somebody but to be married to the church — that’s a really interesting dilemma. I think more people of our generation would enter the church if they could have a love as well as a spiritual life.’ He worries about the ‘corrosive, valueless guilt’ that he believes Catholicism can foster.
For a long time this complicated relationship with the Catholic church complicated his relationship with his homeland. But he is proud of Ireland’s revolution of progressive values: the passing of the Marriage Act legalising same-sex marriage in 2015 and the legalisation of abortion last year. ‘It’s really genuinely amazing. It’s become one of the most politically progressive countries in the world.’ He sits up in his seat, eyes shining. ‘The marriage referendum was voted in by the public. It wasn’t just a change in policy: it was a referendum.’ He has now bought a place in Dublin. ‘To reconnect with Ireland has been amazing.’
He hopes to go and stay there soon, for a while, to see his family. ‘I want to have an opportunity to look out rather than be looked at,’ he murmurs. Downtime will also mean binge watching Derry Girls — ‘love, love, love’ — and Fosse/Verdon, the intense, biographical mini-series starring Sam Rockwell and Michelle Williams. ‘Oh, and Bake Off. Love a bit of Bake Off. ’ Is he good at baking? ‘Horrendous.’
He is also interested in ‘writing, producing and directing in the theatre’ and his conscience has been awakened by recent headlines about climate change. ‘It’s really upsetting that the most powerful person in the world, the President of the United States, can have the arrogance to deny that’s even happening.’ Would he join Extinction Rebellion? ‘You never know…’ There’s a glint in his eye.
So, Andrew Scott, after the year you’ve had, would you say you’re content? He looks terrified again, like I’ve just deployed another religious porn statistic. ‘What is it that I feel about the word content that makes me go, “Oh, God,”’ he wonders, kneading his forehead. He chooses his words carefully. ‘I suppose I feel that life is about learning and I think what can happen to people in their 40s is they think, “I’ve learnt my stuff, so I can stop learning, be content.” And I want to keep being a little bit uncomfortable.’ He nods, satisfied with the answer, positively relaxed at the prospect of discomfort.
Just, for the love of God, don’t call him a sex symbol.
Photography by Tung Walsh
Styling by Gary Armstrong