Irish actor Andrew Scott is arguably most recognizable to U.S. audiences for malevolent characters: classic literary villain Professor Moriarty opposite Benedict Cumberbatch in TV’s Sherlock, as cruel psychiatrist Dr. Addison Bennet in Alice Through the Looking Glass, and as duplicitous government agent C in James Bond film Spectre.
So seeing Scott turn up as a priest in Amazon series Fleabag understandably may result in immediate suspicion of the character. The series’ history of revealing unexpected core character flaws might also set viewers’ expectation levels to yellow ― “exercise caution” ― when it comes to investing in this new player on Fleabag’s scene. Plus: Fleabag.
“It’s original and audacious storytelling,” Scott says of the series created and written by Phoebe Waller-Bridge, a star rapidly ascending with a scene-stealing turn as the voice of robot L3-37 in Solo: A Star Wars Story and as executive producer and creator of award-winning BBC America series Killing Eve. Waller-Bridge was also tapped by Bond himself, Daniel Craig, to inject her distinctive comedic voice into the script of the upcoming film from director Cary Fukunaga.
Scott this week also appeared — ranting with a gun — in the first trailer for season 5 of Netflix sci-fi anthology hit Black Mirror. We’re eager to find out what delirium awaits us there, but in the meantime, we’re savoring his performance in Fleabag season 2, which is reliably unexpected.
The season is Certified Fresh at 100% with 43 reviews at publication and is being lauded by critics with lines like: “A portrait of grief, fear, and love that’s startling, painful, achingly funny, unbearably sexy, pretty much perfect, and somehow better than the first season. It is a marvel. It should not exist.” (Allison Shoemaker, RogerEbert.com).
We spoke to Scott about these strange, beautiful, tragic, hilarious sketches of humanity and what it was like to inhabit one of them.
Debbie Day for Rotten Tomatoes: Throughout the season, as a viewer, I think you keep asking yourself, “Is this love or is this insanity?”
Scott: I think both those things can exist at the same time. (Laughs). I think a lot of the time, people’s experiences of love are exactly that. I think that question, “Is this love or is this insanity?,” can nearly be applied to everything or relationship, because it is insane to go through that experience — it’s insane. That’s exactly it. As the Priest says in that sermon (in the series): It’s this extraordinary thing, it makes you crazy, and makes you do all these things that you never imagined you would be, both good and bad. I think Phoebe’s great talent is to be able to hold two things in exactly the same thing. I love the fact that it’s funny and tragic at the same time. I like that the idea of being vulnerable and being powerful exists in the same scene. It’s all the things … it’s very fluid, and I think that’s why people have responded to it so much, that’s what makes such great television, is that feeling of nuance, because the lack of nuance is the death of great art.
After season 1, I think viewers are hoping for some redemption for Fleabag, and at the beginning of the new season, here’s this priest and ― whether you believe or not ― you may hope that she finds something to hold on to, but she chooses the same sort of destructive path.
Scott: You think it’s destructive?
I think she makes another bad choice for herself. You want to believe in love, and you want to believe that people will choose love, but when you get involved with someone who’s not really available ―
How did you approach your character, seeing this dynamic in the scripts? What did you think of him at first when you read it?
Scott: We talked about, when we first spoke about this relationship between the two of them, was how do you play love, and what should we expect from our television characters? And there’s not one of us who have not made bad choices ― I even sort of hesitate to use the word “bad” ― you make choices that aren’t necessarily going to provide you with a lifelong relationship.
But I do think they have an immediate connection with each other, and that happens in life, too, and for me, the priest is flawed and he definitely is very conflicted, and I believe he is also very much in love.
Sometimes people of the church are depicted as asexual or that they’re not interested in or have no thoughts or feelings of intimacy regarding sex, and that just can’t be true, because that’s not true for any human. We all have a relationship with sex. And love. Even if you’re asexual, you still have a sort of attitude towards it. I think that’s a very interesting thing from my perspective about what actually do you do? What do you do with your sexuality?
Scott (cont.): I think sometimes in drama, we’re told what we’re supposed to feel because we make these sort of cartoonish characters, and I think the reason that Fleabag is unique, is that we don’t. Sometimes they do things that are cruel and selfish, and sometimes they’re very vulnerable, and sometimes powerful. And sometimes they’re abusive and sometimes they’re incredibly loving and kind. And that suggestion is in us all.
I think it’s a sort of lack of judgment and the fact that we can do that through comedy makes it special.
The Priest is obviously so conflicted, and he has a problem with alcohol. Was that built in before he met her, or is that something he recently adopted?
Scott: His relationship with alcohol is not healthy. It was sort of important not to overstate that in a sense ―let the audience do some work ― but I definitely think he has a longstanding unhealthy relationship with alcohol, like a lot of people.
I’m going to be careful about spoilers, because the relationship is built on these very special moments, but the first “fox talk,” I think, might also be the first time he asked her, “Where’d you go?” when she breaks the fourth wall and looks at the audience. Did you guys talk about what her behavior in that moment would look like to him?
Scott: The most important thing was, it’s a deep connection. I think it shows how connected he is to her. I think they’re both quite solitary characters, and Fleabag’s friend is the audience…and the relationship with the audience is sometimes helpful and sometimes destructive, and sometimes a way of just avoiding a life and relieving power. And the fact that he’s able to see that, and solely him — he’s the only character who can see that — speaks to me, not just as sort of “exciting television” or kind of convention, but just the idea that he, he sees her, he sees all of her, and he wants it from when they first spoke, he wants to talk about this extraordinary love. For my money, I feel like, they almost love each other right from the get go. I think they are definitely intrigued by each other and that sort of deepens, and I think they don’t really know what it is. Like a lot of us when we first meet somebody that you connect to and you think, Well, is it love, or is it insanity?
The café scene is also a very special moment. It was so real and very intense. First, does he see her behavior as mental illness? And is that tension built into the writing or is it something that gets fleshed out when you’re working the scene?
Scott: It’s built to a certain degree into the writing. Phoebe and I have got a great chemistry going, and so I think we just sort of saw what happens on that day. Phoebe’s very playful in that sense, in the relationship … At the beginning and certainly in that scene, it really genuinely is what it is “Where are you going?” I don’t think he knows, but it’s like “What is it that you’re doing?” And I think we can all sort of relate to that to a certain degree. When people are, to a certain degree are unknowable, and you go, “What is that thing? What is that look on your face?”
Because the idea of playing with the format of breaking fourth wall is so exciting — I find it really exciting that that’s developed in the second series … There’s a sort of metaphysical sort of vibe in the second series of pictures falling off walls and foxes following you at night … A little bit like love, it’s completely unknowable if you’re serious, and so it’s hard to answer those questions. And the only thing we really do is to dramatize the question, rather than try to nail them down too much, because that then it becomes less interesting drama.
Speaking of the storytelling, the fox detail of the story is the kind of quirky detail that you don’t see very often in film and in television. What are your thoughts on the writing for this series?
Scott: I think the writing is extraordinary. I think somebody’s hair looking amazing the day of their mum’s funeral, or somebody wearing really tight jeans to the funeral, or a fox trying to break into a toilet, and you know, partnered with scenes about death and loss and pain, I think it’s just so extraordinary, that she writes with such flair and such imagination and boldness, that’s really a thing that I want to watch on TV. And to be part of it is really exciting ― it’s original and audacious storytelling. And that has to start with the writing, and I think she’s not afraid of the grand gesture and to push the boundaries of how we tell our stories. And I think that’s why people really respond to her work, because, juxtaposed to that, is a great sense of humanity, fun, and a kind of kindness. I’m truly in awe of her imagination, really.
Fleabag season 2 is now streaming on on Amazon Prime.