Monday 26 September 2016

Master villain... Bond star Andrew Scott

He's the Irish star of the new Bond movie (rumoured to be the real baddie) but Andrew Scott prefers interesting work to fame - and comedy roles over playing bad guys.

Published 25/10/2015 | 02:30

Actor Andrew Scott
Actor Andrew Scott
Andrew Scott and Benedict Cumberbatch in Sherlock
Daniel Craig and Andrew Scott at an event to mark the beginning of production on Spectre

It's a somewhat unthinkable 13 years since Pierce Brosnan hung up his tux, handed in his gun and gave up his licence to kill. Since then, James Bond has undergone a dramatic revamp, with a new star, a new director and a grittier feel, as well as a ban on cheesy jokes. That's not to say that the Bond movies have lost their sense of humour altogether - at least, not if Andrew Scott has anything to do with it.

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"I have some really funny lines, which is absolutely essential for me," the actor said of his role in the latest Bond instalment, Spectre. "My least favourite type of acting is acting that has no humour in it. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that it's unforgivable."

What is forgivable, for the moment at least, is being unfamiliar with the Dubliner who is bringing the Irish connection back to the Bond franchise.

Although he has been a consistent presence on stage and screen over the past two decades, Andrew Scott has managed to fly under the radar for most of his professional career. The actor, who turned 39 earlier this week, has a face that most people will recognise (most likely for his role as the dastardly Moriarty in the BBC's Sherlock series) but many will be hard-pressed to identify by name.

While journalists find him very funny, self-effacing, charming and low-key, a common feature of the actor's interviews is his almost-feverish desire to talk about anything but himself.

By his own admission, he's shy and guarded, and he attributes his elusiveness to a desire to seamlessly play different roles and genres. "If you want that, you have to be circumspect about your private life," he has said, adding that maintaining an air of mystery is crucial to his ability to be versatile.

For this reason, Scott eschews opening nights, social networking and baring his soul in tell-all interviews, and when he checked Twitter out after a friend told him that his debut as Moriarty was trending, he declared it to be "terrifying." "It's like going into a room and being punched, then kissed, then hugged, then kicked, then complimented and then slated," he said.

While he has lived in London since he was 22, Scott grew up in Dublin in what he has described as a "thoughtful, questioning household". His mum Nora was a secondary school art teacher and his dad Jim worked at the government employment and training agency, FÁS. He has two sisters, Sarah and Hannah, one older, the other younger.

As a child, Scott was shy with a slight lisp, and has told how he was crucified with nerves every Saturday morning, prior to delivering his weekly recital at Ann Kavanagh's Young People's Theatre in Rathfarnham. He attended from the age of eight - landing his first starring role in a Flahavan's porridge ad - and Love/Hate's Peter Coonan has described how he looked up to him when he joined a few years later.

Even though the anxiety almost crippled him beforehand, Scott found the whole process of getting up in front of his peers to be transformative. This convinced him to pursue a career in drama, and he won his first professional role at 17 in the film Korea, while in his Leaving Cert year at Gonzaga College.

Scott has said that he wasn't always easy to manage in his youth, because he was anxious, angry, and not totally at ease with himself. As a gay man, he said that he feels fortunate that he was never bullied over his sexuality growing up, and when he told his parents he was gay, they were very supportive.

He still experienced feelings of isolation and shame when he was younger, not helped by the fact that homosexuality was only decriminalised in 1993. He was a huge supporter of the marriage equality referendum this year, saying that equality is justice, and a just society is a happier society.

"Mercifully, these days people don't see being gay as a character flaw," he said. "But nor is it a virtue, like kindness. Or a talent, like playing the banjo. It's just a fact."

Although Scott was also a talented artist - who won a bursary to art school and still sketches and paints today - he chose to study drama at Trinity College. This didn't prove to be a roaring success, as it coincided with his first professional stage role in Six Characters in Search of an Author at the Abbey in 1995. Opening night was on the day of his first Trinity exam, and he ended up dropping out of the course after six months. "I was ferocious back then," he later admitted. "I was absolutely sure that I knew best about everything."

The talented young actor was offered roles in The Secret Fall of Constance Wilde and Conor McPherson's A Dublin Carol, and he moved to London in 1999, where he won a part in the TV drama Longitude, starring Michael Gambon. He played many well-received stage roles over the following years, and was presented with an Olivier award for his role in A Girl in a Car with a Man at The Royal Court in 2005. He was also widely praised for his role in the Broadway production of The Vertical Hour in 2006, where he played opposite Bill Nighy and Julianne Moore. It was directed by Sam Mendes - the man now at the helm of the Bond movies.

Scott also made regular forays into film and television work - including Saving Private Ryan, Band of Brothers and My Life in Film - but it was playing James Moriarty opposite Benedict Cumberbatch in Sherlock that transformed him from jobbing actor into bone fide star in 2009. Mercurial, witty, menacing and mesmerising are all terms that have been attached to his portrayal of the popular baddie, which saw him winning the best supporting actor gong at both the 2012 BAFTA awards (beating co-star Martin Freeman who played Watson in the process) and 2013 IFTAs.

Despite his success playing the villain, Scott is always open to comedy offers too, and has said that making an audience laugh in a live setting is an amazing feeling. "There is no better high," he insists. "Forget about drugs!"

In 2013, he starred in Irish comedy film The Stag, and he returned home earlier this year to launch the Dublin Theatre Festival with a moving performance in a one-man show which was written for him, Sea Wall.

His ever-heightening profile has led to some great offers, some of the work that Scott took on recently includes Pride, Victor Frankenstein, where he played opposite Daniel Radcliffe and James McAvoy, and Alice Through the Looking Glass, produced by Tim Burton.

While he has also had several offers to do regular TV programmes, he turned them down as he likes "unpredictability and randomness." Which is why it appealed to him more to do Sea Wall than work for two weeks on some "schlocky" film that would earn him lots of money.

"If money and fame are not your goals, then it becomes easier to say no," he has said. "My idea of a successful actor is not the most recognisable or the richest - it's someone who is able to do a huge amount of different stuff."

Privacy, too, matters to Scott who admits to living in London with his partner, but refuses to give any further details of his loved one beyond an admission that he's "sort of" in the business.

No doubt, guarding his privacy will be all the more difficult once Spectre is released across the globe next week.

Mind you, Scott said that he leapt at the chance to do what he describes as "a lot of really fun, proper James Bond-y stuff," alongside Daniel Craig, Ralph Fiennes and Christopher Waltz.

The film centres on a cryptic message from Bond's past that sends him on a trail to uncover a sinister organisation. In it, Scott plays Max Denbigh, head of the Centre for National Security and rumoured arch-villain of the piece. He's refused to elucidate the character's exact role, for fear of ruining the plot, saying: "I'm sorry, but to be in a James Bond film is just really cool, right?"

On the eve of his biggest role to date, Scott has told how he was given some sage advice by screen legend Lauren Bacall. "You know in this industry, you never make it," she told him. There are plenty who would argue with that conclusion, not least when Bond's newest Irish star steps out at the Spectre world premiere at the Royal Albert Hall in London on Monday.

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