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Saturday 14 December 2019

Cannes do: why our own Moriarty could be the next big thing

From psychotic villain to gambolling around naked in 'The Stag', Andrew Scott has been attracting a lot of attention. But it could be his role in Ken Loach's latest film that earns the Dublin actor the breakthrough he deserves, writes Edel Coffey

Andrew Scott in is BAFTA-winning role as Moriarty in ‘Sherlock’
Andrew Scott in is BAFTA-winning role as Moriarty in ‘Sherlock’
Robert O’Mahoney with Andrew Scott in ‘The secret Fall of Constance Wilde’ at the Abbey Theatre in 2000

Edel Coffey

I can still remember the first time I saw Andrew Scott in his most famous role to date, that of Moriarty, the baddie, in the BBC's reboot of Sherlock. The young Dublin actor's performance, though brief, was mesmerising, full of fun and energy, crackling with charisma. He couldn't have been more eye-catching had he done consecutive backflips while delivering his lines. He completely stole the scene from Benedict Cumberbatch, which is no mean feat

Even though Scott had been acting for decades by that point, it was the first time the Dublin actor had crossed my radar. Oh, and how. He sauntered on to the screen in the climactic scene of the first series. I still remember the excitement as the realisation dawned that this giddy joker with the psychopathic drawl was Sherlock's nemesis, Moriarty. And was that an Irish accent? The internet nearly broke itself with the amount of tweets Scott's performance generated.

When asked on The Late Late Show earlier this year how he got into the mind of that particularly psychopathic character he said: "You've got to look at what's scary in your own soul, something that makes a scary villain is something you don't expect." And it is this very trait of unexpected behaviour that made Moriarty so mad and enjoyable. He swung rapidly from cuddly and playful to sinister and serious, and terrifying. His prancing, maniacal behaviour made you think of the high jinks of a mischievous schoolboy until you realised his deeds were murderous.

The phenomenal popularity of the show meant the nature of Scott's career changed from well-regarded film and stage actor to that of a superstar. He won a best supporting actor BAFTA in 2012 for the role and will soon be seen in Cannes' Palm d'Or nominated Jimmy's Hall.

Sherlock co-writer Stephen Moffat paid tribute to Scott saying, "people don't remember that in the first series of Sherlock he's just in the last scene and he has become a star just because of that. It takes an extraordinarily good actor to do that. He's also one of the nicest blokes out there – not a bit like Moriarty." Well, that's a relief considering Moriarty's maniacal ways.

Scott grew up in Churchtown in Dublin, where his mother was an art teacher and his father a civil servant. He was active in drama early on, taking part in school plays before going on to Trinity to study drama there. However, he dropped out to take a job with the Abbey, admitting he preferred acting to studying the semiotics of it. It may have seemed like a risk back then but it looks like the decision paid off.

He's spent much of his career working as a theatre actor (most recently in Birdland in London, where the reviews for the play have been mixed but the reviews for Scott's performance have been almost universally positive). He's never been Hollywood-orientated but the show has brought its opportunities. He told the London Independent last year: "Sherlock has changed all our careers, and I'm really pleased about that. It gives you the benefit of the doubt because executives like to see recognisable faces. It was overwhelming to be on a TV show that is quite so popular. That took me totally by surprise. People had an instant affection for it from the first episode. The reaction was extraordinary. People still come up to me in the street all the time, wanting to talk about it."

The show has also brought an unprecedented level of fame and fandom for its stars – Cumberbatch has his 'Cumberbitches' and Scott has his 'Scotties'. These fans have all sorts of devoted hobbies, like splicing together footage from separate love scenes from both actors' previous work to make it look like Scott and Cumberbatch are actually enjoying a tryst together.

Scott, although private, makes no secret of the fact that he is gay and in a recent interview with Hot Press to publicise The Stag he explained succinctly why gay rights are a human rights issue. "When I was younger, I still had feelings of isolation and shame, and that was compounded by a law that backed up that feeling. And so, in ridding ourselves of that archaic law, you free up that mind space for young people, so that they can focus on all that stuff they should be focusing on, and allowing them to be outward-looking.

When someone is outward-looking, rather than inward-looking, it means that they become kind and generous and thoughtful people, and that's what makes people happier. That's why it's a human rights issue."

He has most recently been on our screens in The Stag, John Butler's film about an Irish stag weekend. "We wanted it to be a film that was true to the Irish experience – not some kind of homogenised effort to appease foreign audiences – but also one that had lots of laughs."

His next role is in what will be Ken Loach's final feature film, as the legendary British director is focusing solely on documentary from now on. As Scott told this newspaper in a recent interview: ''I was back home a lot last year because I was also cast in the Ken Loach's Jimmy's Hall, which was made in Sligo. To work with someone of Ken Loach's calibre was a dream come true."

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