Andrew Scott interview: Sherlock, Moriarty, and The Reichenbach Fall

Andrew Scott returns to Sherlock this weekend in The Reichenbach Fall. And he's been chatting to us about the show, and what he's been up to...

It feels like we’ve been waiting a long, long time for what we’re going to get in Sunday’s finale to Sherlock series 2. Because this is when Andrew Scott’s Moriarty gets a lot more screen time, as he does battle with Benedict Cumberbatch’s title character.

Just after filming on the show finished, Andrew Scott spared us a bit of time to talk about Moriarty, Sherlock, and playing opposite Benedict Cumberbatch. Here’s how it went…

It feels like we’ve been waiting an awful long time to get quality time with your Moriarty, given the gap between this series of Sherlock and the last. Were you conscious of that when you came to filming?

Yeah, I was. I was really looking forward to being able to flesh him out. We get more of him this time.

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The challenge with the last one was to try and make an impact in that ten minutes. This time around, there’s more screentime, and a chance to go a little bit deeper with him.

And then you had to wait for the scheduling to fall into place this time, given Martin Freeman’s commitments to The Hobbit!Yeah. It was sort of a weird summer. I was doing a play at the National Theatre over the summer, and I was knee-deep in rehearsal when we began filming. I was quite grateful to have the time to do the other stuff.

It seemed like quite a long time, but in a weird way, it felt like only yesterday that we filmed [series one].

Going back to how Moriarty came to you in the first place. How was he originally pitched to you, as there’s an element of an anti-Moriarty to him?He wasn’t really pitched. But I decided not to do too much delving into who played him before, and stuff like that. I decided when I went in to meet them to go with whatever I felt my instinct was.

I think they responded to that. I was anxious… to me, what’s scary about people is that you don’t really know what’s going on in their lives, and you don’t know much about them. So I wanted to bring out the scary part of myself.

He’s someone who may look like an everyday person, but [Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss] talk a lot about hiding in plain light. I think that’s a very interesting concept. Rather than having huge amounts of costume changes, if you use your brain, you can be right under someone’s nose and they don’t know it.

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So were there any touch points, outside of the world of Sherlock Holmes, from any other villainous performances when you were playing Moriarty?No. I just know that I’d steal from them, so I didn’t look at anything! [Laughs]

Actually, I didn’t look at anything… I think what people do is they go he’s a bit like this, and a bit like this… I didn’t try to do that, or think ‘that’s what I should base it on’.

The cliffhanger we were left with in the ten minutes at the end of series one was Sherlock arguably at his very coldest, and Moriarty was, I wouldn’t say warm, but he was seemingly a bit more upbeat.Yeah, I think that’s interesting about it. He’s very playful, and that’s what I suppose I wanted to bring to it as well.

I think sometimes the villain… the very typical idea of being very suave and very menacing, it doesn’t necessarily have to be someone who’s that way. That’s what makes it, possibly, a little bit more surprising. That way, you put a proper stamp on a character, rather than become one of the villains that we already know.

I think, because there was a build up anyway to Moriarty being revealed and what Moriarty was going to look like… I think it would be very boring to go in and do something that we’ve all possibly seen before.

I try and look at what dark and scary things there are in me, and what scares me. That’s why I tried to make [Moriarty] a bit more playful. He’s the ying to Sherlock’s yang, and I think in that situation, he has to make an impression.

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What also contributed to the impact of Moriarty’s introduction, though, was that television audiences weren’t that familiar with you. We had no pre-conception of you on television.I think that’s really true. I think in my job, it’s quite difficult to find work on television… you don’t necessarily want to get a profile for something that you don’t fully believe in. I’ve been quite conscious… not keeping a low profile, there are things I wanted to get and haven’t got. But a lot of the stuff I’ve turned away to concentrate on really good stuff, and really good parts. I think that’s what you have to do in the early parts of your career.

I think that now I’m a little more settled into my career, it was a really lovely opportunity to play something a bit more high profile. Popular, rather than high profile. Something really well written.

I’ve seen a small part of the third episode, which I don’t want to spoil. So I’ll just say it was a scene with you and Benedict, with two intelligent people sitting down and, to put it simply, having a chat. What level of preparation do you have to put in, to get the depth and quality of their conversations across?

I think that’s a really good question, because when something’s really well written, and the dialogue is really sparky, that’s what you have to focus on. How do we make this as good as possible?

For me, with Moriarty, it’s very important that the playful, unexpected feeling is maintained. I think for that reason, you can’t really have too much preparation. You want to be as spontaneous as possible, so for that reason, I just learned the lines, really. And then tried it as many different ways on the day as possible.

Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but I rely very much on Benedict and what we do together. It’s that chemistry between two actors, that you are really actually listening to the other person.

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You can’t really know what that’s like, or prepare too much for it, until you’re on the set, and then you give yourself over to it completely. Sometimes I found that different takes worked really, really differently each time. But then you give it over to them, and see what works in the edit.

It’s the stillness that works. It’s almost a theatre-driven way of approaching the material. But without the over-theatrical style that theatre sometimes falls into, if that makes sense.

Yeah, it does. I know exactly what you mean.

I love it when you just have a conversation. It worked really well at the end of series one. It really helped that Paul McGuigan held the shot so still.

Yeah. Toby Haynes is directing this next one, and he just allowed us to do it again and again and again. And sometimes you’d do a barrage of things, and I’d then think, oh that’s wrong. But you’ve got to go there. I think it all helps in making Moriarty unsettling. I would say to expect the unexpected with him a little bit.

It’s a really bold choice to come to this next story so soon, six stories into this take on Sherlock.Mark and Steven were always saying why not do the stuff that we enjoy the most, while we’re having the most fun? I’m with them on that. I think you’ve got to go ‘we love all this, so let’s do it while we’re all massively enthusiastic about it’.

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Have you had discussions about future appearances for Moriarty? I don’t want to spoil anything, and I’d imagine the chronology is something that can be played with anyway. But just wondering if any chats have taken place?We have. It’s very interesting on that score. You go, what’s the right thing to do? How much do you use Moriarty, and much do you protect him? I’m starting to feel very protective of that. I think his power is that he’s not overused, but then you want to have some fun with him as well. I think the balance of that in series two is nice.

What you’re facing now, presumably, is that the offers tend to follow what you’ve been successful at. With film and TV now, I’d imagine you’ve had a reasonable amount of copycat stuff coming through your inbox?Yeah, that’s absolutely right. Although what’s been good is that because I’ve been around a little while, and because Moriarty was a surprise to many people, all of my roles have been slightly different to that.

You have to be careful about it, and I might avoid anything villainy for a while. Although there are different types of villains.

That’s what I get a kick out of: playing completely different types of characters. I think the next thing I’ll do will be a period drama, something completely different.

But I like Moriarty, [he’s] so completely willing to do something you can react against, rather than be an insipid character… I sometimes think that’s why you get boring characters on television, you tend to get variations on a theme. A UK or Irish version of an American show, or whatever. They’re the kind of shows I’m not interested in.

It’s why I’m proud of Sherlock. That it’s taken a really classic tale, and made it absolutely itself. It’s why, I don’t know what you think, I’ve found it extraordinary the amount of affection there was for the show after just three episodes.

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But then it’s an excellent show, both in the show itself, and when it was scheduled. The scheduling went against every rule of what you’re supposed to do…Absolutely. It’s audacious, and that’s what I feel about Moriarty as well. You have to go in and be brave about it, and say ‘I’m going to do it this way’. And, of course, people react to it, and go ‘oh my God, it’s this and I wanted it be this’. But you say, ‘you know what, it isn’t!’ And then of course people get used to it, and that’s how you end up making something unique and special. It’s the point of being an artist.

Benedict Cumberbatch tells a story about when, after Sherlock, he went to the swimming baths and people stopped in their tracks and went, he’s Sherlock! I would imagine if a load of kids saw you at a swimming baths, they’ll be terrified…[Laughs] Hopefully they’re not near the deep end!

Are you finding any problems with being recognised as this iconic villain?No, not really! I don’t know, but for whatever reason I seem quite different to Moriarty in real life! I’m okay, I certainly don’t have what Mr Cumberbatch has. Just a couple of people in the street.

See what happens once the series has ended…I think you might have a point, there! [Laughs]Andrew Scott, thank you very much!The final episode of Sherlock series 2, The Reichenbach Fall, screens this coming Sunday.

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