Andrew Scott’s Best Roles and Moments

There are some actors who always, no matter the size of their role or the context of their performance, draw the eye. Andrew Scott, who has most recently appeared as the slippery, scheming protagonist in the Netflix series “Ripley,” is one of them. He is enthralling to watch, his emotional notes meticulously constructed, with playful touches of chaos that always leave space for moments of discovery and surprise.

Here are a few of Scott’s favorite modes of performance, and how his popular roles reflect an actor excelling at his craft.

In Scott’s breakout role, in “Sherlock,” he plays Moriarty, the criminal mastermind opposite Benedict Cumberbatch’s contemporary Sherlock Holmes. From Scott’s first appearance, in the Season 1 finale, he electrifies an already energetic show.

Cumberbatch set the tone for “Sherlock” with his brutal, fast-paced wit; deductions tumble out of his mouth with strict precision, and in an impersonal monotone. Scott’s arrival, and his erratic singsong speaking, break this rhythm. There’s a menacing playfulness to not only his rhetorical delivery but also to his facial expressions. It adds a new dimension to the show.

In their initial confrontation scene, Sherlock aims a gun at Moriarty, asking, “What if I was to shoot you now?” Moriarty responds with a cartoonish look of shock that starts at the top of his head and ripples down: his eyebrows popping up, his eyes widening, jaw dropping and neck drawing back.

The rapidity with which his expressions unfold emphasize Moriarty’s dangerously fickle temperament; when he threatens Sherlock back, he speaks softly at first but then erupts midsentence, his face contorting horrendously as the timbre of his voice lowers to a grisly rasp. But just as quickly the moment is over: Moriarty returns to his lighthearted tone of villainy and excuses himself.

For as stylized a performance as Scott gives, it’s always believable for the character, particularly in this world of grand crimes, intricate designs and eccentric genius. Sherlock is the perpetual steady force, playing his violin and wandering through his mind palace, while Moriarty is the agent of chaos who serves as his match.

The most prominent element of Scott’s performance as the so-called hot priest in “Fleabag” is his coy smile. When he is introduced in Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s delightful comedy-drama, at a family dinner, his smile is polite and disarming.

It’s when he and Fleabag are out for a cigarette break, and he casually flings an expletive at her as she walks away, that a boyish grin spreads across his face. His eyebrows lift slightly in an expression suggesting that he is challenging her.

Part of his charm is a matter of contrast: He is a holy minister meant to provide spiritual guidance, but also a foul-mouthed heavy drinker who can barely hide his sexual desires. As he’s finally about to give in and sleep with Fleabag, his mirthful smile fades, one corner of his mouth angled up in a look of satisfaction, but there’s no joy behind the expression. His look is hard and resigned to the transgression, and there’s just a shadow of his coy smile beneath.

At the end of the series, the priest says that he is unsure whether the euphoria he is feeling is because of God or because of Fleabag, and Scott’s performance clues us in to the answer. Scott’s ebullient energy — that almost manic, kinetic charge he often imbues in his characters — comes through most vividly in the scenes when the priest is talking about God. Scott’s priest, despite his love for Fleabag, realizes that she hasn’t altered his faith. She has reinforced it.

Scott’s charm is on display in a different way in the new Audible podcast adaptation of George Orwell’s “1984.” His audio performance tricks the senses: You can, somehow, actually hear the smirk on his face as plays O’Brien, an undercover cop posing as a revolutionary in a dystopian society. Scott leans into the lilt of his natural Irish accent, and his exaggerated shifts in pitch, along with the meticulous way he hangs each syllable on the air and marks the time with cryptic murmurs and pauses, creates a seductive mystery.

Scott’s most recent big-screen role was in the 2023 film “All of Us Strangers,” where he shows how much melancholy he can instill in a performance through nuanced silences and stillness. He stars as Adam, a lonely gay screenwriter who encounters a stranger named Harry and then returns to his childhood home to find his deceased parents there, just as they were decades before.

Scott’s performance is muted, his eyes constantly contemplative, his expression that of sadness that has hardened into a stony exterior. Even his sadness is restrained; in a scene in which he discusses his sexuality and childhood bullying with his father, he is composed and dismissive of the difficulties he has faced until his father begins to sob. Adam’s face and upper body then likewise crumble.

Scott’s most devastating performance may have been captured in a 2012 short film in which he performs the monologue “Sea Wall,” by Simon Stephens.

Scott plays a man recounting a personal story of love, faith and devastating loss, and realistically captures the ramblings, interruptions and deflections that people often employ in conversation. He uses the entire studio space behind him, wandering around, pacing, glancing out the windows, thus creating a full sense of setting around him. His mannerisms are precise and seem to intentionally create parallels in his storytelling; a large, grasping gesture can demonstrate both his young daughter reaching innocently upward and his attempt to summon a word from thin air.

In the hands of the wrong director and the wrong lead actor, Tom Ripley, the sociopathic con man turned killer from Patricia Highsmith’s popular book series, could easily be flattened to a common criminal. What makes Ripley more than just another bad guy in the latest mystery-thriller is his elusiveness; his Ripley is often psychologically opaque and unpredictable.

Scott’s performance in “Ripley” is reserved but not at all withholding. He leaves just wide enough of a window through which the audience can see Ripley’s thoughts and emotional reactions while leaving the rest open to interpretation.

Scott’s charisma usually bleeds through his characters, who even at their most villainous are effortlessly alluring. But Scott corks his charm as Ripley, who isn’t suave in either his social interactions or his crimes. The stillness that this Ripley exudes barely disguises the frenetic energy beneath the surface. In the scenes in which Ripley suspects he is about to be caught, he smiles and makes small talk, tries to relax his posture into a faux act of confidence. But his eyes are tense and focused, like that of an animal spotting a predator.

Ripley is stiff; his conversations are often practiced, from his answers to the way he sits. Perhaps the most prevalent emotion that Scott reveals in this character is shame. When Ripley’s unrefined taste comes under attack — “Who in the world would wear a purple paisley robe,” Ripley’s will-be victim says with a derisive chuckle — embarrassment flits across his face just briefly, in the hardened creases around his mouth and a quick downward glance. Then it’s gone as quickly as it appeared.

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