Categories: Interviews

Interview: Andrew Scott Talks Finding His Own ‘Ripley,’ Fashion, Mastering Accents and the Star That is Lucio

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“It’s just the stamina of it,” says Andrew Scott on the massive 162-day shooting schedule of Ripley, the new limited series that debuted on Netflix this spring, an eight-episode adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s quintet of novels but heavily leaning on the first, 1955’s The Talented Mr. Ripley, written and directed by Oscar winner Steven Zaillian (Schindler’s List).

This iteration of the tales of Tom Ripley actually began at Showtime in 2019, ahead of but quickly enveloped by the cloud of worldwide lockdowns from the COVID-19 pandemic. With most of the principal photography, shot by Oscar winner Robert Elswit (There Will Be Blood), Italy was the series’ prime location. “I used to walk to work in Venice in the morning and there would literally be nobody there. And usually it would be packed,” says Scott. “It’s extraordinary when I think of it now, for sure.” As Showtime and Paramount began to merge properties, Ripley suddenly went on the market, with Netflix swooping in to pick it up in February 2023.

The last six months have been a career visibility high for Scott. Coming off the critical success of Andrew Haigh’s gay drama All of Us Strangers and the exhaustive press tour with co-star Paul Mescal, the BAFTA-winning actor was in the public eye in a way he hadn’t been since his breakthroughs as Moriarty on the Sherlock series with Benedict Cumberbatch and, of course, Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag, where he’s still recognized as the ‘Hot Priest’ to most. Earlier this year he won the London Critics’ Circle Film award for All of Us Strangers and the U.K. Critics’ Circle Theatre award for his one-man show of Vanya, making history as the first person to win both for lead performances in the same year.

On his most recent press tour for Ripley, I sat down with Scott in a small room of the Sunset Las Palmas, one of the oldest production facilities in Hollywood and former home to the likes of I Love Lucy and former home to Francis Ford Coppola’s Zoetrope Studios. Scott, very much in his fashion era working with stylist Warren Alfie Baker, is wearing custom Lanvin, a seemingly understated button-up white shirt but with meticulous silver-gray bugle beading pinstripe details. We probably could have talked about fashion all day; his red carpet looks, from bold textiles to gorgeous monochromes have been a hit, and we did a bit off mic, but we were here to dive into Ripley. In our conversation, we talk about how Tom Ripley is an everlasting character and how playing him not as a villain but with some level of empathy keeps the audiences allured. We talk about the fashion of Ripley, how could we not, how Zaillian’s casting and visual approach gave this iteration its own, original spin and of course, we had to talk about Lucio.

Erik Anderson: This is your first full-fledged produced project for film or television. How did that journey start and what has been that side of storytelling like?

Andrew Scott: Well, it’s interesting. I suppose it would vary from job-to-job. I think there’s no doubt that Steve [Zaillian] has the unique thing about him and the thing that makes his work so extraordinary is that he’s got a very particular vision. So anybody who works with Steve knows that he’s got a very particular vision. So, my job in some ways is to, and this version, to be able to look after myself in a producorial way and to be able to look after the other actors. I think coming from the theater, that’s something that means a lot to me, that the people, there’s a huge amount of, it’s a character that we spend huge amounts of time with. But for that reason, the people who come in and play hotel clerks for just a morning could sometimes, I know this because I’ve been there myself, feel a little bit like intimidated coming in. A lot of them are speaking, acting in a different language and coming into this very big production and that can be intimidating.

And I feel like it’s my job to make sure that the acting department is sort of looked after and if they have questions, that they feel that they could talk to me about that. That’s very, very important to me because it can make a real difference to somebody asking a very astute question, it can really make a difference. So yeah, I think, look, it’s something that I’ll definitely do in the future. So I’ve got definitely things that I will produce now and I’m thinking about producing, and I think I’ll be much more, it’ll vary from project-to-project, but in this one, I feel like that’s where my usefulness came into the most.

EA: You’ve said you view Tom Ripley as a protagonist and an anti-hero. I really want to unpack that. I love it because I know your approach to any character you play is without judgment and with empathy.

AS: Well, I suppose it’s just that, I think it’s just like that there’s no part of that character that I feel like I didn’t understand that there is anything that’s different to other human beings in the sense that there are things about Tom Ripley that I don’t think we’ll ever really understand, the idea of backstory and the fact that he’s a kind of unreliable hero. So the stuff that he might say about himself, you don’t necessarily believe, but that’s true of all human beings. Everybody sort of garnishes things or maybe not to the extreme that he does. And so, I don’t know, I feel like I understood what it’s like to be feeling awkward.

And I feel like he’s got a certain degree of charm, but he’s also got a certain degree of awkwardness and I didn’t want to sort of shy away from that. Actually, I think there are some scenes in it where he’s incredibly confident or seemingly very confident. There’s signs where he’s blisteringly awkward. I just think you just follow where the writing is, and then all those different permutations of the character within those very differing scenes kind of form one big hole.

And so, yeah, I’ve said this a lot, all that stuff about him being a psychopath, I just don’t buy into that that he’s a psychopath. I just don’t think that’s what, I think he’s disturbed, obviously, for what he does, but I think there’s just no way that this character would be so enduring if we didn’t understand him. And if we didn’t, the great achievement of that novel is that we want to get away with it. We don’t want him to be like, “Oh my God, throw him in jail.” We’re like, “Oh, please don’t get caught. Please don’t get caught.” She invites us to imagine what it’s like to be Tom Ripley, not to be a victim of Tom Ripley.

EA: Very much. She invites us to sort of engage in our own maybe darkest things that we would never do but wonder about.

AS: Yeah, exactly. The sort of private, you know and that’s what is very interesting. When you read a novel with a hero at the center of it, you’re so inside their mind and it’s a difficult thing to do with a solitary character on television because sometimes we can reveal who the character is in opposition to some other character, but when your character is on your own, it’s like how do you translate that? What could be four pages of what Tom’s, the machinations of his mind or whatever his thoughts are, how do you do that on television? And so I think the only way for me to do that is to really just think those thoughts and allow the audience to have the time to really go with them. And so you teach the audience almost how to watch the show. You teach them to go, okay, this isn’t going to be slower.

And I love the fact that people can be a little disheartened by that at the beginning because that’s not what we’re used to. We’re like get on the hook by the first ad break, get the thing, go-go-go-go-go, tick-tock, tick-tock, tick-tock, literally TikTok. I love the fact that the audaciousness of the show is going, “No, we’re not entering that competition.” And I love the fact that there’s space for that. And I love the fact that people have really responded to it.

And actually a lot of people, I don’t know if you’ve heard this, but a lot of people seem to me to have said, “I’m not going to binge-watch this. Actually, what I’m going to do is I’m going to watch, savor an episode and then maybe watch two and then watch one.” So you watch it in exactly the same way, you wouldn’t sit down and read a whole novel in one sitting. You might sometimes go, “Oh, I’ll just read one more chapter before I go to sleep,” but not necessarily. You wouldn’t go like, “I’m going to get to the end of this.” I think that’s interesting because I think it shows that it’s very respectful and honoring of the original material.

EA: This series was 162 days of principal photography. Obviously, just an enormous undertaking. But I kept thinking between all the stairs and moving the bodies and the entire sequence with the motorboat, this has to be the most physical role you’ve ever had.

AS: Certainly on screen, yeah (laughs). It’s just the stamina of it. In the theater, you’ve got the big ones, Vanya or Hamlet or whatever. The great thing about playing those kind of parts, you think well, nothing is ever as hard as that. But having said that, the sheer stamina of 12-hour days and just being in there so much, it’s really highly unusual to spend this much time in a television show with one character.

I always say usually in a television series, it’s about a family or a couple or a police department or a hospital or whatever. It’s quite unusual. Maybe in a movie, I’ve been in movies where you’re in every scene, but in a television series, it’s hard to think of one where you’re actually in, there’s just so much of you on your own. I’m sure there were a few, but I was trying to think of when I was working on how I was going to keep the stamina going, like who I could call and say, “How do you do it?” And there weren’t a lot of people because obviously if it is about a family, there’s going to be, and you’re playing the brother, there’s going to be a couple of days a week where they’re focusing on the mother and father. So you’ve got a Tuesday and Wednesday to sort of chill out and regroup and learn your lines.

EA: Yeah, read stories and see stories.

AS: Yeah, see stories, exactly. And this one, you would do these huge set pieces and then I’d go home and I’d go, “God, I’ve got another huge set piece tomorrow and I’ve got another one for…” So that’s what the big challenge of it is. I’m not going to lie, it was challenging. It was challenging to translate that novel and how do you make that literary character into a television character and that’s a difficult, that’s a challenge that I’m certainly very aware of, for sure.

And also, we were doing it during the pandemic, so you couldn’t rely on the comforts of your people because people couldn’t come and visit. So in one way, I think that helped the, I don’t think it can’t not have influenced the performance in some way because I did feel solitary, because we all did, and I did miss the people in my life and so I did feel that way. So I’m sure just that atmosphere psychologically as well as the idea that we’re walking through Venice in January when usually the Biennale is on and I was working through San Marco square, and literally, I used to walk to work in Venice in the morning and there would literally be nobody there. And usually it would be packed. It’s extraordinary when I think of it now, for sure.

EA: What was harder, learning and speaking Italian or the American accent? And how did you find Tom’s voice?

AS: Oh, well, that’s really, really interesting, ’cause it’s three-fold and almost four-fold because then it’s trying to imagine what Dickie Greenleaf would, how he would speak Italian, which is sort of different again. I feel like the most challenging thing, I suppose, was learning the Italian. I didn’t want to just learn the lines I have to say. I wanted to have an understanding of the language. So for about three or four months beforehand, I learned Italian in whatever way I could. It was really wonderful. I hadn’t learned a new language since I was in school, so that was definitely the most challenging because it wasn’t just like he could be a bad Italian speaker, he would be a good Italian speaker. He’s able to do that. And so at the beginning in one of the episodes, there’s this big thing where he’s learning Italian and he’s talking, and so you want to make that right. But a couple of Italian people, I don’t know, maybe they were being kind, but they said that I got away with it. But that was the hardest thing.

And then, the accent. Yeah, you have to work on the accent, but I didn’t want to over sort of do that. The Irish accent and the American accent aren’t too dissimilar. The Irish and the English accent are much more dissimilar. So I certainly thought about it. And then you’re thinking about, well, you’re just thinking about what way you would sound in relation to when he was playing Johnny. And so I became a little bit obsessed with Johnny [Flynn], Johnny’s work as in YouTubing, old Johnny’s, see what way he would be, and then trying to find out what way he was speaking as Dickie. So all that stuff was actually really fun. And I had really brilliant people to help me with my Italian and they really did.

EA: That’s amazing.

AS: Yeah. That’s cool.

EA: There is an extraordinary ensemble of actors in this show, but I want to talk about one in particular, and that is King who plays Lucio.

AS: (laughs) What a part.

EA: Not only is he all-seeing and all-knowing, but there’s also no one in the show that knows more than Lucio does.

AS: It’s so true. I said, “Oh yeah, look at that.” That’s such a great moment. But isn’t it extraordinary? I remember saying to Steve, I was like, “I’m telling you that this cat is such a great role,” and it’s really interesting watching animals in the cinema or on stage. I’ve seen a couple of animals on stage. It’s completely mesmerizing because, of course, they’re incapable of not telling the truth, and that’s what we want. You think they’re just being it. And there’re lessons to be learned there for actors.

I remember watching Martin’s [McDonaugh] film the recent one [The Banshees of Inisherin]. And that donkey, you just like the soulfulness of how much we read into the animals. I thought that was so beautiful. That character that’s just able to see all that stuff. And I love the fact that you’re so absorbed in the story that you think, is that cat going to tell I’m Tom? You need go to that place, don’t you? And you think, and nearly there is a brilliant moment with paw prints, without giving it away, that you think, “Oh my God,” and you have this thing and one of our members wanting to sort of give that cat a sort of dirty look where they sort of talk.

EA: You do it once. There is that one shot where you’re looking down at him-

AS: Yeah, like ‘I hate you!’ (laughs)

EA: (laughs) As a viewer, you’re thinking, ‘is Tom going to kill that cat? What’s happening with that cat? What’s going on here?’

AS: Yeah, it’s wonderful.

EA: Lucio has a face, that is-

AS: It’s so… Absolutely, and it’s so cinematic the way he looks up. It’s incredibly cinematic though, isn’t it, and everybody remarks on that cat, it’s amazing. It’s such wonderful storytelling.

EA: It really is. And that is not to take away from Dakota and Johnny and Maurizio, who were all-

AS: Of course. Yeah, sensational.

EA: We could spend time just talking about how incredible that casting of Elliot Sumner is as Freddie.

AS: Yeah, absolutely wonderful.

EA: It’s genius.

AS: Totally wonderful. What an energy, it’s a completely new energy for that character. And it’s unnerving and unsettling, and I think really exciting for the audience.

EA: I think maybe one of Steve’s best achievements in Ripley is that obviously there’s a lot of connection to the 1999 film but every person and everything subverts that to really get to be its own version.

AS: Yeah, exactly. Those characters being willfully different. I think that’s it. It’s like how do you honor just the essence of those characters.

EA: I want to talk a little bit about fashion. Do you have a favorite outfit from Ripley?

AS: The clothes are something I’m always, I love clothes in real life, but I also love clothes, costumes. It’s very essential for me to be able to feel like you can be free in the clothes that you are… Sometimes you’re wearing shoes and you feel like ‘this is wrong, this just feels weird,’ or you feel like you’ve got too many clothes on, you feel like you’re dressed up as a character rather than kind of embodying the character. It can weigh you down. It feels like a burden. Costumes should make you feel like, “Oh God.” It could be sort of a real jumping-off point.

So what was really, because we kind of assumed that it was going to be in black and white or we had to prepare for the fact that it was going to be black and white, texture became really, really important. There was a kind of leather jacket, and it’s like how do you just not make everything just look black and sort of dead and would you wear wool? And he wears a sort of cloth shirt at the beginning. And then one of the costumes that I really enjoyed was when he started to become lighter. When he becomes Dickie, he wears a cream, kind of, trench coat and light gray. And then he moves. When he goes into Venice, he sort of becomes, has a kind of beard and he is actually an awful lot darker.

So in a very subtle way, we feel like we’ve been on a big journey with the character rather than, because the Tom that we see in Venice, the Caravaggio kind of Tom where he’s wearing all black and he’s wearing cashmere and blah-blah-blah, it’s actually so different to the one that we see in the really ill-fitting jeans and the big oversized leather jacket in the rat-filled streets of the Lower East Side. So in exactly the same way, you’ve got to map that out. And I like having those discussions. And I know a lot of the costumes were, nearly all of them, in fact, were made, they weren’t. So we were able to have input onto how our clothes worked in the show. And it is a different thing because also other iterations of the show, the clothes have been a completely different vibe, summer. Ours is set in November. So it’s a really, really, really different vibe.

EA: You always have, to me, a really optimistic level of emotion in your work and acting choices, but in real life too. Where does that come from?

AS: Well, it comes from my mother. My mother was an eternal optimist and that is something I’ve definitely inherited. I think it’s really interesting thinking about the kind of work that you want to leave in the world when you get into a situation where you’re getting more choice. It’s like, “Well, what do I want to leave in the world?” If you have an opportunity to go, well, you could say something that might have some sort of impact and my feeling is that I’d like to leave work that has hope in it. And all the great art that I love and the great drama that I love, the great performances that I love are ones that have hope, have that sort of vulnerability. And even though that they might deal with very, what’s the word, dark or devastating subject matters, that you feel like, oh, there’s love at the centre of it, even though we know that it isn’t going to end well for any of us. None of us that’s going to be like, “Oh, well, they lived forever.”

Life is a tragedy and so in the acceptance of that, I think then you have to look towards the light. So yeah, that’s what I hope. And I have great respect for comedy and the usefulness of lightness, I really do.

EA: That’s a really perfect segue into the last thing I wanted to say because when we spoke last for Strangers, I started our interview with something that Andrew Haigh had said about you and this huge compliment that he wanted to give you. And in the last couple of weeks, I was looking at a lot of your work again and then came across something in the 2017 Hamlet that you did.

AS: Oh, yeah.

EA: I read a comment that somebody said, regarding the “to be or not to be” speech and it was, “How does he make me feel like this is the first time I’ve ever heard these words?”

AS: Oh.

EA: I don’t think anything encapsulates you more than that.

AS: That’s completely wonderful. That’s the name of the game isn’t it, that you feel like you have to unlearn the story. So you get the whole story, you know what the ending is like and you have to pretend that you don’t. You have to pretend your job is, because none of us know what’s going to happen, you’ve got to imagine the situation. Before the person falls in love, you’ve got to play the loneliness, “I’m never going to find love.” Or before they have to break through, you’ve got to play… Because in our storytelling, particularly in the media, when you talk about the success of an actor, you go, “Oh, they did that and then they did that,” and you’re not talking ever about the time between jobs, for example, where you’re like, “I am never going to work again.” Or we all, as human beings, we are not always in a state of like I know where I’m going.

For so many of us, it’s about, “I have no idea what’s going to happen,” and then life just has a way of presenting new things and you think… So for me, the thing that gives me hope is a good thought to have in the morning is to go, “Well, something new is going to happen to me today that hasn’t happened to me before.” Whether that’s just meeting somebody at a bus stop and talking to them or a huge personal loss. There’s going to be a day, every day is going to be different. And yeah, I feel like my antenna as I move on in life is to be open to those things, to go, “Wow, that’s different,” and every day to be able to, before you go to sleep, to be able to sort of say, “What happened today, what happened today?” And that’s I think the thing that I want to bring to my work is that understanding of humanity that we just don’t know what’s going to happen next. We don’t know what’s going to happen this evening.

It’s exciting and scary, but wonderful, like life.

EA: It is. I love that.

AS: Yeah. Brilliant. Erik, so gorgeous talking to you again. Thank you so much.

Ripley is currently available stream on Netflix. Andrew Scott is Emmy eligible in the category of Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited or Anthology Series or Movie for Ripley.

Erik Anderson

Erik Anderson is the founder/owner and Editor-in-Chief of AwardsWatch and has always loved all things Oscar, having watched the Academy Awards since he was in single digits; making lists, rankings and predictions throughout the show. This led him down the path to obsessing about awards. Much later, he found himself in film school and the film forums of GoldDerby, and then migrated over to the former Oscarwatch (now AwardsDaily), before breaking off to create AwardsWatch in 2013. He is a Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic, accredited by the Cannes Film Festival, Telluride Film Festival, Toronto International Film Festival and more, is a member of the International Cinephile Society (ICS), The Society of LGBTQ Entertainment Critics (GALECA), Hollywood Critics Association (HCA) and the International Press Academy. Among his many achieved goals with AwardsWatch, he has given a platform to underrepresented writers and critics and supplied them with access to film festivals and the industry and calls the Bay Area his home where he lives with his husband and son.

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