‘As an ac­tor, I feel free’

In Lon­don, Andrew Scott is cur­rently cre­at­ing a Hamlet for the ages, while in his lat­est film he is re­turn­ing to the rugby-fix­ated pri­vate schools of his Dublin youth. He talks to Tara Brady about his life in-be­tween

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - | COVER STORY -

For a man who is dy­ing in a bloody pile of poi­soned corpses ev­ery night, Andrew Scott is aw­fully chip­per. Much has been writ­ten about the Dublin ac­tor’s turn as Hamlet at Lon­don’s Almeida Theatre, al­most all of it gush­ing. And richly de­served, to boot.

“From the begin­ning he is em­phatic, tip­ping eas­ily from fury into tears, a wind­mill of small ges­tures, point­ing to his eyes when he talks of weep­ing,” writes Su­san­nah Clapp in The Ob­server. The In­de­pen­dent’s Paul Tay­lor con­curs: “I’ve never heard a Hamlet that takes us from the tis­sue-rustling of quiet de­spair to the tantrum-throw­ing of sar­donic scorn and self-mockery.”

Scott, an Olivier Award-win­ning vet­eran of the Na­tional Theatre, the Old Vic and Broad­way, is mostly pleased to have read the word “con­ver­sa­tional” at­tached to Robert Icke’s mod­ern-dress pro­duc­tion of Shake­speare’s long­est play.

“I’m not some­one who completely avoids re­views,” he clar­i­fies. “But I don’t read them ob­ses­sively ei­ther. I’m happy that ‘con­ver­sa­tional’ keeps com­ing up in the ones I have read. Shake­speare is for every­one. It doesn’t have to be aca­demic or bor­ing. It should be watched, not read. That’s why ticket prices are so im­por­tant. And in an age when peo­ple spend four or five hours on a box-set, then why not on Hamlet? I’m re­ally buzzed that this play that­was writ­ten 400 years ago al­lows for peo­ple to talk about com­pas­sion and men­tal health is­sues.”

Ex­haust­ing run

Today, some hours ahead of this evening’s three-and-a-half hour per­for­mance, the 40-year-old is just a lit­tle hoarse. It has been an ex­haust­ing run, he says. “But so worth it. More than any other play I’ve ever done. Not every­one gets to play Hamlet. Cer­tainly not ev­ery 40-year-old Ir­ish guy. You have to take care of your­self be­tween shows. Eat well. Ex­er­cise some­times.”

Scott has, as he puts it, “been tug­ging away at theatre for so long” that he was first ap­proached to play Hamlet some 15 years ago. In­deed, his ca­reer be­gan in earnest, aged just eight, with a much-Googled ad­vert for Fla­ha­van’s por­ridge. Aged 17, he landed a star­ring role in Cathal Black’s Korea. Small roles in Sav­ing Pri­vate Ryan and Nora, and an award-win­ning turn as Ed- mund in Karel Reisz’s 1998 pro­duc­tion of Long Day’s Jour­ney into Night at the Gate fol­lowed.

Not bad for a kid who got into act­ing as a way to boost his con­fi­dence. “Even now I can’t say that I don’t get ner­vous,” he says. “But I feel much more com­fort­able as an ac­tor now. I feel free.”

He laughs: “Ex­cept when Mark Ry­lance is in the au­di­ence.”

Be­tween high-pro­file projects – Spec­tre, Alice through the Look­ing Glass, De­nial, some lit­tle BBC TV show called Sher­lock – Scott likes to squeeze in home­com­ing gigs when­ever pos­si­ble. Al­ways a plea­sure, in­sists the some­time star of Jimmy’s Hall and The Stag.

“I’m re­ally ex­cited about how things are go­ing in the Ir­ish film in­dus­try,” he en­thuses. “I’m con­fi­dent in Ir­ish film. There are amaz­ing Ir­ish ac­tors and crews. Long may it con­tinue. I don’t have a na­tion­al­ist bone in my body. It’s re­duc­tive and bor­ing and in­sid­i­ous in its ef­fects. As we’re see­ing all over the world, na­tion­al­ism now threat­ens to bring back di­vi­sions we’ve worked so hard to get rid of. But I still take enor­mous pride in Ir­ish film, in Ir­ish arts.”

Flag-fly­ing ex­cep­tion

Scott, who has been openly gay since his teens, is also will­ing to make a flag-fly­ing ex­cep­tion for the 34th Amend­ment of the Con­sti­tu­tion of Ire­land.

“When I think back on be­ing 16, it was still il­le­gal to be gay in Ire­land,” he re­calls. “It’s ex­tra­or­di­nary. That year it did change. But the idea that two years ago I would go to Dublin Cas­tle with my mum and all my friends to cel­e­brate a pub­lic vote for gay mar­riage. It was one of the hap­pi­est Pro­fes­sor Snape from Harry Pot­ter Arisky in­clu­sion. Con – heis into Dark Arts and may want you dead. Pro–he is played by an eye-rolling Alan Rick­man. Mr Chips from Good­bye Mr Chips “I thought I heard you say­ing it was a pity . . . pity I never had any chil­dren ,” says el­derly Robert Donat. “But you’re wrong. Ihave. Thou­sands of them. Thou­sands of them . . . and all boys. ”I’m not days of my life. I feel very proud to be Ir­ish on that score. Par­tic­u­larly given the jour­ney we’ve come on in that short space of time. We’re a shin­ing ex­am­ple for the rest of the world at a time when one is needed.”

That jour­ney goes to the heart of Hand­some Devil, a new award-win­ning com­edy from di­rec­tor John But­ler. Set in a rugby-mad school dur­ing the 1980s, the film con­cerns the some­times fraught friend­ship be­tween a gay, sports-hat­ing loner and a star jock. Un­der the tute­lage of an in­spi­ra­tional English teacher – played with plenty of vim and vigour by Andrew Scott – th­ese guarded young­sters slowly learn to be true to them­selves.

With a nod to Dead Poet’s So­ci­ety, a riled Scott bel­lows at his charges: “You spend your whole life be­ing some­body else. Who’s go­ing to be you?”

“My mother is a teacher. My dad worked at Fás. My sis­ter is a sports coach. So there’s some­thing in the blood. And that makes me very in­ter­ested in how teach­ers are por­trayed on film. You have to strike a bal­ance. They have to be in­ter­ested in the stu­dents but not too in­ter­ested. For that rea­son, early on, I talked to John [But­ler] about making the char­ac­ter a bit less present and over­bear­ing than he was in the orig­i­nal script. And John was to­tally re­spon­sive to that. Teach­ers should be pas­sion­ate. But they should have other things in their lives.”

Youth­ful ex­pe­ri­ences

John But­ler drew on his own youth­ful ex­pe­ri­ences to cre­ate Hand­some Devil. There are cer­tain au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal over­laps for Scott, too. As a teenager he at­tended Gon­zaga Col­lege, an in­sti­tu­tion that seems to man­u­fac­ture na­tional rugby stars.

“Luck­ily, the school I went to wasalso very big into thearts,” re­calls the ac­tor. “But, as in the film, at school, there was al­ways this rub­bish that if you were in­ter­ested in one thing, you weren’t al­lowed to be in­ter­ested in two things or three things. That’s so dam­ag­ing. And you see it ev­ery­where. I played rugby a lit­tle bit. And I liked it. But I was more in­ter­ested in arts and drama. It’s just that non­sense of cat­e­goris­ing peo­ple gets in the way.

“What I love about the film is the friend­ship and the in­sis­tence that you can be friends with who­ever you want. Other in­ter­ests and other sex­u­al­i­ties are not a threat.”

It’s in­ter­est­ing to hear him talk about cat­e­goris­ing. Scott, in com­mon with Luke Evans and Zachary Quinto, is one of an alarm­ingly short list of ac­tors who are, to use what ought to be an ar­chaic term, “out”.

“No hu­man be­ing wants to be de­fined by one thing,” he says. “I can only speak to my own ex­pe­ri­ence. I’m an ac­tor pur­su­ing in­ter­est­ing work. Sex­u­al­ity doesn’t and shouldn’t come into it. Sex­u­al­ity is not a flaw in a per­son’s make up, nor is it a virtue. You can replica te­sex on film with any­body. I firmly be­lieve this no­tion that we should only cast gay peo­ple in gay parts or straight peo­ple in straight parts is re­ally dan­ger­ous. It sep­a­rates us. To say that a gay role has to be played by a gay per­son is a step back­wards, not for­wards. It cre­ates a bar­rier that will be­come dif­fi­cult to break down.”

The bard and the Almeida beck­ons. Scott con­tin­ues to be pleas­antly sur­prised to find fans as­sem­bled nightly at the stage door, some of whom have flown in, armed with selfie-sticks, from dis­tant lands.

“I’m al­ways happy to meet and talk with peo­ple,” he says. “They have an en­ergy that you can draw from. It’s one of the things that I dis­like about so­cial me­dia. Ev­ery­thing is ei­ther fawn­ing or in­sult­ing. But, in per­son, you have to have a proper, two-way con­ver­sa­tion.”

He laughs: “Un­less peo­ple are rude. Then there won’t be any con­ver­sa­tion.” Hand­some Devil is out now and is re­viewed on page 9

I’m re­ally ex­cited about how things are go­ing in the Ir­ish film in­dus­try. I’m con­fi­dent in Ir­ish film. There are amaz­ing Ir­ish ac­tors and crews. Long may it con­tinue

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