The Hamilton Spectator

A killer of a role

Andrew Scott dominates the screen as the title character in Netflix series ‘Ripley’


Watch the new Netflix series “Ripley” and it becomes clear why that single, unadorned name makes such an appropriat­e title.

The show, simply put, is Ripley — as in Thomas Ripley, the fictional con man and killer who gives the series its face, its name, its narrative and dramatic drive. As viewers, we are rarely out of Tom’s company. It’s not until Episode 6 of the eightepiso­de miniseries that we go minutes rather than mere seconds without seeing him.

Being onscreen that much was definitely the most challengin­g part of making “Ripley,” says Andrew Scott, the celebrated Irish actor who plays the character.

“I’ve done it before in a movie. But that’s maybe two hours, and that maybe takes 2⁄2, three months, so when you’re doing something for a year and you’re acting every single day, a lot of the time on your own … that was actually the most difficult thing,” he said in a video interview.

“There’s a lot of physicalit­y in some of the episodes. It’s full-on action sequences. So it was a huge physical challenge and a huge emotional challenge. And, of course, you’re occupying quite dark spaces. You’re dealing with blood and life and death …

“I suppose the saving grace was that Tom was such an interestin­g character to play, and I had to learn to love him and protect him and be with him so much.”

Audiences have seen Tom Ripley onscreen before. The anti-hero of five Patricia Highsmith novels published between 1955 and 1991, he has been the subject of five movie adaptation­s, including “The Talented Mr. Ripley” in 1999, starring Matt Damon as Tom.

Scott had seen that film, as well as 1960’s “Purple Noon,” starring Alain Delon, and 2002’s “Ripley’s Game,” starring John Malkovich (who has a small part in “Ripley” as a character from the novels, Reeves Minot). Although Scott loved the performanc­es in “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” he was intent on making Tom his own.

“I had a very strong instinct as to who Tom was to my mind,” he said.

“The biggest battle, I think, with any famous character, whether you’re playing Hamlet or I played James Moriarty, who’s a famous Arthur Conan Doyle character, people have a real possession of these characters and a love for them, and so they feel protective of them. And they also have very strong opinions.”

While people use words like psychopath, serial killer and sociopath to describe Ripley, Tom “is a human being; he’s not a monster,” Scott said. “Like all the people who do terrible things in the world, sometimes it’s easy for us to call them monsters because it means that we don’t have to look at the fact that human beings really do terrible things.”

The series begins in 1961 Rome, with a dead body being dragged down a flight of stairs, before shifting to New York six months earlier, where Tom is living in a rundown single room and making a meagre living scamming strangers for small amounts of cash.

Opportunit­y knocks when he is asked to travel to Italy, all expenses paid, to convince the heir of a shipping magnate, Richard “Dickie” Greenleaf (Johnny Flynn), to return to New York.

Instead, Tom moves into Dickie’s villa in Atrani on the Amalfi Coast and the con turns into something much darker.

The series was written and directed by Steve Zaillian, known as the creator of the limited series “The Night Of,” and as the writer of screenplay­s for “Schindler’s List,” for which he won an Oscar, as well as “Gangs of New York,” “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” and “The Irishman.”

Shot entirely in black and white, “Ripley” plays like an eight-episode film noir, albeit one with flashes of humour.

Zaillian, in press notes for the series, said he had imagined it in black and white from the time he first read Highsmith’s first Ripley book. “I never saw it as some sunny, colourful postcard of a story, but rather as the foreboding suspense story that it is.”

Scott was chosen to play Ripley, he said, because “the right actor for me is always a good one, which Andrew obviously is. He has the range to play the many personas of Ripley over the course of the story, beginning as a petty criminal who feels he deserves better than his meagre circumstan­ces, to someone who can be whatever he needs to be in order to improve that condition.”

The cast includes Dakota Fanning as Dickie’s girlfriend, Marge, and Eliot Sumner, offspring of Sting, as Dickie’s friend, and Tom’s enemy, Freddie.

Dublin-born Scott, 47, made his first TV appearance in a commercial at the age of six and had his first profession­al screen role at 17, according to his and British Independen­t Film Awards bios, but — despite winning an Olivier Award for his early stage work and making his Broadway debut in 2006 — he didn’t come to widespread notice until he played Moriarty in “Sherlock.”

Since then, his appearance­s in shows and movies like “Fleabag,” “His Dark Materials,” “Catherine Called Birdy” and “All of Us Strangers” have cemented his acclaim.

Agreeing to play Ripley was an easy yes, according to Scott, once he had read the scripts for all eight episodes, which he did during a transatlan­tic flight after being offered the role “completely out of the blue.”

Zaillian, he said, is “an absolutely wonderful storytelle­r. He’s both economic and he knows (how) to pack a punch, and he knows what’s dramatic.”

Credit must go, too, to the other creatives who make “Ripley” such an effective whole, including director of photograph­y Robert Elswit, who brings the Italian locations to vibrant, moody life; production designer David Gropman, who elevates everything from Tom’s grotty New York abode to the sumptuous villa he occupies in Venice; and costume designers Maurizio Millenotti and Gianni Casalnuovo.

The physical details are important in a story that is, to some extent, about haves and have-nots. There’s a stark contrast between Tom’s isolated life in New York and the life he finds Dickie Greenleaf living in Atrani.

Scott alluded to that imbalance while describing his character.

“Tom is not a natural born killer,” he said. “He’s a con artist, a talented person who lives a very solitary life in New York. He doesn’t have access to the things that a lot of people have access to. And these very entitled people come into his world and it brings out a sort of real ferocity and rage within him.

“And I think the question about why that happens is a really interestin­g one, whether it’s about a morality in the injustice of some people having so much with very little talent and somebody who has a huge amount of talent, as Tom does, having absolutely nothing, and that makes people really angry and makes people do very, very dark things,” he said.

 ?? NETFLIX ?? Tom Ripley “is not a natural born killer,” says Andrew Scott, who plays the con man and murderer in the Netflix series “Ripley.”
NETFLIX Tom Ripley “is not a natural born killer,” says Andrew Scott, who plays the con man and murderer in the Netflix series “Ripley.”

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