Two years ago, few outside theatre-land knew who Andrew Scott was. Now the problem is trying to get his face out of your head. As Moriarty in Sherlock, Scott’s recasting of Holmes’s nemesis into a very modern psychopath has not only won him a best supporting actor Bafta: it’s gone straight into the pantheon of mesmerising super-villains. When Scott walks into a room you see the effect. It’s not just that heads turn, people look concerned for their safety.
He says he always gets this now: “Mostly people are really nice. But they always have an extreme reaction – people can be extraordinarily unsubtle.”
The problem with a stand-out role like Moriarty is putting it behind you. Scott says that over the past year he has been asked to play all manner of stone-eyed crazies. “I’ve avoided all the psycho parts. I think it’s important that you stretch yourself, so in a strange way you kind of start again.”
That new start begins with Blackout, BBC1’s three-part drama. Christopher Eccleston plays Daniel Demoys, a corrupt, alcoholic council official who somehow becomes a local hero. Scott is Dalien Bevan, a bleary detective who smells a rat and makes it his mission to unmask him.
“Bevan’s not very popular at work,” says Scott. “He’s separated from his wife, melancholy, slightly vulnerable. He’s what you’d describe as a loser.”
That sets him squarely against his Sherlock role. “Moriarty believes he’s a winner. He’s very confident. Bevan is someone who isn’t. They’re both edgy characters but it’s nice to play someone who has a completely different energy.”
But what is it about the affable Irishman that made him so Bafta-bly potent as Moriarty… has he always had the ability to scare people?
“Errrrr, ha! I suppose I have! Maybe I get to draw that dark side out in my work a wee bit with Moriarty. Acting, the great pleasure of it, is you get to explore different parts of your personality while remaining intact yourself. I’m not like Moriarty but I’m a bit wary of saying that – because I think the thing that I used within Moriarty was myself. So there has to be that element to me.”
Programme-makers know when they are on to a good thing – it’s inconceivable that having happened upon a performance like Scott’s the writers of Sherlock would jettison him for the third series, which goes into production early next year. Scott raises one potential snag: “Moriarty is dead.” But then Sherlock himself ended last series without a pulse and we know that he will be resurrected.
“Well. That’s the only thing I can tell you,” he says, with a half-smile: I’m not sure what it means, but I know not to ask again.