When Andrew Scott speaks, it’s a surprise to hear the soft Irish lilt to his voice in place of the harsh, creepy tones of Moriarty in BBC’s Sherlock. The 37-year-old Dublin native is a chameleon and he’s transformed himself once again in new spy drama Legacy, playing mysterious Soviet spy Victor during the height of the Cold War stand-off. “The challenge when you’re playing a Russian spy is that it doesn’t become a real cliché,” he explains. “I remember at the read-through, I hadn’t had enough dialect sessions and I was really trying desperately not to sound like Count Dracula.”
The lessons obviously paid off. His accent is spot on and the character, as we’ve come to expect from Scott, is both complex and layered. He’s determined to dodge any mark of the Russian ‘baddies’ we’ve become accustomed to seeing on screen. “I think it would be a little bit easy to play the stereotyped Russian agent. You should have as much interest in what it’s like to be a human being and for people from Russia in the 1970s, it was a very difficult life you had to lead when you were over living in London.”
Legacy is from the pen of The Politician’s Wife screenwriter Paula Milne, also starring Charlie Cox, Romola Garai and Simon Russell Beale and set in Britain in 1974 amid a turbulent industrial and political landscape. “There’s something terribly atmospheric about the seventies,” explains Scott. “It lends itself to spy dramas – how gritty and tough the world was then.”
The one-off espionage thriller also reunites Milne with her Endgame director, Pete Travis, and charts Victor’s encounter with former Oxford University acquaintance Charles Thoroughgood (Cox). Trainee spy Charles has been instructed by MI6 to re-establish contact with Victor and use their friendship (and the latter’s weakness for a Mayfair callgirl) to ‘turn’ him. But rather than a straightforward good/bad divide, Scott is keen to blur the morality of the piece.
“It’s really important for me that we don’t see the Russians, or certainly Victor, as the enemy or the baddie – that hopefully you feel he’s had to sacrifice. For every sacrifice Charles has to make, you feel there’s a mirror sacrifice for Victor to have to make.
“It’s a very lonely life and it was very important to both me and Charlie Cox that we have this friendship eight years ago in Oxford. There’s a real friendship there that is jeopardised because of the nature of their work. It’s really to see what the effects of being a spy are on the human being.”
So, how would Scott fare among the ranks of Her Majesty’s Service? “There are a lot of similarities with the state of mind you have to have as an actor, because you have these very intense projects that you work on and everybody works on it together and then you don’t get to see them and you’re with different people. It’s very similar to acting, although their job is a lot harder than ours.
“But I think I’d be quite a good spy, actually. They say the best lie is the truth and I think you’ve got to be good at listening to people. My family and friends say I’m a good listener.”
He’s certainly done a good job of keeping schtum on Sherlock. With the solution to how Benedict Cumberbatch’s detective survived his rooftop plummet in The Reichenbach Fall on the horizon, Scott has become a dab hand at fielding endless fan and media questions. “I spend my life keeping secrets,” he smirks.