Andrew Scott, the Hot Priest of 'Fleabag' Season 2, on Love, Phobias, and Being Hot
When Andrew Scott first met with Fleabag creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge about a role on her critically beloved series, he took her to a Quaker meeting hall in London's Soho neighborhood. Later, when the series was shooting, Waller-Bridge brought their characters to that exact place.
In the devastatingly brilliant second and last season of Fleabag, Waller-Bridge's unnamed character falls hopelessly (literally) in love with a Catholic priest, played by Scott. If the first season set out to show how enormous guilt and grief can manifest into hilarious recklessness, the second explores how love can be salvation packaged in all sorts of forms. Fleabag meets The Priest at a terribly awkward dinner; he's going to be officiating the wedding of Fleabag's father and soon-to-be evil stepmom (Oscar-winner Olivia Colman). What starts as suspicion turns to friendship turns to palpable sexual attraction turns to a genuine, deep love. Together, Scott and Waller-Bridge exude such exquisite sexual tension that he's gotten -- no, earned -- the nickname "hot priest."
Scott met Waller-Bridge when they were both working on a play, but he is probably best known as the creepy Moriarty in the BBC's Sherlock, creating a villain that's become a Tumblr fan art staple. He's appeared in a Bond film and will be in the next season of Black Mirror, but his work in Fleabag is next level. The Priest adheres to no tropes: He's charming, sexy, and subtly tortured.
So about that meeting hall: In the series, The Priest brings Fleabag there on a quest to get her to engage with spirituality. There, guests are not supposed to speak unless they feel moved to do so, and then must share their thoughts with the entire room. This is a concept with which Fleabag, always with a joke, is uncomfortable. But, she stands: "I sometimes worry that I wouldn't be such a feminist if I had bigger tits."
Scott got on the phone with Thrillist and discussed his own appreciation for this spiritual tradition, fox phobias, and cultivating a chemistry so thick you could it with a knife.
Thrillist: You've known Phoebe for a while, you did a play together. How did she approach you with this role? Just, on paper, it's sort of a crazy thing to be asking of someone.
Andrew Scott: Yes, absolutely. Well, we worked together 10 years ago -- we did a play together in the Soho theater. Last summer we met and she wanted to talk to me about this character that she had forming in her head. We had this extraordinary first meeting where we talked about religion and spirituality a lot and what it means for this generation who have been somewhat let down by organized religion, and love and loss, the state of life that we are in. I took her to that Quaker meeting hall in Soho, which actually she wrote into the show. So we sat in exactly those positions.
We sat there for about two hours just talking about what we'd like to create. At the end of the meeting I said, "Yeah, I want to be involved," even though I hadn't seen any scripts or anything, but we just had this extraordinary energy. Obviously, I'd seen the first series, but our main aim was to try and create a love story between two flawed people. Just because love is imperfect doesn't mean it's not significant for us in our lives.
About that Quaker meeting: Is that something you do frequently? What inspired you to bring her there? I read in another interview that you grew up Catholic and spoke about having a contentious relationship with the church.
Scott: I suppose I feel like being spiritual is very important to me. I love the idea that "spiritual" literally means "of the breath," so I think it's just about remaining calm. The reason I love that Quaker meeting so much is, it's in the middle of Soho in London, one of the busiest cities in the world, and it's just a place you can go in and sit and be present and silent. I think we're so starved of that, just the idea of presenting a man of the church as somebody who is conflicted and human. A lot of the stories that come out of the Catholic Church can be quite extreme in our drama -- stories of abuse, or corruption, or extremism -- and I suppose we just wanted to show a human side. Fleabag, the reason I think people love that character, is because she's flawed. Phoebe wanted this story to have another character who is a match for her. In that sense, he has to be flawed, too.
He's really the only person that seems on her level, like when he notices her breaking the fourth wall. Can you talk about those moments in particular and creating someone who speaks to Fleabag on her terms?
Scott: I think that's what we feel when we love somebody. We feel like we can see points of them that other people can't. We can see their vulnerability. Phoebe's great gift, I think, is she's not scared of a big gesture. She's not scared to be theatrical -- paintings falling off walls, fourth wall-breaking. She comes from the theater.
Those scenes [are] really, really fascinating because they're very playful. But I find it very moving because it plays with the form of television that Phoebe's already played with. It's unusual to have a character with direct access to the audience. To bring that further in the second series, and for it to be based on deep authenticity between the characters, I think is wonderful because it's not just a trope. It really actually does mean something in relation to what he's able to see in her in a symbolic way. [That's] the reason those scenes work. I think you just have real chemistry with some people, some actors. Phoebe and I have always had that great chemistry. I think it makes the audience feel what it's like to love somebody.
I sat on my couch sobbing for a good five minutes after I finished the season. The two adjectives I feel like describe it the best are moving and sexy.
Scott: Great! I love that. I'll take that.
But to the latter part: Your character has gotten the nickname "hot priest." Was there any trepidation going into playing a role that could have that moniker? How did you handle that?
Scott: I have to say the character was just called "The Priest," and subsequently, for some reason since it came out, in London, it's become the "hot priest." It's terrific. I don't know, I think there's something about falling in love with or even finding somebody attractive who you're not supposed to find attractive makes them sometimes even more attractive. I think what's really important for me going into that is trying not to think about playing "attractive" because that's not something you can play as an actor. You can certainly play love and that's something that we talked about endlessly. Both Phoebe and I at heart are big old romantics. So, the idea of playing love, it's very easy for me to play that with Phoebe because I love her as a person. I think she's incredible. And that combined with chemistry.
I think even in the post-production, the editing is wonderful because they weren't scared of really fast-paced comedy, but also just to show two people looking at each other. Gary Dollner, the editor, had recognized there were things that were actually in the silences as well, that tell the story just as much as the dialogue does. I think that's the confidence of Fleabag, it's why it's so moving. You feel something and it links with the theme of life and death and religion and God. I think in some ways it's why it's so devastating at the end, but also kind of hopeful as well. I really don't say this lightly, but I really do think that Fleabag is a great work of art. I really do.
I think that final scene is an all-timer. It would be easy to do "Fleabag fancies a priest" as a scandalous thing, and it does play into that in those first episodes, but then it transforms. These people are looking for the same thing, just in different places.
Scott: Sometimes love just isn't enough. Love isn't enough. It's all about timing and place and geography and lots of other things. But that doesn't mean that that feeling isn't incredibly strong. I do feel like The Priest certainly just loves her right from the beginning. They have an immediate connection. Something happens in episode one, and it was just beautifully revealed throughout the episodes.
Given your own relationship with the Catholic Church, how were you thinking of this character?
Scott: I feel quite strongly that it's very dangerous ground to desexualize any human being. I'm not sure it's possible. The Catholic Church has been in some ways damaging to me, I can't deny that, but it's also taught me a lot of things and a lot of my friends and family are still Catholics. The idea of community and humanity and kindness is certainly part of the church's teaching. I really just wanted to show the sacrifice people going into the Church make. That it's not that they don't have sexuality, it's that they choose the church over sexuality, which is difficult. And it's very conflicting.
The Priest has a fear of foxes. How do you feel about foxes? What were the discussions around this particular quirk?
Scott: I just think that's the most extraordinary thing about Phoebe: She can talk about somebody's fear of foxes, or your hair looking fabulous on the day of your mother's funeral, or somebody wearing skinny jeans to a funeral, and be incredibly moving and philosophical about what it means to be a human being, all within 26 minutes. I just feel like that's extraordinary writing. I love a fox. I think with all of us, the very fact that you're awake at night is unusual because we're supposed to be asleep at night. You have a certain awareness when you're awake at night, so if you see a fox, you feel a certain weird connection [with it]. It's frightening and thrilling and eerie at the same time. I think they're beautiful, but I absolutely loved doing that speech. I think, again, there's a sort of mythical thing about foxes.
Because you were involved before Phoebe even started writing it, did she show you drafts of the script or did the final version just land on your lap?
Scott: I think mostly yes, that's what it was. The great thing about Phoebe is it feels like it's a moveable feast -- you could say something and feel like your input was absolutely listened to. I loved that. Sometimes the scenes were just completely on their own and were never really changed. And sometimes there were last-minute changes, just depending on what the actual feeling on the day was. It's based on her own instinct. There are definitely things between action and cut that we did that were new and fresh. I think that's why the chemistry is so good because it's genuinely alive and you don't really know what the other person is going to say next, which is what the job of acting is. It's pretending you don't know what you're going to say next when you do.
Is there an example of a moment that happened because of what was going on in the day that you like best?
Scott: There was a wonderful moment I would say with the Quaker hall. That's something that had beautiful memories for the two of us. We had this incredible day when we first met and spoke so openly and honestly. The fact that her imagination would allow the characters to go in there was such a loving, generous thing to do. It makes it really special, both professionally and personally. We have to see the fox at the end of episode three. They were asking, "Do you want a sort of mark on the side of the wall?" We were both like, "No, no, no, we can do it." We have a really good sense of each other. We were like, "We'll pretend like we'll both see this imaginary fox that we can see at the same time," and every take we did, we reacted at exactly the same time. I feel proud of that because it just shows we were really in tune with one another even though we weren't looking at each other and both seeing exactly the same thing because there wasn't anything there. It's a great moment in the series and it just speaks to Phoebe's spontaneity and all the things that I love about acting: keeping it fresh and playful and magical.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.