We speak to the cult sex symbol about Fleabag, Instagram, and how he’s moved by Ireland’s young activists
“Lesbians want to fuck the gay priest. That’s how hot a priest we’re talking about.”
“I’m still thinking about Hot Priest. I don’t think I’ll ever stop.”
“Oh God he’s a hot priest who orders tequila and says swear words I’m weak.”
These are just a few tweets of thousands expressing the wild horniness people have for the Hot Priest from Fleabag – at one point Twitter felt as if it was a platform that exclusively referenced Hot Priest, as if there was a filter on. A welcome respite from Donald Trump and brands discussing being depressed nonetheless, and at last, a sense of unity. In an increasingly polarised and divided world there’s seemingly one thing everybody agrees on: they are turbulently horny for the Hot Priest from Fleabag.
Hot Priest is Dubliner Andrew Scott, a good-looking if unlikely cult sex symbol, although he tells me his last night out was at iconic London gay club Heaven. Yes, sleeping with men of the cloth is an established fantasy, but Scott’s placid, sensible and sensitive demeanour isn’t traditional pin-up material. However, put him in clerical clothing and add a friction-packed onscreen dynamic with Phoebe Waller-Bridge, it’s easy to see how audiences’ obsessions escalated uncontrollably into “horny on main” territory.
While Waller-Bridge is undoubtedly the main attraction in Fleabag, the announcement in mid-May that Scott would be starring in an episode of Black Mirror called “Smithereens” playing a “cab driver with an agenda” confirmed that he’s in the midst of a moment. Despite all this excitement, Scott says he hasn’t watched the episode, and might not...ever. Indifference to his own performances aside, he gushes over Waller-Bridge’s talent, describing her as “a great pal”, saying that they still text all the time, and that they’ll definitely work together again, although he couldn’t say on what.
We met on the Southbank to talk about his view of Ireland, his finsta, and how it feels to have become a pinup.
Without giving too much away, the episode of Black Mirror that you star in is about our addiction to technology, particularly social media and our phones. You don’t have a social media presence - why?
Andrew Scott: I do some stuff privately....
Andrew Scott: I’ve got a what?! [laughs] I guess I do.
So what happens on there?
Andrew Scott: That’s finsta! I can’t tell you that. The reason I don’t have a public one is because communication with people is really important to me. I really like people and it’s really nice to meet people on the street so I think if I have social media as well it might just be a bit overwhelming.
I think while Fleabag was on TV it perhaps would have been overwhelming. Twitter seemed to lose its mind – did you see any of that stuff?
Andrew Scott: Not a huge amount but I’ve definitely seen some good things and my sisters send me stuff, they probably filter it…
No it’s all good, don’t worry.
Andrew Scott: Yeah, but there’s always a bit of grit in the undertones. I think it’s really easy to say that social media is a negative force, there are a huge number of negative things that go along with it – mainly that we curate our lives like an advertisement and you don’t present any kind of vulnerability. I’d be very interested to see where it’s going in terms of how much vulnerability we do present, because at the moment it’s very much about filtering the face – it’s a tool to produce envy.
I suppose you have to decide what’s showing your holiday snaps to people and what’s just being addicted to something and not being present in the moment? Not allowing yourself to be intimidated by what life is elsewhere, thinking what if I had a body like that, or if I had a holiday like that, or a lover like that” – Andrew Scott
I guess that’s what private Instagrams are about, that unfiltered sense of ‘this is just my friends’.
Andrew Scott: That’s not to say that there isn’t a certain degree of showing off going on there and I suppose you have to decide what’s showing your holiday snaps to people and what’s just being addicted to something and not being present in the moment? Not allowing yourself to be intimidated by what life is elsewhere, thinking what if I had a body like that, or if I had a holiday like that, or a lover like that.
I do think that young people are communicating – I’m really reluctant to say that they should be out running around in fields like we did when we were young and all that kind of nonsense because there is obviously some degree of community in it or else they wouldn’t do it.
I do think human beings are interested in other humans, this is just a new way of communicating with each other. Online dating is just the way most people meet each other nowadays. There’s good and bad.
Were you a fan of Black Mirror previously?
Andrew Scott: Yes.
How did it feel when you got the call saying you’d got the part?
Andrew Scott: It was very nice – they sent it to me and I was just really immediately taken with the character. There were certain Black Mirrors that I really really loved. What I love about them is that they’re so distinct, each one is a completely different world. So obviously you have ones that you really adore and ones that you relate to. I think that’s what excites people about Black Mirror.
The range of Charlie Brooker’s imagination is amazing. I’m always looking for stuff with a real strong autograph, a really strong writer’s voice. Coming from the theatre I think that’s a real writer’s/actor’s medium, so anything that has too much “TV speak” with no acting opportunities – just a big concept – I’m not really that interested in. And a lot of the time what Black Mirror does is a really strong concept but that characters are very actable and I think that’s what makes it great TV.
Fleabag and Black Mirror are shows with huge audiences both in the UK and US. You’re celebrated for performing theatre and you’ve had roles in TV before, but these are massive parts. Is there a thing in you head where your like – I’m having a moment here? And how does that feel?
Andrew Scott: No, I feel more excitement. I think I’d feel the pressure I suppose if I was younger, I’d think “oh God you’ve just got to maintain this level of whatever you want to call it” but now I just feel excited because I’ve worked for a long time in this industry.
But I’m still always interested in finding a voice or something that’s a little bit different. What I’m really proud of in relation to these shows is that they’re popular, but Fleabag was such a work of art…it really was no less so because it’s a comedy. Black Mirror is a completely different note to play so I’m always going to be looking for something that is just slightly different.
They’re similar in the sense that they’re both quite outsider shows to have gone mainstream. Also they’re British shows which have translated to America, which they often struggle to do. Often shows come over here from there but it doesn’t seem to happen so much the other way around...
Andrew Scott: I think what they have as well is a really strong voice. Like with Fleabag you say “is it feminist?” “Is it comedy?” She’s just a great humanist.
What I liked a lot about Fleabag was that people couldn’t make their minds up about the characters. I remember some people saying how awful a person Fleabag was, and I disagreed. Or people were saying how manipulative the Hot Priest was, I felt he was just a bit fucked up, like a lot of people.
Andrew Scott: Exactly! And that’s what I adore about Fleabag, they’re all flawed characters, so if you try and talk about them in extremes it’s dangerous because actually what people like about them is that we’re all a bit weird when it comes to falling in love and sex. It’s messy, it’s a messy messy game. And I think sometimes what people want is nuance. What I want to see, and what I want to play, is humanity.
Talking of sex, you’re a sex symbol now…
Andrew Scott: [Laughs]
It’s true! This is a new thing for you. It’s funny seeing it travel over to America now that Fleabag is on TV there. It’s like Hot Priest Round Two – how is that?
Andrew Scott: It’s a weird one. It’s quite weird being Hot Priest because the character is called The Priest so I’m quite glad that the character wasn’t actually called Hot Priest because then I would have been of course intimidated by that! It’s not me it’s the character people are reacting to, so I think there is something about that dog collar that does something to people. I am glad for a lot of reasons, I’m glad that to be attractive or whatever you don’t have to have a body like Tarzan [laughs]. But to be considered attractive isn’t just about the way you look, so that’s pretty cool.
“I’m quite glad that the character wasn’t actually called Hot Priest because then I would have been of course intimidated by that” – Andrew Scott
You’re a lapsed Catholic. Was there any catharsis in playing the role?
Andrew Scott: There was actually yeah. I like the idea that he was good at his job, that he was into it, because so many Catholic priests in dramas are written to the extremes – they’re abusers. That’s what a lot of the dramas have been about and rightly so, as the Catholic church has made a lot of massive mistakes. But he’s temperish to a certain degree, and God is genuine competition for Fleabag because he likes his job and he is good at it. I like the fact that its opened up discussions about whether priests can marry – I think that one of a few reasons that people of my generation don’t want to join a priesthood or the church is the celibacy issue. If the church was a little less rigid about that, then I think that we would be having a different conversation.
Whether straight actors should play gay roles is a much-discussed topic, and you’ve previously described actors only playing to their identity as “dangerous territory”. Is playing gay roles something you’re proud of? Does it make a difference?
Andrew Scott: It doesn’t make a difference. I definitely think it’d be strange for me not to have played a gay person, that’d be weird. There has been a very unlevelled playing field in the industry about who gets to play who, but I don’t think the answer to that is straight people not being allowed to play gay people. I think it’s really important to remember that when we’re casting, representation is incredibly important and I do think the opportunities for certain parts of the community have been very lacking.
But having said that, we have to talk about transformation as well as representation and I think that that feeling of when we were a three-year-old and our parents tell us a story and they put on the voice of the witch or the wolf we say “oh my God, they can transform into something else?”. That’s magical because to me it speaks of empathy, what is it like to be someone else? What is it like to imaginatively go to where somewhere else might be? I think that’s one of the chief attributes of storytelling so to sort of think that we can only operate under the constraints of our own sexuality, or social background, or nationality, or own experience, I think is very worrying.
It’s been a year since the monumental Repeal The 8th referendum in Ireland – a movement that was largely led by young activists. You don’t live in Ireland now, but what did that moment mean to you?
Andrew Scott: Now my time is kind of split – most of the time I’m here ‘cause of work but I have a place in Ireland now. I’m so proud of the emancipation of Ireland and I just selfishly want to be a part of it, it’s part of my identity and I think that to a certain degree I ran away from Ireland and felt that I needed to exist away from it.
Why was that?
Andrew Scott: Well I felt like I wasn’t fully accepted there, and the truth is I wasn’t because the law didn’t accept me. I remember being back to campaign around the marriage referendum (same-sex marriage referendum of 2015) and I thought ‘Oh my god there’s so many people at Gatwick Airport” and then I realised that all these young people who live in Australia and America and all across the world were coming home to exercise their right to vote. Even talking about it now gets me emotional because your hometown and home country remains with you no matter what. So the fact that these people cared enough to make that 15 hour journey home to cast their vote to change Ireland – and they did change Ireland – was incredibly moving to me. I suppose that made me genuinely want to invest in my hometown and be a part of that positivity. I was worried about the abortion referendum too which was another land slide.
The imagery of people all together in airports travelling to exercise their right was amazing....
Andrew Scott: Exactly, really moving. It shows that the power of the church and the negative, insidious way they talked about sex and sexuality and the supression of women has crumbled. And I think that to a certain degree it had crumbled before, but this put a face on it and it should be really celebrated.