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The idea of chatting to Moriarty is a daunting one. The conversation would be filled with a misdirection and threats of violence. Only a hopeless optimist would expect to survive. Thankfully, the same cannot be said of Andrew Scott, the actor behind the role. Though he confess we might not be able to trust everything he says. ‘It’s hard talking about acting,’ he admits. ‘It’s so instinctual. You say all these things, but in the end you feel like adding “or maybe not…”’

He’s had to do his fair share of talking, thought; his appearance as Holmes’s ultimate enemy has guaranteed him a wealth of attention, something Andrew takes in his stride. ‘Nothing must overtake the job itself, so the attention can be a bit scary, but Benedict, Martin, and I have been around a while – we can see it for what it is.’

Not that Andrew realised what he was getting himself into straight away.

‘Well, the character appeared very briefly in the first draft of The Great Game, credited as “Jim”, and I was reading it very quickly as I was working at the time. It took a while for it to click. “OK, Jim…yeah…right…Oh…Jim Moriarty…I see!”’

Once the penny had dropped, did it make him think about other actors who had performed the role?

‘I didn’t do any research, I just went for it. People always ask, “Have you read this, have you read that?” and I say, no but I have read the scene seventy-seven times! When something’s as well written as this, the script’s all you have to think about. It allowed me to be free in my approach.’

It was certainly brave, revolutionary take on the role.

Y‘He seemed to be very playful. I always think people are their scariest when they are surprising, when you have no idea what they’re going to do. He’s a theatrical character. One has to play truthfully. It could confused for someone being over the to, but people have the most extreme ways of expressing themselves. It’s tempting as an actor to take the safest route, to say your lines and never move your face, but I wanted to show that some people can be extremely dynamic and physical and that there’s a psychological motive and a truth to them.’

Moriarty doesn’t get much more theatrical than during the last episode of Series Two, The Reichenbach Fall, when he’s breaking into the Tower of London.

‘They were playing the music of  Rossini [La gazza ladra, or The Thieving Magpie] and I just began to dance along, it wasn’t scripted. They ended up using quite a lot of it, so that was incredibly enjoyable! Sinister and dark people don’t behave in a dark way. They make people around them feel dark and scary but they don’t feel that way themselves. They don’t walk around in a big black cloak. It was important to me that he was able to wear a grey suit. People worry about that – how can he be the villain if he’s wearing a cream tie! The fact that he’s Moriarty and that he’s done all these terrible things is scary enough.

‘When he’s in the courtroom [in the same episode], he’s very clever. He understands human condition, he understands that people what to be flattered. Later, having tea with Sherlock, he can reveal himself, he can as relaxed and flirtatious as he wants. It’s a quiet moment but, because it’s so well set up and so beautifully written, the inherent threat feels extremely potent.’

All the more so, perhaps, because the relationship between Sherlock and Moriarty is as deep as complex as the relationship between Sherlock and John. They are the same person, they’ve just gone different ways. Moriarty has to match Sherlock, he has to be intelligent and quick-witted. He has to understand him. He has a total obsession with Sherlock, and I think Sherlock is obsessed with him, too. They need one another. People love the relationship between John and Sherlock because it’s about friendship, it’s about what it means to love someone else. Moriarty doesn’t have any friends, he doesn’t have anyone to love, that’s why he’s become sociopathic.

‘I wanted to show little glimpses of Moriarty’s vulnerability. You can’t go down that road too much because that’s not what one’s job is when playing the main antagonist, but you got to see that towards the very end, when we realise he’s going to kill himself. He’s very desolate, very lonely, very unhappy person.’

The public response to Andrew’s portrayal was extremely vocal. Did he expect as much?

‘I was a bit naive about how successful it was going to be. It became popular instantly, with both the audience and the critics, so by the time it aired there was a weight of expectation. I hadn’t seen the episode – which seems crazy,  now I think about it – so I was watching along with everyone else, worrying what it was going to be like.

‘I’m glad that I decided to do whatever I wanted to do, thought, and not worry about hoe popular it was going to be. I had a certain sense that I was doing a little bit left of the centre but not willfully so. Of course, certainly in the first series, a few viewers were unsure: “Oh, God, no! This isn’t the way I want Moriarty to be!” I was prepared for that. It was always going to create an extreme reaction. It was a face they probably didn’t associate with a villain – or probably associate with anything for most people. The important thing is, whether some like it or some abhor it, you can’t change your performance based on either of those reactions. You have to do what feels right whether there are eight people watching or eight million.’

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