Andrew Scott Explains Why Viewing His Murderous ‘Ripley’ Role as a Psychopath Is ‘Unhelpful’

Tom Ripley is an impossible man to pin down, but one scene in the finale of the Netflix limited series “Ripley” comes about as close to showing his hand as you’re likely to get.

As played by Andrew Scott in writer-director-exec-producer Steven Zaillian’s version of the famous Patricia Highsmith novel, Tom is all shadowed cunning and charm—a con man who knows who to ingratiate himself with and how to do it, confident he’ll get the better of them. Tom’s fish-out-of-water wonder in the nouveau riche world of Dickie Greenleaf (Johnny Flynn) masks his more sinister desires to steal the dilettante’s life out from under him. But when he’s finally cornered by a private detective in Episode 8 and questioned about the disappearances of Dickie and his friend Freddie Miles (Eliot Sumner), whom Tom has murdered, the scammer’s fear of being found out nearly overtakes him.

Then, Tom recenters and gains control. He coolly describes Dickie as a depressive, talentless prodigal son of a rich American. He further muddies the waters by telling the detective that Dickie harbored feelings for Tom, which were swiftly rebuffed. “He confessed it to me,” Tom declares, adding that he responded by calling Dickie “pathetic” and that he “wanted nothing more to do with him.” With that, Freddie’s death and Dickie’s disappearance become a suspected murder-suicide and law enforcement is none the wiser.

To hear Scott tell it, the scene highlights the ways Tom knew how to play into society’s taboos and fears—particularly around queerness—to his advantage.

“He’s using the murkiness about the way people talked about sexuality during that time,” said Scott, the Irish actor known to many as the “Hot Priest” from “Fleabag,” in addition to his work in “Sherlock,” his Emmy-nominated guest turn in “Black Mirror” and last year’s indie film “All of Us Strangers.” “There’s a question around how much he might use the sort of cloak-and-dagger way people talked at that time about people’s sexuality who weren’t heterosexual for his own gain.”

That said, there’s a certain element of queerness, or certainly “otherness,” to the way Tom operates in the world, particularly in his obsession with Dickie and his lifestyle. But Scott said that such character traits went “hand-in-hand with so many of Tom’s attributes that I didn’t fully want to label too much” when he was preparing to play him.

Tom’s hometown, his relationship with his parents, his exact age, his sexuality—all were important questions to ask s an actor, but Scott wanted to keep an element of mystery to Tom’s behavior, even to himself. Whereas Matt Damon’s take on the character in 1999’s “The Talented Mr. Ripley” relied on corn-fed naivete, there is a mysterious depth and lurid sex appeal to Scott’s interpretation. Unknowingness is ironically what makes his Tom unforgettable.

Ripley (Credit: Netflix)
“Ripley” (Credit: Netflix)

“Sometimes I think having too much of a specific idea reduces the character,” Scott said. “There’s something queer in the sense that he’s not something that you can wrap up very easily. That’s a very difficult thing for people to accept, but accept they have to in this case. Putting that character at the center of the story is interesting. The truth is that for a lot of people that exist in the world, there are big parts of their identity that are a mystery to them as much as to anybody else.”

And even as he tricks everyone around him so he can uphold his murderous ruse, and even as he appears to inherit a new identity in the series’ last moments, Tom is still a character who Scott believes cannot be defined by pathology.

“I definitely found words like psychopath and sociopath and even villain are just unhelpful things,” he said. “Because what I think we must do is not ask what it’s like to be a victim of Tom Ripley, but how much of Tom Ripley is within us. That’s a frightening question to ask. This character is so enduring because we do want him to succeed in some way. We do want him to get away with it, because we’re able to, through this sort of iconic character, understand our darkness—not necessarily our own murderousness, but certainly our own darkness.”

This story first appeared in the Limited Series/Movies issue of TheWrap’s awards magazine. Read more from our issue here.

Hoa Xuande The Sympathizer cover
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