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Andrew Scott: Young actors need someone to listen to them

Olivier Award-winning actor Andrew Scott, familiar to millions as Moriarty in the BBC's Sherlock, tells us about his new mentoring scheme with IdeasTap and his recent return to theatre

Andrew Scott
Why do you want to mentor younger actors?

I did a workshop with young actors through IdeasTap last year and was really inspired by it. It struck me that it's really important in our line of work to feel like you have colleagues, and that when things aren't going too well or you're at the beginning of your career that you have somebody to talk to, or even somebody to act to. So I've signed up to mentor a group of actors over a six-month period, beginning in September.

What kind of help will you be giving them?

It's not necessarily just about giving advice - sometimes people need someone to listen to them. One of the main things I remember from my session last year was a young guy who I'd asked to prepare a wee piece. He did a speech from Romeo and Juliet but he did it really loudly, so I asked him "Why did you decide to do it with such volume?". He said, "Oh well I've been doing it on my own for six months in my room and I thought if ever I got to say this out loud, I'd really go for it". I realised that he'd never acted in front of anybody at all in his whole life. Then I asked him to do it again as if he was doing it to his iPhone, like a video message. He was absolutely extraordinary and really truthful and just really talented. It struck me that if it wasn't for an organisation like IdeasTap he may never have had the encouragement or the confidence or the opportunity to do that. So that's really what it's all about, giving young people a feeling that they're not on their own.

It does seem there are a lot of mentoring schemes for directors but not many for actors

I think that's really true, though actors are very lucky because we have colleagues in the proper sense of the word, whereas sometimes directors have to work on their own. I'm a great believer in a company of actors, and that we should all try and be as supportive of each other as possible. So we'll choose a group of about ten or so people and over a six month period, whatever they feel they need, IdeasTap will support them and pay their expenses, edit a showreel and do headshots for them. It's a really exciting opportunity for people if they're struggling in the industry.

Did you have a mentor?

I had many. I was only 16 or 17 when I started in films and theatre and lots of people were kind to me and said sensible things. It's a very potent time in your career when you're just starting off, so I was really appreciative that people were kind to me; actors mainly, because they're in the same boat. The longer you're in the industry the more you appreciate that we're all doing the same thing. I think sometimes people feel like they haven't made it, and because they aren't famous they're somehow less of an actor. But there are so many actors in this country and all over the world who have brilliant careers, and that doesn't necessarily that they're plastered on the front of a magazine or on television all the time. The act of doing it is a very noble one to my mind.

Do you think kids from poorer backgrounds are getting shut out of the acting profession?

To a certain extent I think that's true. Acting is so much about confidence and you have to be enabled to think that's something you want to do. And frankly you have to be financially supported. That's why I feel very thrilled to be working with IdeasTap because that's exactly what they set out to do. There's no point in helping somebody who doesn't really need help in that way. I really do believe, having come over from Dublin and started from scratch over here, that if you can have that belief in yourself as an actor at a young age, you never really lose it. That's the chief thing that I want to say to each individual that we choose - to hold onto what's unique to you and to do what makes you happy.

You recently returned to the stage after a bit of a break, to perform in a Pinter short at Trafalgar Studios. Did it feel good to be back?

It felt absolutely fantastic. My last stage show [Emperor and Galilean at the National] was absolutely huge, three and a half hours and an absolutely ginormous part. I think it's one of the biggest parts there is - at least Hamlet shuts up for part of the play! So I needed a bit of a break after that but it felt fantastic to be back last month. And I'm about to do Simon Stephens' Sea Wall again, at the National Theatre Shed, which I'm really excited about.

What prompted you to revisit Sea Wall?

It's an absolutely beautiful play and because it's short it can get undervalued. But just because it's 30-minutes long doesn't mean it doesn't have everything that a great play contains. Plus there's the fact that we only really played it for a week or so at the Bush [in 2009] and then a week in Edinburgh. Simon and I and George [Perrin, director] felt that it deserves a further outing, and The Shed is the perfect place to put it.

And looking further ahead, what else is in the pipeline?

At the moment I'm in a film with Romola Garai, Simon Russell Beale and Charlie Cox called Legacy, playing a '70s Russian spy. After that I'm going to do another couple of films. It's really nice to be starting to do some movies now, which is something that I've long wanted to do. I have this movie coming up called The Stag, which is a comedy. For some reason over the last couple of years the characters I've been playing have been quite dark, and I'm not actually very dark as a person. I like to think that I have some semblance of a sense of humour, so it's been great to do something funny. It's very smart, a little gem.

Applications for the IdeasTap mentoring scheme run until 2 September 2013, open to all IdeasTap members aged 18 and over. For further details click here

Sea Wall is at the NT Shed from 25 July to 2 August 2013