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January 31, 2013 12:00 pm  #1

Moriarty is more caricature than character.

[NOTE: The criticism is pretty much confined to Scott/Moriarty in S.1 Ep. 3 and S.2 Ep. 1. In the S.2 finale, he's more enjoyable -- or at least, tolerable -- for the reasons opposite to/from the ones stated below]

I'm going to get heat for this, but....

In my humble opinion, Scott tried a little too hard at times, so hard that it makes it very clear that it's a guy acting out a part, rather than a an actor portraying a character.  It's one thing to play an over-the-top character (see Joker in the Dark Knight). 

It's a totally different thing to use an over-the-top effort to play an over-the-top character. 

Moriarty's written to be psychotic.  If anything, in terms of acting, that requires less thinking or effort and more instinct.  At times, it felt like Scott was trying to think of how a psycho would act, and then try really hard to act out that thought.  I think he would have achieved better results if he acted more instinctually.  Who knows?  Maybe he did act instinctually, but I, for one, didn't receive it as that.

For example, it appeared to me that Andrew Scott intentionally added random vocal inflection changes to force upon the audience this psycho "tic," to try really hard to convince us that he's psycho. 

I'm not saying that there are no psychos who have random pitch changes.  I'm saying that Scott's pitch change felt measured/calculated, forced, disingenuous. 

Basically, there are many times that I am very aware I'm watching an actor try to act like Jim Moriarty, as written -- and it takes me out of the show. 

A well-directed, well-acted movie/film/TV show leaves you immersed into that world, and you forget that these are actors playing parts, and you really feel, believe that this is Sherlock Holmes.  Or, when Martin Freeman pleads with Holmes' gravestone to "please, don't be dead" -- I forget that these were actually written script lines recited by an actor; I really felt it in my bones that this man just lost his best man.

But when Scott fleetingly delivers that high-pitched, "byyyyeeee!", it goes down like fake sprayed-on whipped topping to cap a dessert.  Like, "how would a psycho say 'bye'? Oh, like this, bbbbyyyyeeee!" Just too much effort everywhere in a part that requires more instinct than effort.

And the pool-side "I will buuurn you" threat -- I just did not feel it

The harder he tried, the less afraid I felt for our heroes.  Why?   Well, it felt like a calculated synchronization of facial movements (especially the eyebrows), rather than feeling like this man really wants another man burned.  I cringe at that scene, but I feel like Scott is trying sooooo hard to be menacing, but with diminishing results.  Raising your eyebrows and widening your face, by themselves, do not constitute acting. 

And as he walks away (talking to Adler via phone), his "I'll turn you into shoes" line was presumably supposed to come off as haunting/chilling deadpan -- but it was anything BUT haunting or chilling.

A deadpan, monotonous threat can be scary.  Liam Neeson saying "I will find you. And I will kill you" in Taken was chilling -- especially because of Neeson's delivery.

Moriarty's casual "I will turn you into shoes"? Not the same
.  Scott was trying too hard to come off as not trying too hard.  It was an unintentionally funny scene to me.

And that's the problem with the early portrayal of Jim Moriarty in Sherlock; the way that Moriarty is portrayed, he's more funny than menacing, he's more of a flat character than a 3-dimensional, fleshed-out character. 

He's basically a combination of random, irregular verbal and physical "tics" that virtually constitute his psychotic-ness -- rather than a flesh n' blood psychotic villain.   The "random" dragging of vowels, the "random" changing of pitches, the "random" facial expressions.  These are character decorations and embellishments, these are NOT character. 

The Joker in The Dark Knight is a perfect example for contrasting and comparing.

It never seemed like Heath Ledger was trying to convince the audience that his character was a psycho.  But everyone left the theater believing that the Joker was nothing but psychotic.

Ledger focused on his character and his character's motivations and reactions, which were of the psychotic variety; but he did NOT focus on verbal or physical tics, or how to "act" psychotic.

We watched a madman focusing on destroying a city and its hero, and Ledger/Joker's psycho character naturally availed itself without extra effort.  Basically, Ledger proved the Joker was psycho without trying to prove he was psycho. 

You portray the character, the audience will believe the character is "real."  You focus on the small things, like how a psycho would say "bbyyyyyyeeeee," you lose sight of your character, and you're instead wrapped up in a caricature.

And yeah, Ledger/Joker had "tics", as well.  The tics (lip licking, hyena-like grinning, random bursts of tantrum) seemed instinctual, natural, and unforced.  It naturally flowed from Ledger's portrayal of a haunted and haunting character. 

Back to Moriarty and Andrew Scott....

When I watch the pool scene, it makes me feel like Andrew Scott is putting on his best impersonation (not portrayal) of a psycho.  I'm not there, immersed in the scene and at the pool; I'm fully aware I'm watching a TV show and an actor.

The eyebrow movements, the vocal inflections, the brooding stare at the beginning, the sheepish grinning.....these are perfectly fine psycho tics, but they require an actor who can portray them as tics merely incidental to the character, rather than a composition of the character itself.  Scott's reliance on these tics made Moriarty a caricature and not a character.

  Andrew Scott basically played Moriarty as a caricature of an insane criminal, rather than portraying Moriarty as a character first and then letting the insane aspects naturally avail themselves.  It's subtle, but it's a significant difference between the two. 

P.S. Again, I'm speaking more about his earliest appearances.  His last appearance was fine for me, mostly because I felt like I was truly watching a mad man, rather than watching someone desperately trying to act as a mad man would.


Last edited by BlinkULDHC (January 31, 2013 12:27 pm)


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January 31, 2013 2:48 pm  #2

Re: Moriarty is more caricature than character.

I didn't see the Joker, so I cannot compare.
I just can tell from my point of view. Almost every single scene with Scott fascinates me. The dance with the extinguisher, when he played "Jim from the IT", having tea with Sherlock and especially the pool and the roof scene. The changes of his voice, the face expressions.... I loved it that much that I watched those scenes over and over again, never getting bored.
But I have to confess, now when I try to see it from your point, I seldom got really scared. Sometimes it felt a bit like: Huuuh....weird!  But most of the time it was... fascinating... and........ a bit funny. I don't know if Mofftiss or Scott intended or not, at least I didn't mind. I never got the feeling not being "into" it and just watching an actor trying to be Moriarty. And yes, he made me worry for "our boys",

But I have to think over again what you said - and maybe also re-watch keeping your points in mind. Which is not a real sacrifice. ;-)

Last edited by Mattlocked (January 31, 2013 2:52 pm)


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January 31, 2013 4:17 pm  #3

Re: Moriarty is more caricature than character.

Perhaps we are seeing the result of the character stretching over two series. There is something to be said for a a villain who appears to be something less than terrifying at the start so that the characterisation can build and subsequently become increasingly threatening.

The voice inflections may sound different to an American ear than to a British one. The lightness of tone is a good contrast to those moments of menace. Personally I like the way Andrew played his part in The Great Game. The off-hand way he threatens to skin someone over the phone, with just a hint of ennui. In addition his playful tone towards Sherlock and John about backing off suits the premise that to him this is all a game. A game designed to alleviate boredom. The oscillation of his head at times in this scene is just great and such a nod (pun completely intentional) to the canon description of Professor Moriarty.

Finally, I will add that I am biased in my opinion because I just love Andrew's work.

Don't make people into heroes John. Heroes don't exist and if they did I wouldn't be one of them.

January 31, 2013 5:44 pm  #4

Re: Moriarty is more caricature than character.

I'm in love with Andrew Scott's performance and interpretation of the character.
In my opinion he plays him with ease and I think he enjoyed playing a mental character.
He fits into this world. He fits as arch enemy for Sherlock.
And he won a BAFTA. So obviously his performance wasn't so over the top. 


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February 25, 2013 2:45 pm  #5

Re: Moriarty is more caricature than character.

I see that you got the impression that Moriarty's personality is a bit too much, almost a caricature of himself.
That is probably exactly what he is supposed to be. On the one hand he is portrayed as someone who is insane. On the other hand "Sherlock" always plays a bit with self-referencing and standing on an edge between scary and funny, between reality and fiction. Compare this with the planetarium scene in TGG or the circus scene in TBB. It is over the top, almost ridiculous. Sometimes it looks a bit like a dream sequence. The most realistic scene IMO is the very first one when John is fighting in Afganistan which is a dream. As if the writers are making fun of themselves and of our expectations.
I like it very much though. Just trying to analyse it by taking some steps back from it to see it more clearly.



February 25, 2013 3:15 pm  #6

Re: Moriarty is more caricature than character.

I've read/heard somewhere that that entire scene round the pool side and all that dialogue they gave to Moriarty was written with the intention of it being ridiculous, over the top and laughable, and originally they never intended to use it in the final script, it was just an audition piece they gave to the actors they were seeing for Moriarty. But when Andrew did it in his screen test they basically all just looked at each other and went "oh shit, we're actually going to have to use this now" because it left such an impression on them.

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February 27, 2013 8:29 am  #7

Re: Moriarty is more caricature than character.

Was he contracted to only do one episode per series? They could have used him more but they didn't. His schedule is "last episode only"


February 27, 2013 1:01 pm  #8

Re: Moriarty is more caricature than character.

I guess it just goes to show how we each receive things differently. I never perceived Andrew Scott as an actor playing, I was really in the story, I liked the contrast between his innocuous appearance and his madness. On the other hand a minute into Elementary, I could only see an actor trying and failing to be Sherlock. I had never seen anything with either of those 2 actors before. Actually the only one I had seen before was Martin Freeman in Love Actually, that's it.

Also for me there's always a mixture of funny and serious in the show (except for the roof scene in Reichenbach when it becomes apparent Sherlock is going to jump), even in scary moments there are some elements of humour, so yes Moriarty saying I'll turn you into shoes is funny but for me is not distracting me from the seriousness of the situation.

Last edited by biscuitbear (February 27, 2013 1:04 pm)


February 27, 2013 9:35 pm  #9

Re: Moriarty is more caricature than character.

It has been widely suggested that the character of Irene Adler, in the original stories is Jewish. In this context Jim Moriarty's threat about turning her into shoes which  you refer to above has much more disconcerting/ unnerving connotations.

Last edited by Davina (February 27, 2013 9:37 pm)

Don't make people into heroes John. Heroes don't exist and if they did I wouldn't be one of them.

February 28, 2013 5:11 am  #10

Re: Moriarty is more caricature than character.

When I first saw Moriarty (Great Game) I wasn't so sure but I fell in love with him (as much as you can with a crazed killer). I think Andrew Scott played Jim very well. I don't think there is much argument that Moriarty is a pretty unstable personality. I think that shows with the way he jumps from normal and violent, gentle and loud.
I guess like anything it's a personal interpretation.


February 28, 2013 5:16 am  #11

Re: Moriarty is more caricature than character.

Michele wrote:

When I first saw Moriarty (Great Game) I wasn't so sure but I fell in love with him (as much as you can with a crazed killer). I think Andrew Scott played Jim very well. I don't think there is much argument that Moriarty is a pretty unstable personality. I think that shows with the way he jumps from normal and violent, gentle and loud.
I guess like anything it's a personal interpretation.

To me, Moriarty is a bit like Norman Bates in Psycho. First thing I thought when seeing him in the pool scene.

John: "Have you spoken to Mycroft, Molly, uh, anyone?"
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