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    Wednesday, May 22, 2024

    Andrew Scott and Dakota Fanning say their ‘Ripley’ characters aren’t rivals, ‘they’re frenemies’

    In early March, as the collective obsession it spawned was at its height, I had the chance to ask: Have Andrew Scott and Dakota Fanning seen the viral TikTok series “Who TF Did I Marry?”

    The actors were seated in a sparsely decorated holding room at a Hollywood screening venue where their new series, “Ripley,” was about to be previewed. Nearly seven decades after Patricia Highsmith’s novel “The Talented Mr. Ripley” first introduced the world to its titular grifter, Tom, the story of one of pop culture’s most infamous pathological liars is now getting an eight-episode treatment on Netflix. And the 50-part social media saga by Reesa Teesa (real name Tareasa Johnson) about a walking red flag — an ex-husband who allegedly made up family members, faked phone conversations and, in their search for a home, duped her with fake bank statements that turned out to be screenshots from Google Images — was further proof that stories of scammers and fraudsters never go out of style.

    “Oh, my God, I know!” Fanning said, her eyes wide with excitement. “I wanted to watch that, but haven’t. There are a lot of videos, right?”

    “What is this?” Scott asked, curious to understand the enthusiasm.

    “It’s this woman who got scammed by her ex and made these videos where she is like filming in the bathroom or her car and telling the story,” Fanning said.

    “Oh, wow,” Scott said, brows furrowed.

    The cunning con man who’s brought them together has left a more lasting impression, inspiring the 1960 French film “Purple Noon,” the 1999 vehicle for Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow and Jude Law, and now “Ripley.”

    Developed for television by Steven Zaillian (“The Night Of”), the series was originally set up at Showtime before moving to Netflix, with production spanning from summer 2021 to spring 2022. The lavish thriller, which is shot in black and white, stars Scott as the eponymous scam artist; Johnny Flynn (“Emma”) as Dickie Greenleaf, the wayward heir to a wealthy Manhattan dynasty with whom Ripley becomes obsessed; and Fanning as Marge Sherwood, Dickie’s girlfriend, who is suspicious of the new man in town.

    The dark, subversive antihero saga begins as Tom is enlisted by Dickie’s father, who mistakenly assumes Tom is a friend of his son, to venture to Italy to cajole him into returning home. Tom becomes infatuated with Dickie and his lifestyle, then kills him to avoid being deserted — and the cover-up spirals from there. It’s an apt parable for the social media age, in which the carefully crafted image can be seductive to a damaging degree. But Zaillian didn’t embark on the adaptation with that in mind.

    “It had nothing to do with now,” Zaillian said by telephone. “The big draw for me was to spend more time with this particular character. ... I think there’s a lot of things about him that are like all of us. He has aspirations, he has envy, pride — he might have more than we have, or he’s just willing to go further to get it. I think one of the reasons that he’s endured as a character so well over all these years, is because we do relate to him.”

    While Dickie is the person Tom becomes fascinated by, the dynamic between Tom and Marge brings the tension.

    “Their relationship changes,” Zaillian said. “From the moment she meets him, Marge is suspicious of him. At a certain point, he appeals to her vanity. She starts to think, ‘Well, maybe he is OK,’ because, frankly, she’s gonna get something out of it. And so it kind of goes back and forth. Her opinion on him constantly changes.”

    Q: What do you think it is about con artists that audiences stay fascinated by?

    Scott: We talk so much about backstory when we’re talking about characters and I sometimes think that’s just mythical, because when you’ve got backstory about somebody, you have power. When you don’t, (the character has) all the power. It’s more sinister.

    Fanning: I think Tom Ripley is the original catfish. Also, what kind of separates it from other interpretations of con men, or whatever you want to call it, is you kind of get to see how he does it all, in pretty gripping detail. Sometimes some of those details are glossed over; in this, you’re on that ride of how it’s all done and I think that makes the particular character of Tom Ripley even scarier. Also, you start sympathizing with him.

    Scott: And you see his mistakes.

    Fanning: I should want him to get caught, but I don’t.

    Scott: I was always like, “I want to be able to feel what it’s like to be him, not necessarily be a victim of his” ... “What would I do if I was him in these moments?”

    Q: “The Talented Mr. Ripley” really asks the question, “Is it better to be a fake somebody than a real nobody?” And it grapples with the cost of buying into the life you’re fed to believe is ideal. What did you find interesting in exploring the complexity of those themes against the social media era we live in?

    Scott: It’s about somebody who’s literally not being seen by a lot of people. Really just lives in the undergrowth. What I find moving about it is that I think he’s got a great appreciation for all the stuff that Dickie Greenleaf just takes for granted. He’s really brilliant at what he does. Dickie and, to a certain extent, Marge are not great artists, but they have that totally at their disposal. There’s a theme of who gets access to the arts, and who is able to go to these beautiful locations and educate (themselves). Tom, as he’s doing all these extraordinary things, is actually falling in love with Italy, painting and food and clothes and just the beauty of the world.

    Q: As an actor, your goal is to make an audience believe that you’re somebody else and you will go to your own lengths to do that. Did it give you insight into what’s driving Tom or how far he’ll take it?

    Scott: He’s not a natural-born killer. He’s not going over there with any of this in mind. He’s trying to survive.

    Fanning: Somebody approached him.

    Scott: Exactly. Somebody approached him. He didn’t do anything. Then he caught some feelings. Then that happened. All these extraordinary places he goes to aren’t because he’s going, “Oh, I always wanted to go to Venice.” He goes there because he has to.

    Q: Tom is always paranoid about being watched. You both are public figures. Can you understand that paranoia?

    Fanning: It doesn’t just have to do with being an actor or a celebrity anymore. I try and keep everything together. But there was one time that I was learning to drive and I was with my mom. We didn’t have a destination; I was just practicing. And there was paparazzi following behind me every turn and watching me park. I finally got out of the car and I was like, “I am trying to learn to drive. I am not going anywhere. You’re going to be going up and down this hill all day.” He was very nice. One time, I was moving into my house and my garage and he — it happened to be the same man — was parked nearby and I was like, “Please don’t film me moving my personal items into my house.” But in general, I think now everybody worries about being surveilled in some way.

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