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NOTES ON A SCANDAL

The Alluring Art Student
"You wanted a sob story, I gave it to you. Made you feel like Bob Geldof.” -- Steven

The fireworks between Judi Dench's Barbara and Cate Blanchett's Sheba in NOTES ON A SCANDAL are sparked when one of Sheba's art students develops a flattering crush that develops into a full-blown sexual affair. The role of Steven – the cocky, story-spinning, infatuated teenager caught up in something far larger than he can understand – would clearly require special handling. To find a fresh face, the filmmakers held extensive auditions and it was in Ireland that they first saw the young man from Donegal, Andrew Simpson, who previously had a role in the British film SONG FOR A RAGGY BOY.

Also an athletically talented rugby player, Simpson was in the middle of a rugby tour of Australia and Fiji when he received a call-back to England for a reading with Cate Blanchett. The intercontinental trip was worth it. Once the filmmakers saw their rapport, the deal was sealed. Simpson himself was stunned by the turn of events. "I really wanted the part so much, but I felt like it was beyond my dreams,” he admits.

Meanwhile, everyone else felt that Simpson was clearly the right decision. "We didn't set out to cast an Irish actor but he was simply the best actor we saw for the part,” explains Richard Eyre. "I think also there is something about his Irishness that is very good for the character – there is a poetic streak to him that I think plays right into Sheba's fantasies and her justifications for falling in love with him.”

Eyre continues: "We knew that Andrew would have the one of the biggest challenges in the film. But he was so immensely conscientious, good-natured, intelligent and talented, we trusted that he would rise to the occasion.” Adds Blanchett: "From the minute I met him, Andrew was remarkably self-possessed and incredibly focused. As Steven, he rides the line between innocence and maturity in a way that doesn't let the audience have an easy way out.”

Simpson describes his character as "a bit cheeky and also a bit dangerous.” He continues: "Steven is really your average schoolboy who has a crush on a teacher – except that Steven is more prepared to take his flirting to the next level. Once he gets a response from Sheba, he just grabs onto it for all it's worth.”

But while Sheba attaches romantic feelings to their relationship, it is the boyish Steven who sees it much more pragmatically. "I really don't think Steven wants a relationship,” notes Simpson. "He's a teenager, he's charged up, he simply wants to try new things and see what he can get away with and what he can discover. So when Sheba's emotions start getting stronger and stronger, I think he realizes he's way out of his depth and he wants to move on. Although he wants to be an adult, I don't think all of him is grown up yet, and he realizes that.”

As for getting the extremely unlikely chance to shoot romantic love scenes with Cate Blanchett, Simpson notes that, after the initial thrill, he very quickly came to view them as just another demanding aspect of the job. "After twenty takes, you don't see it as a passion-filled encounter anymore,” he laughs. "And everyone was just so professional, there was nothing uncomfortable in it at all.”

Simpson felt especially encouraged by Richard Eyre. "He's amazing. He's so down-to-earth and such a gentleman. After every take he comes up to the actors and tells you what he thought, being brutally honest. He makes you want to try even harder for him,” he says.

The shoot was another new adventure for Simpson, who had never been to London before. The city in itself was a revelation to him. "There are so many people in London that you really get the sense it could be so very lonely if you were living there on your own,” he says. "I come from an area where everyone, even if  you don't know them, will stop and<

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