Andrew Scott and Paul Mescal Talk About the Strange, Sexy Meet-Cute That Unlocks All of Us Strangers ’ Twist Ending

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Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures

It’s easy, on a Zoom call with Andrew Scott and Paul Mescal, to feel like you’re the pesky third crashing a pair on date night.

Two’s company but three’s a crowd and interviewing Scott and Mescal, I find myself—in the best way possible—having difficulty getting a word in edgewise. The actors, who star in the supernatural drama All of Us Strangers, British filmmaker Andrew Haigh’s buzzy new film, finish each other’s sentences and are eager to banter and go off on sprawling tangents. They finish most exchanges with giggles.

The actors—proper Internet Boyfriends, the two of them—have been leaning into this chemistry the past few months, while promoting All of Us Strangers.

The film, an adaptation of Taichi Yamada’s spooky 1987 novel Strangers, tells the story of Adam (Scott), a screenwriter trying to work on a script about the parents he lost in his childhood, as he falls into an affair with an attractive, mysterious neighbor (Mescal).

All of Us Strangers can be a confounding film on first viewing. Early buzz around Strangers has centered around the crackling chemistry between Scott and Mescal in the film’s early scenes, when Scott’s and Mescal’s characters find each other and begin a tender romance. But Strangers is much more slippery than it initially appears. And as the film reconfigures itself to become other things—a ghost story, a horror film, a mumblecore romance, a time-traveling adventure, an ode to the Pet Shop Boys—it keeps you off balance, only to reveal itself to ultimately be a monument to the power of love.

“You didn't even [get to] ask your question! We just ran away,” Mescal says, when he realizes they started making wisecracks about vampires and “scary drunk men” before I could finish my thought. “What were you going to say?”

I was asking them about shooting the unusual meet-cute in All of Us Strangers, a scene that establishes their onscreen chemistry while also setting up the film’s ending. This elicits discourse on what it means to meet-cute.

“Would you describe that as a meet-cute?” Mescal asks.

“We meet and it's cute,” Scott chimes in.

“Never mind the scary drunk man being like, ‘Let me in your house!’” Mescal cracks.

“There's vampires on my door…. That's cute!” Scott says.

“Paul, some people are into that, and you shouldn't kink shame,” I volley.

“Oh, Jesus, not my intention whatsoever to kink shame!” Mescal says. “If you're into lads coming to your door [like that], go for it!”

Crucial to the film’s power is an early scene where Scott’s character Adam first encounters Mescal’s character Harry, drunk at his door, offering a drink and his body. The latter parts of the film illuminate the duality that’s happening in this scene—the ending (spoiler alert: there’s a twist), ultimately, wouldn’t work without it. But when we first meet them, all we see is chemistry and sexual tension.

“It was probably one of the first things we shot together,” Mescal says. “The main thing that I need is to be saved in that scene. If I come to the door and I'm like, ‘I'm incredibly upset. I need you to let me in,’ nobody's going to let you in, a total stranger. So I'm trying to use sexuality as a tool. I'm trying to be saved. And I think it nearly works.”

“It's one of those scenes that I would hold up there for myself as one of my favorite scenes that I've ever played,” Scott says. “I think there is a duality to the scene. As an actor, you have two jobs: You have a job as an actor to go, ‘Well, this is just what this is.’ You just play it the way you would play anybody coming to the door. But then as a storyteller, you have to know that that has some sort of significance... It's like almost where you play the opposite of what's going to happen.”

“And when you have context with the rest of the film, I actually find that scene quite upsetting,” Mescal adds. “Because the desperation that you think is related to sex is actually related to a totally different thing. And just the dialogue is so good because he's making jokes as well. He's like, ‘I guess they don't want to jump out the window, be bad for business.’ Dark humor—but also, it is really sexy.”

A lot of early buzz around the film centered on the actual sex scenes between Mescal’s and Scott’s characters. One of the film’s most talked-about moments is when Mescal’s character Harry licks semen off the body of Andrew Scott’s character Adam when they first have sex.

“It was written as it was in the script,” the director Andrew Haigh tells me. “It kind of washes over other people's heads. They're like, ‘Is it sweat? Is it whatever?’ And I'm like, no, it's cum. But gay people are like, ‘I know what's happening there,’ which I sort of love,” he says, with a smile.

“The intimacy of it is so vital,” the British filmmaker continues. “And often you don't see that in sex scenes. You don't feel the connection. You don't feel the eye contact, you don't feel that they're both there enjoying each other's bodies, let's say, and enjoying it.”

In less capable hands, a scene like that could go awry. But Scott and Mescal say it was their knowledge of Haigh’s body of work—the mastery of intimacy he had already displayed on films like Weekend and 45 Years—that told them he would be able to pull it off.

“Sex is a form of communication, in just the same way as dialogue is,” Scott says. “And there is a way that we have to work out what way they would speak to each other physically.”

“It’s also about keeping little secrets in a totally safe way,” Mescal says. “Because if you talk it out of existence, you can't surprise yourself in the scene.”

“I'm keen on trying to show all the different facets of what sex means to people,” Haigh says. “There's an idea that queer people all do the same thing—they don't, there's lots of different variations to what people like and don't like and do and don't do. And so I like to show all of that.”

Originally Appeared on GQ