Russell Tovey interview 24-9-2010
The Essex actor, former History Boy and star of Him & Her talks to Radio Times’ Kaitlin Sullivan about being gay, being naked and Being Human…
What television series would you take to a desert island?
At the minute, Nurse Jackie. I was recently over in the States promoting Being Human for BBC America and on the plane ride back I watched it. Edie Falco is awesome and the writing is great. It has that thing where once you've finished one show you go, "Right, where's the next one?" That's magic.
Would you ever consider doing a series in the US?
No, I wouldn't dream of it, I'd never leave England… Yes, big time! I would love to! Every actor's dream is to get a series over there and be able to come back here and do theatre and TV. Bizarrely they love our shows and slag off their own, but for us in England they're kind of the pinnacle, the American Dream, I suppose.
What are your guilty television pleasures?
The X Factor - I make a point of being in on a Saturday, and now a Sunday, of course, for the results. And I vote. My mum's a big voter, we're from Essex and last year you had Stacey Solomon and Olly Murs, so she was torn. I think she spent a tenner every week on ringing up, but neither of them won.
Would you ever go on a reality TV show?
I think a part of me romantically thinks it would be amazing to learn to dance or ice skate, but in reality I don't think it would be beneficial to my career. If it all goes tits up, then ask me again and I'll be like, "Course, yeah, whatever. Give me a camera and I'll do anything," but at the moment I like being an observer.
How do you feel about becoming a TV sex symbol?
Have I? Really? I'm astonished and honoured. I still see myself as this sort of spotty, pasty, big-eared, little cheeky sod that got chucked out of his classes at school for being naughty. I don't see myself as anything that someone would want to put on their bedroom wall.
There aren't many young male actors who are openly gay - do you see yourself as a role model?
If it has been beneficial to people, then I am really chuffed. There wasn't anyone when I was growing up that made me go, "Oh, they're gay and that's fine." If people think I'm a sex symbol, that's great for my ego, but it seems like fluff if you can help someone come out or be more confident with the fact that they're gay.
Do you think your sexuality has affected your career as an actor?
I don't think so, no, because I've never made a big deal out of it. I think some people find that refreshing. I'm not aware of anyone saying, "I can't cast him because he's gay." I think I can play the anti-romantic lead but I couldn't ever be the Brad Pitts or Orlando Blooms.
Who, dead or alive, would attend your dream TV dinner party?
Would they be dead at the table? Can I revive them for the dinner? Well, David Jason would pop in. Maybe Sharon Osbourne, she'd be a laugh. Moira Stuart, because she's always been there and it would be nice to actually see her in the flesh, and Tony Hart would come back so we could draw stuff, Rolf Harris too.
Did you watch a lot of TV as a child?
Only Fools & Horses was just one of those shows that could keep on going and going, that excited me. Hartbeat with Tony Hart and Rolf's Cartoon Club were my huge favourites, though. I used to love drawing and always sent work in to the show. If I hadn't gone into acting then I would have perhaps become an animator.
You were 11 when you started acting - was it something you'd always wanted to do?
When I was really young I wanted to be a history teacher because I was obsessed with the past. Then I started spending the holidays watching Home Alone, Hook, The Goonies, Stand By Me and of course Dead Poets Society, and I used to pretend I was a runaway. I remember thinking after that, "I want to be an actor".
What was it about Dead Poets Society that inspired you?
Robin Williams made me want to become an actor, in Dead Poets Society, Mrs Doubtfire, Good Morning Vietnam, Patch Adams and as the genie in Aladdin. I haven't met him but we were launching Being Human last year at this hotel in LA and he was on the bill. I saw his name and literally got a wobble in my stomach.
How did you get your first acting part?
I went to a local drama club and joined a kid’s agency, so I got sent to auditions. The History Boys was a massive milestone, when that came out it crossed all mediums: radio, film, theatre and later, TV. It was like our drama school, our education, before we went out into the world. I wouldn't have wanted it any other way.
Do you still keep in touch with Alan Bennett and the History Boys cast?
Yeah, I spoke to him a little while ago. I saw James Corden the other day, I'm friends with Sam Barnett on Twitter, I spoke to Dominic Cooper recently, and Frances de la Tour lives just down the road from me. Nick Hytner (director) got knighted, so we all went to the party. Out of all the jobs I've done that's definitely the one where you got friends for life.
What are your comfort films?
For all my life I've watched Pretty Woman. It's just a near-perfect film. You weren't expecting that, were you? There's also an old classic with Steve Martin and Goldie Hawn called House Sitter, which I love. It's all these kind of romcoms, I should perhaps try and come across a little more manly and say Saving Private Ryan or something.
Who would you choose to play you in a film of your life?
Wayne Rooney, only because we look kind of similar. Or Gordon the Gopher. Maybe Michael Gambon that would be quite interesting, if he could age down somehow.
You're filming the third series of Being Human at the moment - what can we expect?
Well, the first series was funny, the second series was very dark, and the third series is a combination of the two, so we've got a nice balance. Nina is also a werewolf now, so you get two werewolves co-habiting, and filming has now moved from Bristol to Cardiff.
You were the only person from the pilot who went on to be in the first series - how did that feel?
As an actor you know who your character is by the way that other actors talk to you, so starting again with Lenora [Crichlow] and Aidan [Turner] was nerve-wracking. You think that they are going to have a pre-conceived idea of you, but after two or three days it all felt right and it's been brilliant.
How long does it take to be transformed into a werewolf?
Hours. I'll get in about 4:30 in the morning and sit in make-up for three hours, then go on set, come back, and put more make-up on before going back out. Then I'll take everything off, take off all my clothes, and run around naked while they're still filming. That last bit has nothing to do with filming - it's just what I do as an end-of-transformation celebration!
You're also starring in BBC3 comedy Him & Her - what's that about?
You watch this couple in their bedsit, so they're just being themselves. They fart and use the toilet and pick their noses, but in a very real way. Like if you had a camera set up filming the things you wouldn't want people to see. It's shocking in terms of it being warts and all, but it's also a love story.
What attracted you to the role?
The role is just awesome and the writing is so clever and fresh. It's good playing someone who is completely different to [Being Human's] George. I'm very proud of it. It's all set in one room, so it was quite intense filming in this hot box in your pants and socks. Although it's fine because I'm normally naked, aren't I?
Do you think comedy acting is perhaps your forte?
I think it was just something that happened - I mean, a lot of things I've done are comedy dramas but it's not like being in a sketch show. I do a lot of dramatic characters with huge emotional arcs and access to emotion, that's what interests me. I think comedy and tragedy are very closely linked.
You also have an interest in screenwriting, is it nice to be on the other side of the script?
Yeah, I haven't had anything done yet, but I've got a writing agent, whatever that means. I think you'd be most likely to see something I write on a stage rather than TV. Writing for me is like improvising as an actor, I just let my hand move as I think of something. It's a release of something creatively.
Do you have any other ambitions?
I just want to play really good characters and keep getting these opportunities. There are so many people out there who are really talented and have great characters that I'll want to play in the future. If I could have the life of anyone I would like to be a male Julie Walters. I think she's had an incredible career.
Russell Tovey stars in Him & Her (Mondays, BBC3). Being Human returns to BBC3 in January.