With an acclaimed acting resume that spans from clueless schoolboy to modern-day werewolf, Russell Tovey is fast becoming one of Britain’s most in-demand talents – and has some interesting trivia to boot. Did you know…
By Paul Barfoot
Ironically, Tovey had designs on becoming a history teacher before he took a fancy to acting and was catapulted to international stardom as the athletically able but intellectually challenged schoolboy, Rudge, in Alan Bennett’s ‘The History Boys’. He credits watching the film ‘Dead Poets Society’ for prompting him to change career gear from teacher to thespian: “There’s a character in it and all he wants to do is play Puck in ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’. He’s made to go and do other stuff instead, and in the end he kills himself – not that I was going to do that, but it was so inspiring. I just told my parents, ‘that’s what I want to do, act’.”
Gay role model
Russell is one of a rare breed of openly gay actors. Despite coming out to his close-knit clan at the age of 18, he expressed that the lack of gay “role models that were blokey” left him feeling estranged as a youth. “Everybody was flamboyant and camp, and I remember going, 'That's not me… I don't think I fit into this world,'" recalled the actor. It appears that Tovey is setting the record straight (so to speak) on this front, with the homo masses voting his taught torso and laddish charm the perfect combination of desirability and inspiration. The gay blog-based website, afterelton.com, ranked Russell 38th on its 2009 ‘Hot 100 List’ (56 places higher than in 2008) – a victory no doubt aided by his ample flashing of flesh in ‘Being Human’.
Despite some short-lived coyness about his many stark-naked scenes in ‘Being Human’, Tovey confesses that baring his bum for his art now comes second nature to him. "After about an hour I just dealt with it. The first time being naked I was on this rock, and then I had to run through the city with my bum out… I didn't realise I was walking round completely naked after that. People were putting a dressing gown on me; I didn't have to ask for it. I'm now a naturist," joked Tovey in a 2008 interview with digitalspy.com.
He may be busy transforming into a howling beast these days, but given free reign to transform into any one person (living or dead) for a day, Tovey would choose to morph into 60s art genius, Andy Warhol. “He was just so out there, so mental and he absolutely inspired so many people with his art. I think it might be fun to be absolutely gaga for a day,” enthused Russell.
The dark side
Tovey’s beastly instincts in ‘Being Human’ seem to have ignited his passion to perform some seriously sinister roles. “I want to play characters like drag queens, rent boys, someone who has been abused, a rapist,” announced Tovey about his heavy-duty acting aspirations. His 2008 role as Dickens’ John Chivery in the new TV adaptation of ‘Little Dorrit’ was a far cry from dark, but it garnered great praise. The “heartbreaking intensity” with which Tovey’s Chivery professes his love for Amy Dorrit “simply shredded my hardened heart”, hailed ‘The Telegraph’ and ‘The Scotsman’ newspapers, respectively.
The real Russell
Despite his fancy for playing twisted characters, the real Mr Tovey’s reputation as ‘Mr Good Guy meets Prince Charming’ precedes him. His only crimes in youth were calling his French teacher ‘sweetheart’ and being caught eating cake in the girls toilets by the headmistress, both of which he was suspended for. He also charmed the pants off acting legend Frances de la Tour while co-starring with her in the Broadway production of ‘The History Boys’. “I love her, she’s just an icon. I call her J-Lo because she wears velour tracksuits, and she loves that,” revealed Russell at the time.
When a journalist recently asked Russell to share the most surprising thing that had happened to him, he recalled the time he found himself on an impromptu jog with Dustin Hoffman in New York’s Central Park. “He had come to see ‘The History Boys’ when we were performing it on Broadway. I bumped into him in the morning outside his building. He told me I was the best thing in the show and invited me to jog with him. I was so stunned I couldn't remember a thing he said,” laughed Tovey.
Russell T Davies, who in 2005 successfully resurrected the cult 60s-80s sci-fi series ‘Doctor Who’, is a massive Tovey fan. So much so, that he scripted the character of Midshipman Alonzo Frame in the 2007 special ‘Voyage of the Damned’ especially for him. Davies’ public declaration that Tovey was his “favourite casting of the lot, because he's going to be huge,” had betting shops billing Russell as a firm favourite to take over the Tardis from David Tennant. Matt Smith beat him to the coveted role, but Davies’ prediction that Tovey would be “huge” rings spookily true – he is currently cast as Carl in Ben Miller's appropriately titled Brit flick, ‘Huge’.
Russell was born, raised and now lives in the Essex town of Billericay, which since the 80s has been the butt of many British jokes. James Cordon, writer and actor of the BBC sitcom ‘Gavin and Stacey’, is rumoured to have set the series in Billericay as homage to Tovey, who is a close friend. Russell, who starred as Budgie in ‘Gavin and Stacey’ as a favour to his scripting pal, is a keen ambassador of Essex and determined to dispel the myth that his homeland is a cultureless corner of the UK. “I wish people would take more notice of the beauty of Essex. I'm from Billericay, and some people think Essex is just one big shopping centre. But parts of Essex are beautiful and full of history,” defended Tovey.
*Russell has lived in London for some years now and obviously the researcher has not updated the database on this fact – Tom.
Every great actor has his distinguishing feature. Woody Allen has his thick-rimmed glasses. Michael Caine has his cockney accent. Russell Tovey has his ears – which have attracted many a jibe from the press and his nearest-and-dearest alike. One critic rated Russell’s chances of becoming the eleventh Doctor Who as slim because “his ears are far too big for the Tardis", and his art-celebrity pal Tracey Emin affectionately calls him ‘Pokey’ because of his protruding head handles. Russell is remarkably resigned and good natured about his ears being a talking point, but he’s keen to point out: “A common misperception of me is that I've got big ears. I've actually got quite small ears, it's just that they stick out.”
Tom_In_Oz_: Article: "Russell Tovey: Did You Know?" - @RUSSELLTOVEY - A STAR IN THE MAKING russell-tovey.blogspot.com/search?updated…
Mavro_Arni: @Tom_In_Oz_ @russelltovey I hadn't heard the history teacher interest before. What historical era and culture does he find most interesting?
Tom_In_Oz_: @Mavro_Arni @russelltovey archaeology - he likes to study bones (yes, a double entendre at no extra cost)
Mavro_Arni: @Tom_In_Oz_ @russelltoveyTruly? Then Russ will likely find the biography I wrote of interest (a gay Pagan who became an archaeologist).