The Bri­tish heart­throb on re­turn­ing to the West End, dat­ing in 2018, and why he’s wel­com­ing the #daddy tag with open arms. Well, kinda.

Gay Times Magazine - - CULTURE -

“I want some­one to call me daddy,” says Rus­sell Tovey, cuter than your av­er­age but­ton, as he sits chu‚ing wa­ter in the art­fully di­lap­i­dated sur­round­ings of east Lon­don’s Beth­nal Green Work­ing Men’s Club on one of the hottest days of the year. He’s just fin­ished the Gay Times shoot, even go­ing down to shirt­less with­out any­one hav­ing to beg too hard, and has been happy to change down to some navy boxer briefs in a cor­ner with the un­self­con­scious­ness that comes with be­ing an ex­pe­ri­enced ac­tor... and with look­ing that good in just navy boxer briefs.

We’re here to talk about his part in Pin­ter at the Pin­ter, a sea­son of one-act plays to mark the tenth an­niver­sary of play­wright Harold Pin­ter’s death that has roped in ev­ery­one from Danny Dyer to Celia Im­rie, but the con­ver­sa­tion has quickly skid­ded off track into ar­eas of love and fame and Doc­tor Who and sex and sex­u­al­ity and, yep, dad­dies.

“Oh, I don’t mean I want some­one to call me daddy in a sex­ual way,” he adds with a chuckle when I re­mark on the salt and pep­per dust­ing of grey he’s de­vel­op­ing over those fa­mous sticky-outy ears. “I know that on In­sta­gram peo­ple are start­ing to say, ‘Oh daddy!’ and I’m a bit like, ‘What the fuck!’ I still look very boy­ish to me. I’m 36 now but I still feel like I’m 17.”

We talk about the fa­mous mid-30s flip-over where gay men change from fan­cy­ing older to fan­cy­ing younger. “I haven’t got there yet,” he laughs. “I like peo­ple my own age and older... I think I still feel like a kid my­self so I’m not into chick­ens or twinks or what­ever you call it. It’s al­ways been my peers.”

No, when he says he wants some­one to call him daddy, he’s be­ing lit­eral. He’s talk­ing about real fa­ther­hood, some­thing that’s play­ing on his mind more and more these days in a bi­o­log­i­cal clock kind of way. “Hav­ing kids is some­thing that is be­com­ing fun­da­men­tally im­por­tant to me,” he says.

We’ve seen this trade­mark blokey sweet­ness he’s dis­play­ing to­day in US se­ries like Look­ing and Quan­tico, films like The His­tory Boys and Pride and our own TV shows like The Job Lot, Be­ing Hu­man, Doc­tor Who and Him & Her, where his per­for­mance as a straight lad who barely gets out of bed is so be­liev­able that if you didn’t know he was gay, you’d never guess. It’s called act­ing.

“I re­mem­ber be­ing at school, ju­nior school, and al­ready want­ing to be a dad,” he re­calls, his feet stick­ing to the an­cient car­pets of this room where many a Sink the Pink event has spun out of con­trol. “I wanted to be an ac­tor, a his­tory teacher and a dad. Now I’m 36, I’m giv­ing my­self three years. If I haven’t met some­one that wants kids, I’m go­ing to do it by my­self.”

He reck­ons he’ll go the sur­ro­gate route, whether it’s him on his own or with a part­ner. “All the op­tions haven’t been com­pletely ex­plored but what­ever way I’m go­ing to do it, I’m go­ing to do it.”

For the time be­ing he’s got his work cut out jump­ing be­tween jobs like Quan­tico, an on­go­ing Amer­i­can se­ries about FBI re­cruits, which means he has to live in New York for pe­ri­ods of time (“I take my dog with me ‘cause he comes ev­ery­where I go”) and this pair of Harold Pin­ter one-act plays, some­thing of a dream come true for him.

“I’ve been act­ing since I was 11,” he says, “and got into theatre around 18 and was ob­sessed with Harold Pin­ter. I’ve al­ways said that I wanted to do Pin­ter.”

Both the char­ac­ters he plays in The Lover and The Col­lec­tion are sex­ual and sex­u­ally am­biva­lent. As far as be­ing an openly gay ac­tor (he came out to him­self when he was 15 or 16 and to his par­ents a cou­ple of years later) he reck­ons it ac­tu­ally works in his favour.

“It’s like a bonus in some ways,” he ex­plains. “I nav­i­gate a ca­reer where me be­ing openly gay and out there has kind of brought a spot­light on me. I’m in­cred­i­bly proud of the po­si­tion I’m in and who I am. I’ve never shied away from it and for me it’s not an is­sue. Peo­ple are com­ing to me with these in­cred­i­ble roles and a lot of the parts I play hap­pen to be kind of ‘Is he gay? Isn’t he gay?’ I love it.”

Rus­sell T. Davies, the man be­hind the mod­ern in­car­na­tion of Doc­tor Who, re­port­edly wanted Rus­sell to play the Doc­tor, which Mr. Tovey would have jumped at: “Well, he’s kind of fluid, isn’t he?” he says on the sub­ject of a gay Doc­tor Who. “He can do any­thing. What­ever you want him to be, he is.”

But gay ac­tors have not al­ways been so ready to ac­tu­ally play gay... “Back in the day peo­ple were wor­ried about be­ing stereo­typed or type­cast but it’s not like there’s just one gay guy to play. There are bil­lions of fuck­ing gay peo­ple and their sto­ries haven’t been told.”

It’s re­fresh­ing to hear in a world where the only real gay Hol­ly­wood superstar was dra‚ed out of the closet kick­ing and scream­ing among ac­cu­sa­tions of sex­ual mis­con­duct and ac­tors like Ru­pert Everett talk about how they think they might have done much bet­ter in Hol­ly­wood if they had kept their mouths shut.

“I think that’s his ex­pe­ri­ence and I re­spect that,” says Rus­sell of Ru­pert, who, let’s face it, hasn’t done that badly out of be­ing one of the world’s fore­most gay thesps. “I’m not say­ing I’m right and he’s wrong I just know my per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence and my jour­ney through be­ing gay and be­ing an ac­tor and this is what it is. I’m hav­ing a great time and all I would ever say to any­one is just come out. If you’re an ac­tor and you’re do­ing theatre, there’s noth­ing

to worry about. If you’re an ac­tor any­way, there’s noth­ing to worry about.”

Sir Ian McKellen’s name ob­vi­ously crops up at this stage and Rus­sell has noth­ing but the great­est re­spect for the way that act­ing leg­end steered his ca­reer, com­ing out at the pre­cise mo­ment – with the HIV and AIDS cri­sis and govern­ments crack­ing down on gay rights – when it would have been the eas­i­est and most un­der­stand­able thing in the world to shuf­fle fur­ther back into the closet.

“He was trail­blaz­ing when it was re­ally dif­fi­cult and when it was prob­a­bly go­ing to have a mas­sive ef­fect on his ca­reer,” says Rus­sell. “But it was more im­por­tant to him to come out. And he’s now a ref­er­ence point, he’s in a po­si­tion where peo­ple can look up to him and say, ‘Well, he’s do­ing it’. That was so in­cred­i­bly brave. I don’t know if he would say that he was brave. He was just like, ‘That’s what it is’. Your real life is as im­por­tant as what we do as ac­tors and when you’re in the pub­lic eye, what you do is go­ing to af­fect other peo­ple. So for me now, I’m just putting it out there the whole time”

As far as the lack of a huge gay Hol­ly­wood star is con­cerned (Sir Ian is more of a revered el­der states­man and real ac­tor than a star), Rus­sell reck­ons it’s just a mat­ter of time. “We had Kevin Spacey come out but that was some fucked up way of do­ing it and re­ally frus­trat­ing be­cause that op­por­tu­nity could have been taken years ago and made a dif­fer­ence and it just wasn’t. It was taken in a time of cri­sis, at a point where it was just to cover his back, to take the spot­light off what it was ac­tu­ally about.”

It also lifted a rock on the fact that the at­mos­phere of sex­ual abuse in show­busi­ness could ap­ply to men as well as women.

“I haven’t re­ally had that much,” he says. “I mean, things have hap­pened but noth­ing that I can’t han­dle. Noth­ing I want to re­port. You get cheeky grabs and that but I’ve al­ways been very cock­sure and for me it just seemed like a‚ressive flirt­ing at the time. Look­ing back it was prob­a­bly a bit prob­lem­atic.”

An­other ef­fect of the lift­ing of the rock is that Rus­sell looked at his own be­hav­iour, like most of us did. “When it all comes out you start re­ally go­ing, ‘Oh my God, have I done some­thing?’ I think ev­ery­one in ev­ery busi­ness around the world took a mo­ment to con­sider their own ac­tions. The world changes and we’ve got to keep up with it. I guess the only ad­vice is don’t be a dick.”

As for crack­ing Amer­ica as an openly gay ac­tor, he’s tak­ing it slowly. There was Look­ing, the HBO se­ries about gay men rock­ing around San Fran­cisco and now Quan­tico but it’s not some­thing he’s after at all costs. His part in last year’s crit­i­cally ac­claimed pro­duc­tion of An­gels in Amer­ica could have taken him back to Broad­way (he was there with The His­tory Boys with James Cor­den back in the day and in the play Beau­ti­ful Bridge), but the role was tak­ing such a toll on him emo­tion­ally that he stepped away and never mind the good it would have done his ca­reer.

“I loved the act­ing,” he says of the part of Joe Pitt, a mar­ried gay Mor­mon stru‚ling with his sex­u­al­ity, “but when the cur­tain went down all I felt was sad­ness. I loved be­ing on Broad­way but when this came up it just filled me with anx­i­ety rather than ex­cite­ment. I think you have to trust your in­stincts and it was best to step away. I was like, ‘I don’t want to let any­one down and if this is go­ing to fuck up the trans­fer, let me know...’ But it was quite a com­mit­ment to go and do it in New York for that long.’

It was an in­cred­i­ble po­si­tion to be in for some­one who al­ways con­sid­ered him­self not quite posh enough or trained enough or some­thing enough to fit into the act­ing es­tab­lish­ment. A real Es­sex boy from a work­ing class back­ground whose par­ents own a busi­ness run­ning peo­ple to the air­port, he was never one of the stage-school set.

“I’ve al­ways felt like kind of an out­sider,” he says, “even though I’ve been in the busi­ness for years and years. I never went to drama school and I’ve al­ways felt slightly like I’m here through a cheeky back door. It’s not un­til prob­a­bly the last two or three years that I feel like I’m pretty le­git and do­ing good work and peo­ple like what I do. For so many years, be­ing around ac­tors, I just felt I never knew enough. What I love is act­ing. The art of act­ing. Speak­ing a char­ac­ter’s lines. All the other stuff, do­ing a cover shoot for Gay Times, is all re­ally lovely but the re­al­ity is I just want to do the act­ing.”

As for the fame, he’s cool with it. “When peo­ple recog­nise me or want to have a pic­ture with me, they gen­uinely like the projects I’ve done, they’re not com­ing at me from a ‘who the fuck do you think you are?’ an­gle,” he says, adding that he’d love to do a huge part like Spi­der-Man, as long as he could still go down the pub with his mates.

“Peo­ple come to me com­pli­men­tary so my ex­pe­ri­ence has al­ways been lovely, wel­com­ing and re­spect­ful,” he goes. “I don’t think I’m the sort of guy who walks around like, ‘Don’t you know who I am?’ Ev­ery now and then I might like to jump to the front of a queue at a gay bar,” he laughs, “but that’s just a cheeky thing...” You’ll no­tice the word ‘cheeky’ comes up quite a lot.

And yes he does go out on the gay scene though he does feel the at­mos­phere is chang­ing and he’s not quite sure what he thinks about it. “On the one hand, nowa­days, when you go out with some­one as a gay man, you’re get­ting asked, ‘When are you get­ting mar­ried? Are you hav­ing kids?’ and that’s some­thing that’s only hap­pened since the laws have changed and sud­denly you’re like, ‘I can do this. That’s now a con­sid­er­a­tion’...” But the flip­side of that ac­cep­tance is that we now live in a world where tra­di­tion­ally gay spa­ces are open to ev­ery­one...

“I went out in Soho on Satur­day night and ended up in Free­dom, which I’ve al­ways loved and it felt like the gay peo­ple in there were in the mi­nor­ity sud­denly,” he ex­plains, not that he minded, just that he no­ticed. “And walk­ing up War­dour Street, it felt like ev­ery­one was in their 20s, boys and girls sno‚ing against walls. Not gay men or les­bians but straight young teenage cou­ples.”

The so­lu­tion? For gay men to get out there more. “I just hope ev­ery­one comes off the apps and gets back out there in the bars. It’s the only way it’s go­ing to change.” And he talks about the thrill of putting your­self out there and eye­ing up the tal­ent in the good old-fash­ioned way. “It’s so much more ex­cit­ing when you’re in a bar and you catch some­one’s eye and you smile and go over and shake some­one’s hand. That is far sex­ier than be­ing sent some­one’s dick pic.” But then Rus­sell is, by his own ad­mis­sion, “very, very, very vanilla”.

“I’m a one-man guy. I just want to be with that per­son who­ever that per­son is.” Nice to hear from some­one who could be play­ing the field as pretty much ev­ery­one seems to fancy him: men, women, dogs...

“‘Dogs?” he laughs, get­ting ready to go. “Yeah, dogs def­i­nitely fancy me.”

Pho­tog­ra­phy Gabriel Mokake Fash­ion Dark­wah Kyei-Dark­wah Words Si­mon Gage

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