In mid-March, when the pandemic spread at the global level and lockdowns took effect, the world panicked. Retail stores ran out of dry goods and toilet paper, and a new breed of fear popped up into human emotion. But leaders and innovators came out of that turmoil and chaos: brave frontline healthcare workers, community-support figures, and artists. Russell Tovey, 39-year-old British actor and arts aficionado, identified a gap in the arts world and had a plan to fill it, amplifying and celebrating marginalized voices from around the world through his multifaceted work.
With credits like BBC Three’s Being Human, BBC One and HBO’s Years and Years, and Pulitzer Prize- and Tony Award-winning play Angels in America, Tovey’s resume showcases not only his acting chops, but also his impressively wide range of styles. Always hungry for a challenge, he seeks out roles that simultaneously pushes him as an artist and gives him an opportunity to diversify his knowledge of the human experience. “I like to really try and understand the psychology of humanity – what we do to one another, and how we treat one another, and I like exploring that in art,” says Tovey, who recently appeared as a police officer in Sky Arts’ No Masks, telling the stories of real-life frontline staff in East London at the peak of the pandemic.
Tovey’s new four-part ITV thriller, The Sister, will hit the U.S. on Hulu on January 22nd. He plays a troubled man with a dark secret, plagued by guilt and confusion, but in today’s climate, he’s ready to focus on the brighter side of things. “It’s about balance, and still playing authentic characters that have depth and emotion, but I’d quite like to play something more buoyant next,” he admits. “We want something that’s more joyful, and to put some good, happy stuff in the world, because there might be a lot of darkness going forward. So entertainment’s responsibility now is to bring light to that darkness.”
Moreover, featuring interviews and chats with big names in the world of contemporary art, Tovey’s podcast, Talk Art, has enjoyed success. “You know that everyone else is in lockdown, so no one’s got an excuse, and we managed to just get so many amazing interviews,” he recalls, referring to his and co-host Robert Diament’s adaptation to the new normal. “We were really driven to encapsulate a moment in time, in culture. So in some ways, having that experience has been an amazing opportunity for us to access so many other voices and cultures that we may never have accessed.”
For Tovey, being an artist is more than a career, or a passion – it’s a responsibility, and one that he doesn’t take lightly. “Creative people don’t sit around and wait for things to blow over, and then go back to what happened before,” he says. “We forge ahead, we adapt, we change, and we work out what we can do with what we’re presented. What I’ve always found inspiring with artists is that we always keep going ahead, and we always keep telling stories.”
It’s clear to the whole world that moving forward – from the pandemic, from social unrest, from these unprecedented times we’ve found ourselves in – won’t be easy or quick. But Tovey is confident that compassion and support will win out. “Art is the quickest way for humans to connect to other humans. It is the storytelling of humanity,” he affirms. “We have to be empathetic, and we have to be open to everyone’s story.”
Writer: Summer Myatt
Photographer: Owen James Vincent
Editor: Eiko Watanabe
Special thanks to EPK Media (@myepk & @epkmedia - epkmedia.com)