My Cultural Life: Russell Tovey

The actor and curator tells us what he's reading, listening to and more

russell tovey interview
Jason Dimmock

Since his breakout stint on stage in Alan Bennett’s The History Boys and its subsequent film adaptation, British actor Russell Tovey has starred in brilliantly offbeat dramas from Being Human to Years and Years. His contagious enthusiasm for contemporary art has seen his Talk Art podcast with gallerist Robert Diament become a global sensation, and now – nearly two million downloads later – sparked a book of the same name. He regularly curates exhibitions and arts festivals, including Margate Now, and this month judges the 2021 Turner Prize.

My all-time favourite piece of music is Go Your Own Way by Fleetwood Mac from their Rumors album. It’s empowering, even though it’s about a break up – it makes me want to do better.

russell tovey interview

I’m currently listening to Self Esteem, who is very exciting. I’m also going back to 90s R&B and garage now that gyms are open, for motivational pumping.

The book that influenced me the most is Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller, which is an ancient Greek demi-god queer love story. It broke my heart and made me want to write. I also loved Could Have, Would Have, Should Have by Tiqui Atencio, which is a collection of interviews with art collectors from around the world looking at the stories and psychology of collecting.

At the moment I’m reading Close to the Knives by David Wojnarowicz, Modern Nature by Derek Jarman and Octavia Butler’s Parable series, which has just been re-released.

I’ve been watching Mare of Easttown – I finished it in 24 hours – and Jimmy McGovern’s Time, which is a masterpiece.

Favourite films? Mrs. Doubtfire, Jurassic Park, Flight of the Navigator, Batteries Not Included, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, Dead Poets Society… the ones that made me want to be an actor.

My all-time favourite gallery is the Peggy Guggenheim Museum in Venice. Her house is eclectic and fascinating – a proper domestic environment of a ravenous collector with a huge personality. My most-loved piece on display is Francis Bacon’s majestic Study for Chimpanzee, with its shocking pink background.

russell tovey interview
The Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice
Clearview / Alamy

One of the best exhibitions I’ve seen recently was Toyin Ojih Odutola at the Barbican. The narrative stories she weaves through her work appear like genius little movies. I’ve been following her work for many years and I’m always excited for the next adventure.

I’m looking forward to seeing the Hugh Steers show that I’ve curated for the David Zwirner gallery in London. Steers was an artist whose trajectory, like so many, was cut short by AIDS. He was like a queer Edward Hopper, autobiographically exorcising his life full of all the terrors and love of 1980s New York into incredibly nuanced metaphorical canvases.

My lockdown discovery? I’ve paid more attention to public art as all the museums and galleries were closed. I loved The Line in Greenwich, which is an art trail that follows the peninsula. Favourite moments include Thomas J Price’s nine-foot sculpture Reaching Out and Larry Achiampong’s audio piece in the cable cars.

russell tovey interview
New Zealand’s striking scenery
Michael W / Unsplash

I’d love to go back to New Zealand. I performed there with The History Boys nearly 15 years ago and I’ve always said I’d return. But anywhere with my boyfriend – and if we can take our dogs that’s even better. This year, though, I’ll probably be staying in the UK and enjoying more of what Margate and the Kent coast has to offer.

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