Russell Tovey on Gay Athletes, Tom Daley's Coming Out

1.9.2014

By Jerry Portwood

The actor stars in HBO's Looking and is currently playing a closeted soccer player in a London play

Photo via Instagram

We've enjoyed watching actor Russell Tovey in hit British TV series for years, but now he's about to receive a lot more attention Stateside with his role in HBO's Looking, starring Jonathan Groff. If you want a taste of his adorable side, check out his Instagram pics, which typically feature him solo with his French bulldog. But don't get any ideas that he's single, according to a new story published in London's Evening Standard, Tovey has been with his boyfriend for four years: "They live together, are very happy, and that’s all he wants to say because it’s private."

When asked about his role in Looking, he jokes: “I wanted to play American but they wanted the whole One Direction, Downton Abbey vibe because Brits are cool.” He also mentioned that the actor playing my boyfriend in the series is straight, and "for the first time in my career, I felt a responsibility to him, to make sure he didn’t feel I was taking advantage.”

Tovey has mostly played straight roles up until now (we loved him as the sometimes-nude werewolf in the British version of Being Human), including originating the role of Rudge in the the National Theatre's production fo The History Boys. Now, along with his Looking role—in which he plays a gay video game developer (and Groff's boss)—he's currently starring in The Pass in London, a play directed by John Tiffany (at the Royal Court Upstairs from January 13 to March 4), in which he plays a teenage soccer player on his way to becoming a Beckham-style superstar (his co-star is Downton Abbey's Gary Carr).

“You don’t want to say it’s a play about a gay footballer because Jason may be gay but he doesn’t identify himself as such,” Tovey explains in regards to his closeted character. “So it’s a play about how he’s betrayed friendship and signed a pact with the devil for his career. He’s not sad because he’s gay. He’s fucked up, and it’s his choice.”

Tovey spoke candidly with the Evening Standard about the idea of athletes coming out and why someone like "Tom Daley has come out, a sportsman at the top of his game," but there "are no footballers who have come out, and the ones who do end up as tragedy stories. Robbie Rogers left the game, Justin Fashanu killed himself." He goes further by revealing that "there’s a rumour that a major sporting brand has had a six-figure sponsorship deal on the table for the past five years for the first Premiership footballer to come out and no one’s taken it.”

As Tovey explains, it could be that sexuality threatens the bond between sportsman:

“It’s easier for Tom Daley because he’s a solo diver. What if you’re part of the rugby club on tour — touching each other’s dicks, they do very homoerotic acts, all fine because they’re straight — then they suddenly find out someone is gay? It becomes ‘Hang on a bit, we shouldn’t be doing this, you might be enjoying it’.”

It turns out Tovey knows Daley — they were fellow guests at the wedding of his History Boys co-star James Corden, back in 2012 — and he says he was impressed by the way Daley took control and made a coming-out video just before Christmas.

“That was what was so brilliant about what he did — the video was very casual, not even beautifully lit, just him lying on his bed going, ‘Oh fuck it, now’s the time. Yes, guys, here it is. Done. Gone. Sending it out there; see what happens’ “I messaged him and said, ‘I’m proud of you, it’s brilliant what you’ve done, mate’. He just said, ‘Thanks’. He’s really sweet. I feel slightly protective of him but I don’t want to patronize anyone. I can say, ‘If you ever need help’... and put it out there, but he’s [in a world] beyond me. If there was a younger actor wondering whether to come out, I’d advise them, definitely.”

Tovey knows just how remarkable it is that he hasn’t been typecast as an actor. “I get letters and messages on Twitter saying I’ve become a bit of a role model, which is wonderful.”

He says he had no gay role models and only saw stereotypical portrayals of flamboyant men (but he did have a secret crush on Ian McShane of Lovejoy). “I thought if I didn’t flounce around and have sibilant ‘s’s, who was I? Now there are incredible role models in the public eye. Clare Balding, look what she’s done. Straight men love her, women aren’t threatened by her. We’re in a different time now.”

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