Russell Tovey opens up about being told loving drama was ‘gay’ as a child: ‘That really affected me’

Russell Tovey wearing a black and white shirt while standing in front of a yellow background.

American Horror Story: NYC star Russell Tovey was told at school that it was “gay” to be interested in drama.

It’s a tale as old as time: young, talented queer people being told that school subjects such as drama, art and music aren’t “manly” enough for them to take an interest in.

It appears that even those talented enough to become internationally recognised actors have had to fight off this thinly-veiled homophobia during their school years.

Star of stage and screen Tovey, 41, perhaps best-known for his role in the multi-award-nominated BBC drama Years and Years, has revealed that the “toxic masculinity” he was confronted with during his education led him to feel “shame”.

Speaking to the i, Tovey recalled: “I had a shame about giving a f**k. I was told all that – loving drama, art and literature – was ‘gay’. That really affected me.

“It took me a long time to accept and embrace those enthusiasms. Too long. I wish I could go back in time and tell the people who tried to make me feel small to just f**k off.”

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While Tovey was recently seen in the rom-com Love Again, he’s headed back to the stage, as part of new production, Blue Now.

Based on Derek Jarman’s seminal AIDS-themed 1993 film Blue, the theatre production features readings from the filmmaker’s diary, reflecting on the experience of losing his sight as he battled with HIV.

Jarman died of an AIDS-related illness in 1994, just months after the release of Blue

Russell Tovey thinks about 'death daily' since growing up during the AIDS crisis.
Russell Tovey thinks about death daily after growing up during the Aids crisis. (Getty)

The stage show will be set against an unchanging blue background, to reflect Jarman’s experience of only being able to see shades of the colour as he went blind.

Tovey features in the production alongside writer and performer Travis Alabanza, artist Jay Bernard and poet Joelle Taylor, with playwright Neil Bartlett in the director’s chair.

Working so closely on the production has led Tovey to contemplate his own experience as a young queer person, growing up through the AIDS crisis

“As a gay person, you’re so closely linked to death … When I came out [at the age of 18 in 1999], the first thing people thought was: ‘You’ve gotta protect yourself … you could get HIV.’ This wasn’t that long ago,” he said.

“I’ve been thinking about dying in a really painful way from the age of f**king 12. If you’re a queer person of a certain generation, you think about death daily. Every time you go to bed with someone, there’s the potential that they could be the person [who] makes you sick. That’s what was in my mind.”

Blue Now is on stage at the Fuel Theatre in London until 27 May.