7 Questions with The Sister star Russell Tovey: 'I am convinced I saw a ghost dog years ago'

We hear from Russell Tovey, the star of ITV’s new dark thriller The Sister, about ghosts, darkness and the most challenging job of his career.

By Alex Fletcher Published: 26 October 2020 - 5.04pm
ITV

“This was the most challenging job I have ever done as an actor”, admits Russell Tovey, talking about his new ITV thriller The Sister.

“I do completely immerse myself into every character I play, which made it a rather hard job living with this guy for nine weeks.”

Tovey plays the role of Nathan in this four-part series about a haunting secret from a man’s past that suddenly comes knocking on his door.

Written by Luther creator Neil Cross and based on his novel Burial, the dark and supernatural series, which co-stars Bertie Carvel, is perfectly timed for Halloween week.

We heard from Tovey about why The Sister is must-watch TV and his own experiences with ghouls and ghosts…

1. Who is Nathan in The Sister?

Russell Tovey in ITV thriller The Sister ITV

Nathan, ultimately, is a really nice guy. An outgoing, sweet person with big dreams. Ten years ago, something happens on the night of a New Year’s Eve party that changes him for the rest of his life. He has tried to rebuild his life ever since.

When we first meet Nathan, he is married to a woman called Holly (Amrita Acharia). He absolutely loves and adores her. His main mission is to channel all his energy into making sure she is happy. That is what he lives for.

He seems to be in a good place having made some better choices in his life. He is coping but he has some anxieties that sit with him all the time. Someone from his past turns up on his doorstep, causing the past to come flashing right back and sets off a chain of events. In part, the story is about good people making mistakes and how things can change in a moment.

I loved working with Amrita and the rest of the cast. We all went for it and that was so electrifying. To completely trust each other. I feel really proud to be on the screen with them.

2. Do you have any personal experiences of the supernatural? 

I am convinced I saw a ghost dog years ago. A big white ghost dog. I was at a friend’s house. They lived in an old rectory building and a week before there was a psychic there who started stroking something in the air. My friend’s mum was like, "What are you doing?" The psychic replied, "You’ve got a big white dog here".

Then one day we were sat in the living room and I looked down into the hall and I saw this white dog. I was like, "Oh my God". There was a part of me that went, "Have I just imagined that because I heard the story? Or have I actually just seen it?". 

Russell Tovey – His greatest TV and movie roles

Rudge in The History Boys

Budgie in Gavin and Stacey

George Sands in Being Human

Steve in Him and Her

Kevin Matheson in Looking

Daniel in Years and Years

I was with some mates who never saw anything. But I am totally convinced I saw it. Obviously, no-one believes me.

I guess ghosts are some form of unfinished business or trapped in some sort of limbo.

I don’t know. It’s all energy. It does not make sense to me that you are just here, then you die and there is nothing.

I am definitely someone who believes that my nan is looking after me from above. I do believe in energy, definitely. It’s easy for me to believe.

3. Were you scared of the dark as a child?

I’ve never feared the dark. I had a period of about three weeks after I watched The Gremlins film and thought they were hiding behind my parents’ bedroom door or under their bed. I was terrified of that … for about three weeks.

I once experimented with a Ouija board when we were young and that played on my mind because everyone would just freak each other out. Talking about being haunted. So that used to scare me.

4. We see Nathan as a younger man. How was that filmed?

Russell Tovey in ITV thriller The Sister ITV

It’s a completely different energy. When you see Nathan at a younger age, I wanted to portray what could have been. I wanted to make him more puppy-ish, more outgoing and confident. Just happy. There is an energy shift that happens until he eventually goes through absolute despair.

Our hair and make-up team were just incredible. Brilliant. What they accomplished was excellent. At times we were filming all different ages of Nathan in one day. So that was a challenge for them for sure. Just a simple change in hair colour can make the world of difference. It’s quite a shift to see Nathan as a younger man.

5. Where did you film? 

Bertie Carvel and Russell Tovey in The Sister ITV

We filmed most of The Sister around London. Some of the most challenging scenes were during two weeks of night shoots in the rain. The crew would probably say that was one of the hardest experiences of their whole careers.

It was really tough filming those scenes at night. This was a hard job. But it looks amazing on screen, so it was absolutely worth it. The rewards reaped from everybody’s hard work are was amazing and I cannot wait for people to see the show.

6. Does TV drama have an extra value in our current times? 

Russell Tovey looks at his reflection in ITV thriller The Sister ITV

People need the escape of TV drama more than ever. To hear stories and connect to what it is to be alive and the importance of being human.

The way people communicate emotions is through art, which in turn helps in our understanding of the world. Through all levels of art - music, TV, radio, theatre, galleries, museums and so on. People need that escape.

No one has ever before experienced anything like what has happened this year in our lifetime. But you must have hope. I think it is going to change a lot of things. It has slowed people down. Hopefully, something good will come out of it; something good for the whole planet.

7. Why should viewers watch The Sister?

The cast of ITV's The Sister ITV

I am very proud of what we have done. The Sister is a unique show with its own surreal energy and dynamics. It is scary and dangerous.

Viewers watching the show are meant to wonder what is going on and be second guessing everything. You are meant to be doubting and questioning who is right and who is wrong.

That is all part of the style of writing that Neil Cross embodies. Neil brings a distinctive energy to his writing, which is recognised as his style now. He has that ability and incredible skill to root a story in the real world and yet it is heightened to another level. You think you know the characters he has created but then with a flip of a coin you have no idea who they are.

The Sister starts on ITV and the ITV Hub on Monday, October 26. It airs across four nights this week.

The whole series box set comes to BritBox on November 26.

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