Just the job for Tovey ; After playing happily unemployed Steve in Him & Her, for his new comedy Russell Tovey stars as an unhappily employed Jobcentre worker. The actor tells KEELEY BOLGER why he'll welcome comparisons with The Office
RUSSELL Tovey is a lucky man. Most of us have been lumped with a pen-pushing pedant in the workplace at some stage, but Tovey had to dig deep to find an example from his working life.
His co-stars in BBC Three's hit series Him & Her, for instance, were wonderful, as were his fellow actors in supernatural drama Being Human.
So when it came to relating to the frustration felt by his character Karl in new ITV sitcom The Job Lot over the sour, fault- finding habits of his colleague Angela (played by Jo Enright), Tovey had to cast the net wider.
I haven't come across an 'Angela' in the workplace, but in life, yes, says 31-year-old Tovey. I had someone when I was trying to sell a house. She was an absolute nightmare, exactly like Angela.
She was passive aggressive. She was like, 'I have my freeholder's hat on and this is all I'm going to do'. She was a witch but she had done everything by the book. It was just like, 'Arrgh!' It's likely that viewers of The Job Lot will also feel like screaming 'Arrgh' - at Karl's ineptitude.
Set in a busy West Midlands Jobcentre, the series observes the daily lives of the centre's workers and their interactions with the jobseekers.
According to Tovey, hapless Karl is someone who complains about not winning The X Factor but never applied in the first place, and spends his days sneaking out custard creams from his drawer, listening to his boss Trish's personal woes while trying (ironically) to convince others to take up work.
He's a graduate with a superiority complex yet, despite his profession, could do with some career advice of his own.
With this in mind, as well as the work-based setting, comparisons with BBC Two's hit comedy The Office seem likely - something Tovey admits he'd happily welcome.
It would be amazing if the show got compared to The Office, he says. The Office is massively iconic but we're looking at that, referencing that kind of world and going forward with our own unique take on the office environment.
The Jobcentre is a very different world to the office because you have the recurring characters of people seeking work.
When asked who his dream jobseekers to assist would be, Tovey lists Hollywood stars Kiefer Sutherland and Robert De Niro and comic actress Roseanne Barr.
However, for the time being, he'll have to make to with a more down-to-earth bunch, including the hoodie-wearing work-shy Bryony, played by Downton Abbey actress Sophie McShera.
The cast also includes Miranda's Sarah Hadland, who plays people- pleasing Trish replete with an 'aggressive perm' and a soft spot for Karl. Calendar Girls actress Angela Curran and Hotel Babylon actor Martin Marquez join forces as security guards Janette and Paul, and Four Lions star Adeel Akhtar is suspicious surveillance addict George. Karl may be cheesed off by his co-workers and dissatisfied with his professional life, but in real life Tovey is anything but.
From lazy, loved-up Steve in Him & Her, werewolf whizzkid George Sands in Being Human, grieving son Henry in Sherlock and laddish Budgie in Gavin and Stacey, he's enjoyed a stream of great TV roles in recent years.
Growing up in Essex, he got involved with drama as a schoolboy, deciding aged 11 that he wanted to be an actor and landing a role in CBBC's series Mud shortly after.
Work was always steady, but his praised performance as Rudge in the theatre version of Alan Bennett's The History Boys, and later the film adaptation, propelled things to another level.
Despite his own successes, Tovey is acutely aware of the troubles unemployed people face and is eager not to add to them.
The Job Lot is very truthful, he says. I think it has some really nice takes on a jobseeker. They're not just going, 'Oh my life is rubbish', they're actually just getting on with it, whereas I think the employees of the Jobcentre in the show are going, 'Oh my life is rubbish' and we're in full employment. There's that kind of comparison.
It had to be completely respectful. It's making more fun of the people who work there and the writers did so much research and were terrified, because it comes back to them if anyone watching found it patronising or rude to those struggling to find work or money.
Unemployment is something all of Tovey's co-stars have battled with in their careers. Curran has had to sign on and Akhtar has also been out of work, though he admits the reality was less funny than The Job Lot.
While being unemployed doesn't scream funny, Tovey thinks there will be plenty of welcome light relief in the show.
Everyone wants to laugh at the moment, says the actor. TV is becoming the new film. People are watching it more, our weather's so rubbish that we're buying box-sets and staying in. Film stars are doing TV in the States and it's getting that way here.
Laughter might be on the menu for viewers, but getting into the role is a serious business for Tovey. I don't take notes on characters, so getting into character is a mental thing, he says.
Otherwise you might look into the mirror and see what you look like when you cry. What? Does no one else do that? Whoops! Busted! ? The Job Lot starts on ITV on Monday at 9.30pm.
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