If Russell Tovey is nervous about his first stint as an awards show host at BIFA this weekend, he isn’t showing it.
The star of shows like Being Human, Him & Her and The Job Lot, and films like The History Boys, Grabbers and Pride is used to performing for an audience. Most recently on stage, Tovey played Joseph Pitt in the London revival of Angels in America at the National, alongside Andrew Garfield, Denise Gough and Nathan Lane, and he took part in the Pinter at the Pinter season at the Harold Pinter Theatre. Hopping on the phone as he was deep into preparing his BIFA hosting stint, Tovey shared the philosophy behind his approach as an emcee, and his love of British independent film.
How are you feeling about it? How are your preparations coming?
Well, I’m buzzed about it. It’s a proper honour to be asked, and to be considered as someone who can represent and present for the talent that’s going to be sat in that room. I’ve been to many, many awards things myself. I’ve been to the BAFTAs, I’ve presented at the Oliviers and the Evening Standard Awards so I’ve been in front of a room full of top talent before, but I’ve never hosted a whole show.
We’ve got some writers in, Claire Downes, Stuart Lane and Ian Jarvis, who I worked with on a comedy called The Job Lot, that I did with ITV a couple of years back. They’re writing a script and we’re working through it together. There’ll be a little rehearsal before the show on Sunday, so hopefully I shouldn’t fall apart. I’ve got an autocue and I’ve never used one of them before, but I’m really excited to figure it out. It’s going to be a really fun night
What’s your approach to hosting? Are you a tough love kind of guy, or an all-out luvvie?
Luvvie, luvvie, luvvie. I’m all about love. All about celebrating talent and making it a fun night. These awards are really, really exciting, and if I were nominated, or I knew someone who was nominated, I’d be incredibly proud. I’m all about saying how wonderful everything is, how great it is to have everyone in the room, and how great it is to be British and to celebrate everything we’ve achieved.
This will be your first BIFAs, not just as host but as a guest, is that right?
Yeah, it is. A couple of years back, I did a film called The Pass and my co-star Arinzé Kene was nominated. I was working in the States so I wasn’t able to make it. I was sad about that, but obviously thrilled we got the recognition.
What kind of role do you think BIFA plays in the landscape of British film?
You have to recognise the kinds of films BIFA is there to recognise. It’s at the grassroots level of some of these movies from first-time filmmakers. It’s an ecosystem, and the more you celebrate and get excited by good work, whatever it is, that’s only going to create more good work. It’s so vitally important. It’s what it’s all about. At any level, you need someone to tap you on the back and say, “Keep going.” And that’s what BIFA is all about. It’s a beautiful pat on the back.
What do you think the British independent film space could do with more of?
More funding, and more opportunities for people to take more risks. It’s the age old thing that there’s never enough money. We need to plough more money in and support new talent; pass on the baton and keep it going. Even though there is never any money, and even though the budgets are so tight, there’s still incredible work that comes through, and isn’t that amazing? You never hear people say, “Oh we’ve got too much money. The budget’s huge.” People are always under pressure and always undervalued and unappreciated at times. But we plough through it, and that seems to be the British way. Even in adverse situations where you’re trying to get something made, you get it made as best you can. Some people want to create great art, and if they believe in something they’re going to make it work no matter the situation.
Have you seen many of this year’s nominees?
I’ve seen a couple. I’ve seen Funny Cow – Maxine Peake is incredible in that. I loved that. I saw Andrew Haigh’s film, Lean on Pete. I love him so much because we did a show called Looking together. I’m a massive fan of his, and for the kinds of films he’s been making, these awards have probably been incredibly beneficial and supportive over the years. He’s a prime example of why the BIFAs are so important.
I’ve been working through the other nominees this week, and I’m excited to watch these movies. I’ve been so incredibly busy with my own work that I’ve missed so much. But I’ve seen trailers for every single one of them, and now I’m making my way through them all. These films are so incredibly diverse. It’s really exciting because they’re all so different. Horror, thriller, domestic drama, comedy. The diverse range of movies we’re making – our output – is amazing. It’s beautiful.
Judi Dench is getting the Richard Harris Award this year. It must be every actor’s dream to share a stage with her.
Of course! She’s an icon and she’s an absolutely wonderful woman. She’s incredibly supportive and she’s a true actor who believes in her craft. She’s obsessed with theatre and she’s the real deal. She’s someone we would all aspire to be. Look at the longevity of her career and the diversity of the opportunities she’s had. The roles that she’s played that have really affected people for generations. And she’s British. She’s ours. She’s ours, but she’s world-class.
At least one BIFA host, Jimmy Nesbitt, who hosted on multiple occasions, would open with a song. Do you have one up your sleeve?
You know, that hadn’t occurred to me, but now you’ve put the thought it my head, it may be a consideration. Let’s see…