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Russell Tovey on how being gay has shaped all his on-screen performances

The star of 'Looking' and 'Years and Years' reflects on the relationship between art and sexuality in the Attitude May issue, out now.

By Will Stroude

When he’s not on screen in his usual capacity as one of the UK’s most prominent actors, Russell Tovey and gallerist Robert Diament host Talk Art, a podcast interviewing leading figures in the visual arts.

As they prepare to publish the podcast’s eponymous guide to contemporary art, Russell sat down with celebrated conceptual artist and painter (and good friend) Sir Michael Craig-Martin to discuss their mutual adoration of the arts, and how their sexuality has become a canvas for their careers.

Russell wears tee by CDLP for the Attitude May issue, out now to download and to order globally (Photography: Mark Cant)

“As an actor, no matter who you’re playing, you draw on your own experiences and your own sort of events in your life that trigger emotions,” Russell says as he appears on the cover of the Attitude May issue, out now to download and to order globally.

“So, that goes into every character you’re playing, but that comes from you as a gay man. You draw on [those experiences] and then you use them as an actor and channel those into whatever emotion the character needs that you’re playing.”

Russell wears shirt by Moschino (Photography: Mark Cant)

Sir Michael Craig-Martin, who is famed for works including 1973’s An Oak Tree and has been described as the ‘godfather of Brit art’, agrees that being gay has shaped his artistic outlook, even if it doesn’t shape all the work itself.

“I have questioned about being gay and in relation to art”, says Sir Michael. “It’s obvious that I don’t do art in which the subject matter is identifiably gay. But I think that for anybody who is a creative person, being gay is a deep part — it’s not the only part — but it’s a deep part of one’s person, and that comes out in everything.

“It’s in my work regardless of whether it’s the subject. The subject is the most superficial aspect. Who one is, is unavoidable.”

The ‘godfather of Brit art’ Sir Michael Craig-Martin discusses creation and sexuality with art fanatic Russell Tovey in the Attitude May issue, out now.

Sir Michael continues: “I think it has to do with my whole sensibility. I think it’s how one is in the world. I’m very interested in the idea that nobody makes anything except for a purpose. Even things that appear to have almost no purpose to them.

Reflecting on when they first realised they weren’t like other boys growing up, 39-year-old Russell and 79-year-old Sir Michael compare their experiences as gay men growing up in two very different worlds.

“Looking back, [I realised I was gay] very early”, Russell reveals. “Admitting it to myself, probably about 15, 16, I guess. But then looking back, yeah, I just think I used to think of that more than I assumed my friends did.”

Sir Michael adds: “I probably always did. I think there was some sense that I had about myself, and the world. I mean, I felt different than most other kids, as one does for various reasons, of course I wouldn’t have known that meant by sexuality, but a sense that one isn’t quite the same.”

“I don’t think I ever had a feeling that ‘I wish this wasn’t the case’,” reflects Russell. “I think I always felt like I was part of a special little club.

“Once I understood what that club was, I was, like, ‘OK, this is cool’…”

The Attitude May issue is out now to download and to order globally.

Subscribe in print and get your first three issues for just £1 each, or digitally for just £1.08 per issue (limited time only).