Russell Tovey on his new dark and witty family drama: 'I hope viewers will be hooked. I think they're going to love it'


Imelda Staunton (Maleficent, Paddington, Harry Potter), Francesca Annis (Home Fires, Cranford), Russell Tovey (Years and Years, Quantico, Being Human) and Stephen Rea (War and Peace, The Honourable Woman, The Stranger) star in Flesh and Blood, a darkly witty and gripping four-part drama airing throughout April on ITV Choice (DStv 123) and DStv Now.

Created and written by Sarah Williams (The Long Song, Case Sensitive, Poppy Shakespeare), Flesh and Blood explores family dynamics and modern relationships, proving we can never really know what's going on behind closed doors.

Three adult siblings - Helen (Claudie Blakley), Jake (Russell Tovey) and Natalie (Lydia Leonard) - are thrown into disarray when their recently widowed mother Vivien (Francesca Annis) declares she's in love with a new man, Mark (Stephen Rea). Then there's Mary (Imelda Staunton), who has lived next door to Vivien for 40 years. Despite not being family, Mary appears overly attentive to Vivien and her family's unfolding drama.

As she nears her 70th birthday, the siblings' suspicions are heightened when retired GP Mark sweeps their mother off her feet, shifting her priorities away from her children. The happiness of Vivien's 45-year marriage to their father, Terry, is called into question, which sends a seismic shock through the lives of the siblings. Years of secrets, lies, rivalries and betrayals come to the surface and threaten to blow apart everything they've held dear.


In this Q&A Russell Tovey tells us more about his character, the show, and what it was like working with the rest of the cast. 

What is Flesh and Blood about?

"Flesh and Blood is partly the story of three grown-up children - my character Jake, Helen (Claudie Blakley) and Natalie (Lydia Leonard) - accepting that their parents are adults and have their own lives. All three children are adults themselves now with their own grown-up lives and yet are weirdly infantilised.

"Their father has died some 18 months before the start of the story, leaving their mother Vivien (Francesca Annis) all alone in the family home. In going back to that childhood home, they quickly adapt to being the children again, and their mum is their mum. That's the role she plays as far as they see it. She then introduces them to a new man in her life - Mark, played by Stephen Rea. Will they accept that relationship?

"They are quite a selfish trio. Their own lives are not organised, and they all have their own problems. For their mum to be settled and having a pleasant time, holds a mirror up to their own situations.

"Their mum is at an age where she feels like she has done her duty. The children should now be old enough to make their own mistakes and learn from them, not to come running home to mum and expect her to sort it all out. It's her time now. She can't always be there for them like she used to.

"All of the children have issues in their lives which they hide from each other. None of them communicate on that level. They are like swans. On the surface, it looks like they have got it all together, but underneath they are kicking the weeds around and panicking.

"It's a very interesting dynamic to act with this trio of siblings who are constantly niggling and bickering with each other. They might be there for the others, but they don't really know each other at all."

Are secrets revealed about their parents' marriage?

"Children don't really want to know the details about their parents' relationship. You project on to your parents that they are perfect. They are the ones who have given you the blueprint for what it is to be an adult from your own formative years. You want them to stay on a pedestal.

"It's coming to the realisation that the authoritative figures in your life like your teachers and parents are just human beings. That's quite the realisation. Because you want them to be superheroes. Then you find out they're not. As in this drama, the mother continually drops hints insinuating their late father was not a saint. For Jake, his dad was everything to him. To hear that really does rock him."

What attracted you to the role of Jake?

"It was the opportunity to play the role of a father as I have not yet done so. I've always been drawn to domestic dramas and that emotional connection you have with your parents and siblings. That is something that has always fascinated me on an emotional level. To play with this dynamic of being part of a family is something I find interesting and was too exciting to pass up.

"And to play a character who has so much animosity towards this older man who has come into his mother's life. It was a really great role and something I had to explore."

Ayden Beale and Russell Tovey in 'Flesh and Blood.

(FATHER/SON MOMENT: Russell and his on screen son, Ayden Beale. Photo: ITV Choice)

How does Jake react to Mark?

"Coming just 18 months after the funeral of Jake's father it all seems a bit disrespectful. Jake has no respect for Mark on any level. He doesn't believe a word he says and doesn't like the idea of this man being with his mum.

"Suddenly, Jake now sees his mum as a sexual being, and that image is rather repulsive for him. Why does he have to think like that about his mum? Where does this man come from, and what is his agenda? He can't trust Mark to just be a man who has fallen for his mum."

What has happened to Jake and his wife Leila (Lara Rossi)?

"Jake is a gambling addict and subsequently has gotten himself into serious debt resulting in jeopardising the well-being of his wife and two young children. His wife was oblivious to what was going on, and they have separated. He threw that all away. Jake is a personal trainer earning decent money, but he wanted more. He thought he could achieve that through gambling, but he wasn't smart enough. And as we see today, a lot of gamblers, not least young men, can become addicted and get themselves into serious trouble and debt.

"Jake and his wife are separated and are still in love. She feels betrayed by Jake and is desperately afraid he might turn to gambling again. She is deeply angry and saddened about the situation as well as shocked that this was all going on without her knowledge.

"And I think Jake has also shocked himself. He has hollowed out. Jake has a very strong exterior but inside he is incredibly sensitive – and disappointed in himself. That's probably worse than someone else being disappointed in you because you feel like you've let yourself down.

"The question of money also rears its head among the three siblings. This can cause huge disputes within families. Jake is especially concerned as money is the reason he is in the mess he is in. He is desperate to get cash to pay off his debts and get back with Leila and their children."

How would you describe Jake's relationship with fitness client Stella (Sharon Small)?

"Stella and Jake have come to a personal/professional understanding between each other. It helps Jake out in a couple of different ways and takes his mind off what else is going on his life. Jake has developed feelings for Stella but in more of a respectful way rather than on the emotional level he holds his wife. It's another layer to Jake where he is behaving without really taking any responsibility for any of his actions.

"Jake is not the greatest when it comes to relationships. He will happily give those around him advice but is no good when it comes to taking it himself in his own life. Outwardly to the world it looks like he has everything figured out. But that's not the case. He's getting a little older and has possibly lost the passion for his job as a personal trainer. Jake has really messed up his life and is lashing out all over the place."

Russell Tovey as Jake in 'Flesh and Blood.'

(THE PERSONAL TRAINER: Russell enjoyed filming scenes in the gym. Photo: ITV Choice)

Where did you film?

"We filmed a lot of the drama in Eastbourne. The family home is on the beach, so you can walk up from the sea into the house. It was an amazing location. Eastbourne is lovely. I had no idea. Really beautiful.

"We filmed in the summer for a drama that is set in the summer. On many occasions, you film dramas that are meant to be set in the summer and it's actually winter when you are shooting. You are on a beach with shorts on, and it is freezing. That's when you really have to give it some serious acting. This was lovely so should look great on screen.

"In contrast to that lovely childhood home, Jake lives alone in a very grim flat. "

What happens when their mother decides to sell the family home?

"The mother deciding to sell their childhood home rocks the foundations of what the children hold on to so dearly. It's a symbol they go back to which offers the security in their lives which they lack elsewhere. It's the one real solid thing that has kept them together. If they don't have that then what will they have?

"We moved out of my childhood home when I was 14. But my parents still live in the home I lived in from then on. I love that house, but I don't feel like I'd be upset if my parents decided to sell it. I'd feel sad. But my brother and I have gone off and are happy with our lives.

"We're not rooted there now. Our lives don't revolve around that house. Our family is the thing we revolve around. Not the building. Even though it's lovely and holds nice memories, you can make new memories elsewhere.

"Whereas for the Flesh and Blood children, that house is what is keeping them all together. The place where they were their happiest. It has never crossed their minds that this wonderful house by the sea they called home would one day be sold."

Did you enjoy filming the scenes as a personal trainer?

"It felt good to be playing a personal trainer and was fun to film the gym scenes. If I didn't go to the gym, it would have been harder to act as somebody who knows all about fitness and the body. But luckily I do go to the gym."

What was it like working with the rest of the cast?

"I loved working with Francesca Annis and Imelda Staunton, who plays Vivien's next-door neighbour Mary. And my screen sisters Claudie and Lydia are friends for life. I called us 'The Three Sisters'. I absolutely adore them. They are fantastic. Along with Lara Rossi who plays my long-suffering wife, Leila and Sharon Small as Stella.

"The best thing about this job is we are all very instinctive actors and in tune with each other. We were given the freedom to talk over each other. When filming most television shows, the sound crew want you to really separate what you are saying. But in Flesh and Blood that was not the case.

"Louise Hooper, who is an awesome director, wanted it to be real. So we were able to squabble, improvise a little and speak over each other. As people do in a family. It felt great to do those scenes. Although a lot of times we would just break down giggling because someone would say something funny. It was a really fun job.

"I'm excited about the prospect of it coming on screen; I hope viewers will be hooked. I think they're going to love it."

The family in Flesh and Blood.

(THE FAMILY: 'A fantastic cast'. Photo: ITV Choice)

What's next for you?

"Right now, I'm focusing a lot on my podcast - Talk Art - which is a passion project I share with gallerist and friend Robert Diament."

Catch episode one of Flesh and Blood on DStv Now with new episodes on ITV Choice (DStv 123) Mondays at 20:00.


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