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Russell Tovey interview: The ‘Years and Years’ star on his tough new role in spooky thriller 'The Sister'

Russell Tovey stars in "The Sister."
Russell Tovey stars in "The Sister." (Image credit: ITV)

Russell Tovey has played everything from a housing officer caught up in an immigration disaster in Years and Years to a troubled werewolf in Being Human. But his latest role in ITV’s twisty thriller The Sister has proved to be the toughest role of his career.

The four-part drama, penned by Luther creator Neil Cross and based on his 2009 novel Burial, sees Tovey play one-time radio producer Nathan who, along with eccentric paranormal expert Bob (Doctor Foster’s Bertie Carvel) was involved in the mysterious death of a young woman, Elise (Sex Education’s Simone Ashley), after a New Year party a decade ago.

Nathan is now happily married to Elise’s unsuspecting sister Holly (The Good Karma Hospital’s Amrita Acharia). But his life falls apart when a disheveled Bob arrives on his doorstep and reveals that the woods where they buried Elise are being dug up for a housing development and they need to move the body. And Elise’s spirit might just be restless…

Here, Russell Tovey reveals all about The Sister.

The Sister on ITV: Russell Tovey on his character Nathan

“At a New Year’s Eve party 10 years ago Nathan fancies this girl but they go for a drive with Bob and something happens and the girl dies,” says Russell Tovey. “Nathan has rebuilt himself and put Pandora in the box, but now Pandora’s running around crazy and he's trying to get her back in. He’s riddled with fear. It’s about the unravelling of a good person who got involved in a situation he shouldn’t have. He and Bob first met when Nathan worked at the radio station and Bob came on and talked about ghosts. Now they’ve become trapped together. For Nathan, Bob epitomises all that’s bad about the world. Everything he’s trying to avoid, Bob’s digging up.” 

The Sister on ITV: Russell Tovey on the drama’s supernatural twists

From left, Bertie Carvel, Russell Tovey and Amrita Acharia in "The Sister."

From left, Bertie Carvel, Russell Tovey and Amrita Acharia in "The Sister." (Image credit: ITV)

“There’s this paranormal energy both Bob and Nathan are feeling regarding Elise," says Tovey. “But your mind can trick you. It’s something that Nathan desperately doesn’t want to believe in, but it’s imposing on his life and more terrifying than the prospect of prison.” 

The Sister on ITV: Russell Tovey on why the role has been hard to shake off

“It was a gift but when I finished I had to push Nathan away because it got under my skin, I was exhausted. It’s the hardest job I’ve done. Every scene is a panic attack or anxiety or screaming or crying,” says Tovey. “There are three timelines [2009, 2013 when Nathan falls for Holly and the present day] so it's a lot to think about. On set, I like a laugh, but on this, everyone probably thought I was a moody git!”

The Sister on ITV: Russell Tovey on his own supernatural experiences

“I one saw a ghost dog,” laughs Tovey. “My friend had an old house and this clairvoyant came round and started stroking the air and said there was a big white dog there. They told me the story and then I saw a big white dog run up the stairs! And my mum once experienced some poltergeist activity. She was watching a keep fit video and a pen rose in the air, went across the room and dropped on the floor. She said to the pen, ‘You're not doing that in my house!’ And she carried on her keep fit – that’s my mum!”

When and where can you watch The Sister with Russell Tovey playing Nathan?

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The Sister will be on ITV in Britain on four consecutive nights from Oct. 26 to 29 at 9 p.m. and should be available at a later date on streaming service Hulu.