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Russell Tovey: 'I'm desperate to play ruthless characters'

Russell Tovey has revealed that he was so desperate to play a different type of role in new drama Banished that he didn’t realise he was being offered the lead instead.

He said that he was usually asked to play lovable wallies, but admitted that things were changing now that he's "getting older, filling out a bit and growing facial hair."

In the BBC2 drama, the actor plays pickpocket James Freeman, who is shipped to Australia with a group of other convicts to set up a penal colony in the 18th century.

Banished Russell Tovey

Russell Tovey plays James Freeman in Banished (BBC)

Russell had been hoping to play Major Ross in the BBC Jimmy McGovern series, but was gutted to be offered the part of a convict instead.

He said of Major Ross: “He’s completely against type for me. Very cold, calculated, and my heart was set on it.”

Talking about being offered James instead, he said: “I went, ‘Oh no, I don’t want to play him, he doesn’t have that much of a journey’, and they went, ‘Are you crazy? He’s the lead’.

Banished

MyAnna Buring, Julian Rhind Tutt and Russell Tovey star in Banished (BBC)

“I just got fixated on Ross, so didn’t put myself in the frame for anyone else, and hadn’t read the scripts through James’ eyes.”

On filming in the Australian wilderness, Russell added: “I had a real leech attached to me, I ate a Witchetty grub, and one of the crew got bitten by a mouse spider. My nature skills, particularly in relation to avoiding certain death, have improved a lot.”

Banished begins on BBC2 on Thursday, 5 March.