After Looking finished, we were adrift. Metaphorically speaking that is, TV shows do not control tectonic plates.
The one lifeline we had was the promise of a HBO Looking Special, to tie up loose ends and say goodbye to our favourite characters.
Well it looks like it’s now in production!
Russell Tovey tweeted this picture of the front page of the script yesterday.
So to celebrate the return-ish of our favourite show, we thought we’d dig out Mr Tovey’s interview from the GT Vaults. Enjoy.
It was like something you’d expect to see in the aftermath of a Twilight film. Or a scene from West Side Story. When Looking wrapped up last year, fans from all corners of the globe were nailing their colours firmly to one of two masts – Team Richie or Team Kevin.
Throughout the first series of HBO’s triumph of a show, Jonathan Groff’s Patrick embarked on an on-off relationship with Richie – a Latino barber-cum-bouncer who constantly tried to push Patrick out of his comfort zone. It was somewhat an unconventional choice of boyfriend for the usually-conservative Patrick, with Richie not quite fitting up to his family’s, friend’s and, well, even his own ideals of whom he should be dating.
Then there was Kevin, played by the UK’s own and former GT cover star Russell Tovey. Patrick clumsily hits on Kevin at a video game launch before learning that he is, in fact, his new boss. The pair endure a somewhat prickly relationship throughout the first series, but in the final episode they wind up fucking on their office floor, despite Patrick only having just broken up with Richie, and Kevin having a boyfriend of his own.
So when we catch up with Russell back on home soil, and ask him to shed some light as to why he thinks Patrick finally succumb to them, ahem, forbidden fruit of Kevin, he’s pretty straight to the point with his answer… “Because he’s fucking hot,” he laughs.
“No, seriously, it’s because Kevin appeals to everything Patrick wants to be and who he thinks is acceptable. Richie is a sweet guy, but he kind of needed looking after and protecting, and didn’t fit Patrick’s ideal image in his head.
Whereas Kevin is like him – same age, same interests, powerful, got money, career driven. And that’s where Patrick is too. It’s an aphrodisiac, you know? Kevin has money and power – Patrick has a very straight woman approach to what it is he thinks he wants.”
Fans of the show will be pleased to know that series two picks up right where we left off with series one. Russell and Raúl Castillo, who plays Richie, are both back as regular characters in the second season. But take it from us – as you watch more and more of the second series, it becomes even harder to decide who Patrick should end up with. If either of them at all.
“Richie is a fucking catch though,” Russell adds. “He’s hot and he’s a hairdresser, so you’d never have to pay for your haircuts. That’s going to save you at least £15 a month. He’s charming, he plays the guitar, he looks good naked, he’s funny and he’s got a good smile. But for Patrick, that’s not enough. He needs an A-star gay.
“And, you know, Kevin is Patrick’s boss AND he has a boyfriend. It becomes sexual if someone is unavailable and then suddenly they’re interested in you. There’s something about that state of mind that’s sexy. Sleeping with his boss – what’s sexier than that?”
We reckon it probably depends on who your boss is, but we see where Russell is coming from.
The character of Kevin, however, very nearly didn’t exist. The story goes that Russell originally auditioned for Jonathan Groff’s role, making it to the final two. Michael Lannan and Andrew Haigh both promised Russell a role if the series got picked up and – lo and behold – Kevin was born. “You hear them sorts of promises a lot when you miss out on a role,” Russell explains, “and nine times out of ten it doesn’t happen, so I wasn’t holding my breath. I tried Kevin with both an American and British accent, and they loved the British one. So that’s how he came about – I was intending him to be American, but they wanted the whole kind of One Direction, Game of Thrones element to it. The Downton Abbey effect.”
With a part seemingly tailor-written for Russell, does that mean there are more than a few parallels between he actor and the character? “Well, we’re both into men, so that’s pretty similar,” laughs Russell. “And we both like Jonathan Groff!
“Kevin’s not overly alpha male, exactly, but he’s definitely sure of himself – and he knows what he wants. I try and achieve a sort of coolness, so that’s what I try and put into Kevin. It’s like he’s a swan on top of the water, but his legs are flapping about underneath, you know? He’s keeping it all under control. I try doing that when shit hits the fan or I’m doing something bad – I try and maintain my cool. In that aspect, we’re very similar.”
Tovey fans left unquenched by the last episode’s seriously hot scene will be pleased to hear there’s much more of the actor parading around in his birthday suit the second time around.
“Well we’ve all had sex and we all know what we’re doing,” says Russell. “And we all know we want to make it look good – everyone wants to look good! I feel very, very relaxed in the sex scenes with Jonathan. We can both go for it and at no point do I feel like I’m taking advantage, or like I’m being taken advantage of. Whenever I did scenes with Joe Williamson, who plays my boyfriend Jon, he’s straight in real life… He’s fucking brilliant, but a part of me always felt slightly guilty that he had to kiss and cuddle and be intimate with me.
“I felt like, ‘I know this isn’t your game, it’s my game, and I don’t want you to ever feel like I’m taking advantage just because it’s written in the script and you signed up for it.’ Do you know what I mean? I felt like I had a responsibility with Joe. But with Jonathan, I was literally just like, hands and fingers everywhere – and he loved it! And vice versa, because it’s comfortable and it’s real. That’s the most freeing thing – it feels very, very easy to have sex with Jonathan Groff.”
We should all be so lucky to be able to make such a claim. But it soon brought us on to the topic of the way gay sex is portrayed on mainstream TV shows. The sex scenes in Looking have never really seemed gratuitous in any way – they’ve always had a place, and been used as a mechanism to drive the plot forward. Compared to say, 16 years ago with Queer as Folk in the UK, when it was groundbreaking – and necessary – to show graphic portrayals of what happens when men who like men jump into bed together.
“Looking isn’t glorifying gay sex as something cartoony,” explains Russell. “It’s just real life and the sex scenes are there because they’re showing a side to gay life which is important. You know, sex is very important to gay men – and showing these scenes isn’t just titillation. They’re there to open up the world and educate in some ways. A lot of people have come away from the show saying, ‘I didn’t realise you could fuck a man in the missionary position!’
“I remember when I first saw Queer as Folk and it shows rimming – I didn’t know what that was when I watched it. I’d never heard that word before in my life. Now you hear it every day – it’s as common as hearing the word ‘fisting.’ It’s not as shocking anymore. But Looking isn’t out there to shock or to make people angry – it’s there to create discussions, but in a healthy way.”
Maybe the last taboo then for conservative society – on both sides of the Atlantic – is not that gay men are out there having sex. And good sex, at that. Maybe it’s that gay men are out there having relationships and being, dare we say it, intimate?
Sixteen years ago, Queer as Folk shouted from the roof tops that, yes, we were here, we were queer and we were having sex. But now, in 2015, shows like Looking, Cucumber, Banana and Tofu are telling mainstream society a different message – we’re living just like the rest of you are, we’re settling down, and we’re happy. Fisting doesn’t shock anyone anymore – but maybe the idea of two blokes in bed on a Sunday morning, with takeaway pizza from the night before and a shared Netflix account, does.
“Before now, gay shows have only shown fucking,” agrees Russell. “Just fucking – that’s it. There’s no intimacy. You might have a kiss now or then, but it’s about the intimacy, which is a beautiful part of life. It’s more shocking these days to see two men cuddling and watching a film on the sofa. It’s because you’ve not seen that, before now. All you’ve seen is two men fucking in bed, sweating, with perfect bodies.”
Which, unfortunately, isn’t how it always happens, is it Russell?
“Well, it is in my world.”
If you want to read all of our fantastic Looking interviews, you can find them in February’s GT from gaytimesmagazine.com.