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Final Bow: Russell Tovey's "Grownup" Experience in A View From the Bridge

The History Boys and Looking star on French bulldog-inspired artwork, visits from Daniel Day-Lewis, and the "nectar" that is a vocal audience.

Russell Tovey celebrates the opening night of Arthur Miller's A View From the Bridge.
(© David Gordon)

Russell Tovey had an intimidating task ahead of him: In less than two weeks time he had to make himself a part of a company that had been performing together for nearly a year. In his words, he pulled his "underwear up tight," and dove headfirst into rehearsals for the Broadway mounting of Ivo van Hove's radical reimagining of Arthur Miller's A View From the Bridge.

The former History Boy and Looking star plays the Italian immigrant Rodolpho, whose arrival marks the beginning of the downfall of protagonist Eddie Carbone (Mark Strong). It's a role that requires Tovey to participate in one of the most shocking onstage moments in many years, one that causes the audience to "literally scream." Here, Tovey looks back on such vociferous reactions — and the fan art they make for his French bulldog Rocky.

Russell Tovey (rear) as Rodolpho, with Mark Strong as Eddie Carbone, in Ivo van Hove's Broadway revival of A View From the Bridge.
(© Jan Versweyveld)

1. What is your favorite line that you deliver?
"You think we have no tall buildings in Italy?" It feels like a very cheeky, patronizing line. It's like, "Italy isn't this hovel that I've come from." That line epitomizes so much about the assumptions that people have [about others].

2. Everyone loves inside jokes. What is the best one from your show?
The very end of the play, when the lights go down, there's a moment where we drop our characters. We all look at each other like "ugh" and then we bow. Everyone sort of stands up and goes, "Ugh."

3. What was the most "interesting" present someone gave you at the stage door?
My dog Rocky is with me during the run. Someone gave me a French bulldog cookie jar. I've received artwork of Rocky, French bulldog-inspired artwork…There are a lot of Rocky fans out there. Somebody [also] bought me moisturizing body cream that arrived yesterday.

4. Who is the coolest person that came to see your show? (You can't say your family!)
Daniel Day-Lewis was here the other day. Jake Gyllenhaal. Frances McDormand. Emma Stone. These are the people I've been most excited about. It's been a great run of people coming backstage.

5. What was it like to slip into a company that had been doing the play for more than a year with only nine days' rehearsal?
Luckily, everyone is welcoming and open and giving and generous. Because they're a British cast, we knew of each other. It was nerve-wracking, but it's good to test yourself, isn't it? Especially being creative; it's good to put yourself on the line and have to man-up in that moment. It felt like, "pull your underwear up tight and take a first step out and go."

6. How do you feel about having the audience onstage with you?
It's the best. You only know what a play is by the audience. To have the people onstage that close, you can feel their energy and tension, and have their moments of gasping right next to your ears. It feels like you're performing a very, very intimate domestic drama with all of these people. I don't know why more people don't do it.

7. Which scene in the production elicits the most vocal reaction?
It's the kissing scene [where Eddie kisses both Catherine and Rodolpho]. The screams! We have shows where people literally scream. It's nectar. It's heaven when you get that reaction. It means they're with you and totally know the dynamics of the characters. They understand the enormity of the action that Eddie does. There are always gasps, but some people are like "OH MY GOD!" and catching their breath, subconsciously letting out this noise that they don't mean to. The theater can move you to a place where you're unaware that you're making a noise.

Russell Tovey (left) and his fellow History Boys in a promotional image for the 2006 film adaptation of Alan Bennett's play, in which they all appeared.
(© Twentieth Century Fox)

8. You made your Broadway debut in The History Boys in 2006. How is this Broadway experience different from that one?
I feel like I'm a grown-up now. Interview me in ten years and I'll say, "I was a child when I was doing A View From the Bridge." For me, it's a whole new show and a whole new run. [The other cast members] did it a hundred and fifty times [before coming to New York], where when I came to Broadway with History Boys, we had all performed it like three hundred times. I was younger and now the City feels different. I feel incredibly welcomed by the city. Not that I didn't before, but at that point in my life, I missed home. I miss home now, but now, the City has grabbed me by the balls.

9. How many times have you had to bleach your hair during this run? Will you stay a bleached blond when it ends?
We do it every three or four weeks. I have done it four or five times, and I think I've got one more dye session. If a part comes up and requires it, I'll maintain it. Otherwise, I'll let it grow out and go back to my regular dirty-brown mess.

10. You spent time during this run going back and forth to California shooting the Looking film. What was that like?
I thought I would be going back and forth on my Mondays off, but they managed to shoot all of my stuff in one day. It was one twelve-hour day in San Francisco. I was devastated that I wouldn't be able to do [Looking initially], but they accumulated all of my stuff for one day. I was over the moon that I was able to do both projects.

Russell Tovey with Jonathan Groff in an episode of the HBO series Looking.
(© John P. Johnson)