Russell Tovey on seeing ghost dogs and his first lead role in TV

Image source, ITV
Image caption,
The haunting of Russell Tovey: the actor plays Nathan in ITV's The Sister

"I didn't find it scary but I saw a ghost dog," Russell Tovey explains very calmly.

"I'm convinced of it, I saw a big white ghost dog at a house in Basildon, make of that what you will."

With Halloween looming, it's that time of year when we ask about ghostly sightings.

Most people haven't seen a thing, but Russell, who is being haunted in his latest role in ITV's The Sister, has some actual experience.

He says it was about six years ago when he was staying at a friend's very old house.

Image source, Patrick McMullan
Image caption,
The ghostly experience hasn't put him off white dogs forever

"There was this clairvoyant woman who turned up in the middle of the day," he explains.

"She started stroking the air and my friend's mum asked what she was doing, the woman said 'you've got a dog here and I'm stroking the dog'."

Unfazed by this, they all stayed in the house and later that evening, while they were watching television, Russell had his spooky encounter.

"I remember, I looked out down the hall, and there was a big white dog coming down the stairs.

"My first thought was 'where's that come from?' And then it ran down the hall and disappeared."

Image source, ITV
Image caption,
Nothing good can come from this spooky scene in The Sister

When he told everyone what he had seen, they laughed and accused him of being an attention seeker.

"I felt quite special that I'd seen it," he says.

"It might have been a different situation if it was a person, I would probably have made a mess on the couch."

Now he is grappling with a human ghost in The Sister.

In the four-part horror/thriller he plays Nathan who is married to the sister of a missing girl.

"It is scary, it is a really scary show," he admits.

"As an audience, you are conflicted because you care about the characters and you want the truth to come out.

"But you also want the truth kept hidden because you don't want it to affect the characters."

Image caption,
Is he holding the ghost dog in this picture? Russell's first TV role as Bill in CBBC's Mud in 1994

Believe it or not, this is Russell's first television lead role.

He has been on our screens for more than 20 years, starting in Mud on CBBC, and is best known for roles in Being Human, Him & Her and Years and Years.

While he is incredibly excited at leading a primetime show, he admits it is a lot of hard work.

"When I finished, I thought it's quite nice to play number two or three on the call sheet because you get a few days off," he laughs.

Image caption,
Russell as Steve with his on-screen girlfriend Becky, played by Sarah Solemani, in BBC's Him & Her

It doesn't bother Russell that this leading role has come in his late 30s, in fact, he is positive he couldn't have done it any younger.

"The thing about being an actor is that you cherry-pick emotions from your real life and then channel them into playing roles," he explains.

"So what I've experienced since my early 20s to late 30s is totally different and an asset to be able to access these sorts of characters and unlock them.

"There is no way I could have played Nathan in my 20s like I can play him now."

Image source, Ferdaus Shamim
Image caption,
Russell and James Corden have been friends since they starred in the History Boys in 2004

For Russell it is all about playing the long game.

His good friend James Corden told him years ago that as an actor you want to always stay warm and not worry about being hot.

"If you're hot, you can only stay hot for so long," he says.

"To maintain that hotness is really hard, the moment you have a flop, things can start to wane.

"It is much more rewarding to stay warm, be someone that everyone loves to work with and be a bit of a chameleon in roles."

Image caption,
One of Russell's many roles over the years, Alonso Frame in Dr Who

Russell feels he has always maintained a warmth, getting hotter and cooler at various times, like a spring day.

"I think that's my sort of energy, rather than being like a scorching record-breaking day in July," he says.

"I feel like I sort of coasted through like a gentle day where you might need a sweater in the evening, but otherwise you're happy just wearing a T-shirt."

The Sister is on ITV over four night from Monday 26 October.

Follow Newsbeat on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

Listen to Newsbeat live at 12:45 and 17:45 weekdays - or listen back here