Russell Tovey tells us about his role in a brand new ITV comedy, The Job Lot, following the inept staff of a busy West Midlands Job Centre…

So, tell us about the staff at the Brownall Job Centre…

“Everyone has just ended up here and really doesn’t want to be here. I mean, who aspires to working in a job centre? The manager Trish (Sarah Hadland) acts like it’s the dream job, like she’s hit gold, but the rest of us are all slightly hollow, slightly withered by it all. On a daily basis, you’re coming up against people that are terribly depressed, skint, angry, bitter and the staff is exactly the same!”

Trish has a bit of a crush on your character Karl, doesn’t she?

“Yes, he’s the apple of her eye and that’s lovely for Karl in a weird sort of way. I think he actually looks forward to her attention because he’s not getting anything else in his life. Suddenly, he has some importance. They’re both a bit co-dependent in the work place. What’s sad about is that he has nothing else going on in his life so he may as well sit there and endure her endless stories about her ex!”

Karl nearly cracks in the first episode and announces that he’s quitting his job. Why does he stay?

“It’s a massive moment for Karl. Suddenly he’s like, ‘My life’s gonna change. I’m gonna grab it by the b***s! – Oh wait, there’s a pretty girl, I’m gonna stay!’ Once the office temp (Emma Rigby) turns up and there’s a bit of excitement on the agenda, he changes his mind and stays.”

Is it hard to make a comedy out of people out of work?

“The script is very respectful to the unemployed and the employed, it’s not patronising at all as it’s just observing the awkward situation. There’s a lot of heart in this show, there’s no coldness about it. Every character is doing the best they can. Trish and Karl are so passionate about it. You’re with these people daily who are damaged. Graham is certainly not going to find work, but you have to go through the motions. The heart of it is that we’re all struggling, we’ve all got issues.”

Have you ever had a job that was going nowhere?

“I worked at Clarks Shoes when I was at college, but I loved it! Talking to old ladies all day, selling them bags and shoes. I got £1 a bag commission and 10 per cent if I sold polishes and cleaning products. At the time, Oasis were wearing Clarks Wallabies so they were really cool. If you worked there you got 70 per cent off so I got all of them and then ran off to the theatre. It is a shame because I could’ve been head of Clarks in Romford by now.”

Are you the kind of optimistic person who enjoys whatever job you’re doing?

“Yeah, although I always felt that Clarks wasn’t my career. I made friends there and took the p**s out of it a bit. One day they rang me up and said: ‘You’re meant to be in today, where are you?’ I was like, ‘Sorry, I’m skiing.’ I was literally on the mountain! Bad, isn’t it?”

Are you anything like Karl?

“When I played George in Being Human, I wanted him to be like a puppy dog – squealing and anxious – whereas Steve in Him & Her is quite cool as he’s trying to impress the girls. But with Karl, everything’s just a bit s**t. I wanted to make him even less energised, but people might fall asleep watching it. There’s not much you can change about my appearance. Extensions on my ears, perhaps? No, I don’t need that.”

Do you think the show owes a debt to The Office?

“I do yes. It’s absolutely in the same vein. It’s allowing you to view these characters and what they’re really like. When The Office came out it was unique and a modern approach to observing performances. If people compare it, brilliant.”