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Wednesday 29 Oct 2014

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Death In Paradise – interview with Ben Miller

Ben Miller plays DI Richard Poole © Red Planet: photographer Amelia Troubridge

How did you become involved with Death In Paradise?

I was on holiday in Ibiza, having a lovely time, writing a book and looking at the stars every night and generally not having a care in the world. Then I got sent the script for Death in Paradise. I couldn't get back to England in time for the auditions so my girlfriend filmed me on her camera and I sent it off via email. A few weeks later I met with the director and producer. So I actually have Jess, my partner, to thank for the job.

How would you describe Richard Poole?

He's a bit of a mixed bag really. I think he's sort of been stalled slightly in his career. I don't think he's really been allowed to reach the rank that he should have, because I don't think he's great with people. However, he is remarkably good at a lot of what he does and other things he's just peculiarly inept at.

He's funny, he's got a good sense of humour but not necessarily witty. He's a loner, you feel that he sort of has trouble forming relationships, whether it's at work or in his private life.

How does he get on with the different members of his team?

With Camille I think he's alternately impressed and utterly infuriated by. She never really does things the way Richard believes they are supposed to be done, she's always cutting corners and making leaps of intuition and I think he finds that a bit frustrating. Richard loves nothing better than filling in a form and making sure that all the boxes are ticked.

I think he finds Dwayne equally baffling, because Dwayne has, to all outward appearances, a very laid-back approach to police work and he's got a very individual dress sense and a very unfettered approach to solving crimes.

I think Dwayne is also, in some senses, Richard's nemesis because he constantly has to ride in the sidecar on Dwayne's motorbike, which he finds very hard to stomach.

And then there's Fidel – I think Richard sees a certain amount of himself in Fidel – Fidel is extremely hard-working and conscientious and as the series goes on, he becomes increasingly distracted for one reason or another and I think when Richard shows disappointment in Fidel it's somehow more keenly felt than it is perhaps in Dwayne or Camille, because I think he really has a little bit of an almost mentor or father/son relationship with Fidel.

Richard inherits an incredible house when he goes out to the island, can you describe it?

The nearest thing I can describe it as, is like walking into a house you've dreamed. It's situated on a completely flawless beach surrounded by jungle.

It's built around a tree – it was built for the show – and it's full of eccentricities, the way the place itself was built and all the little knick-knacks that are inside it makes it feel completely magical.

It was one of the most transporting sets I've ever worked on, in that you didn't really have to do much, other than just react to the building as it was. It's a very hard thing to describe, I mean it's an amazing set and instantly all you want to do is think "can I live here?"

I was tempted to stay the night there but then I realised there weren't any windows, so then I thought I'd give it a miss!

How did you find working with French film actress Sara Martins?

I loved all my scenes with Sara, I just think she's just such a fantastic actress.

I'm a huge fan of French comedy, the French play comedy in a slightly different way than we do, they play it with a sort of realism that we don't necessarily often do ourselves. I love that style of playing and it's brilliant fun working with Sara. It felt very natural right from the very beginning.

Death in Paradise has been produced by Red Planet Pictures and Atlantique Productions in association with BBC Worldwide and Kudos Film and TV for BBC and France Télévisions, produced with support from the region of Guadeloupe. Did you feel that the co-production made a difference to filming?

It did because you were sort of aware that we were making the show for an international audience.

In a practical sense a huge number of the cast and crew were French, so French was often the language that was spoken on set and I enjoyed that a lot. I enjoyed learning French and I enjoyed speaking French. And I really miss speaking French now that I've got back because I was really, really into it and one of the most fun things for me was speaking French at work all day. That was really great.

Richard wears a wool suit throughout the whole series: how did costume adapt that for you in the 40 degree heat?

There's not that much you can do really, I mean they cut the lining out of the suit but at the end of the day, you really just have to wear a wool suit! I wish we'd found some sort of incredible fibre used by astronauts that looks like wool, but no, it was just wool.

You often find something like that really brings a character to life and it becomes something that sort of helps to make them who they are, and it felt like that with that suit. Much as it was uncomfortable to wear, I also couldn't really bear the idea of not wearing it because it felt so right, because that was what he would do.

It made you Richard in a sense?

Yeah, I'm sure he'd still be Richard without the suit, but it seemed right for the stage of the story that we were at.

Was there a favourite standout moment from filming for you?

So many amazing things happened when we were filming this. I've never really lived abroad for any length of time and it was very, very different to England – Guadeloupe – and to be there for such a long period of time, but it was amazing

There were so many moments stand out, some of them bizarre, some of them sort of beautiful.

One day I drove in a car all the way to the top of a volcano, up through the rainforest and it was just the most amazing thing looking out from the very top of the rainforest and seeing the whole island.

I remember we were filming on one side of the island and you could see the volcano on Montserrat erupting – absolutely amazing!

Another day we were filming at a big plantation house over on one of the other sides of the islands where there was a huge iguana in one of the trees, an enormous great thing, probably two and a half feet long!

Death in Paradise is very much a return to the 'whodunnit,' is that what you think audiences will enjoy about the series?

What attracted me to it is it feels sort of classic, it's sort of Agatha Christie murder puzzles but within a very up-to-date setting. It felt like it was a very new way of doing those kind of stories; the team are stuck on this island with no forensics, no ballistics and they have to solve crimes as people solved crimes a century ago and there's something wonderful about that.

There's something wonderful about that sort of Poirot, Agatha Christie style investigation: cross-questioning all the witnesses and checking their stories, looking for means, motive and opportunity.

It's got that wonderful classic feel to it, at the same time as this incredibly unusual tropical island setting and a very remote tropical island at that, remote in the geographical sense. It feels like a different time and place.

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