Returning: Death in Paradise
It's a Christmas special and new season on the way.
The Death in Paradise 2021 Christmas special will screen 8:30pm on BBC First next Monday.
And Season 11 will be fast-tracked from 10am Saturday January 8 (rpt 8:30pm).
Ralf Little returns as D.I. Neville Parker. Here is a Q+A he has given to media.
You’re back as D.I. Neville Parker for series eleven of Death in Paradise, how excited were you to head back to Guadeloupe?
I was absolutely delighted! Last year, when the world was struck by a pandemic and most people had to be in lockdown, I was lucky enough to be out in paradise working, so I had a proper sense of purpose. I sort of pinch myself every day and think I couldn’t be luckier to be out here and working and actually, it’s probably been tougher this year pandemic-wise than it was last year. Even though the vaccine is out this year, as everyone at home knows it’s not as simple as, ‘oh right well it’s done now’, there are still restrictions and difficulties. So, it’s been a challenging couple of series of the shoot, but it’s been a dream, an absolute dream.
Some people keep asking, “are you looking forward to going home?” and I’m like, well I gather it’s very cold and there’s a lot of rain… I love being home when I’m home, but I’m not in any rush.
You’ll be spending Christmas in Devon this year…
Yeah, I’m going down to see my mum – she moved there from my family home where I grew up in Manchester. When I finished my first series of Death in Paradise, I went back home and shot a programme around the north with Ricky Tomlinson and on the weekends, I was helping my mum pack up her house and move. It was not easy. She moved to Devon to be near my sister, and she’s never looked back, she’s just completely happy. It’s on the coast, a lovely area of the world where a lot of British surfers go to. It’d be an amazing twist to the story wouldn’t if I said, “and now my mum’s a county level surfer”. But no, she’s got the option if she wants it though, put it that way.
Where do we find Neville when we join him at the start of this series?
Well, of course, as I’m sure everyone will remember, the end of last series saw him right on the verge, of telling Florence how he feels. The start of this series picks up right off the back of that and deals with the aftermath of how that conversation goes. The first few episodes deal with what that aftermath looks like. So, Neville’s personal journey is very much taken up with that and then as the series continues it’s about him working out what his new life looks like. There’s a lot of personal stuff for him to figure out in this series and it’s always nice to have a character that’s not just doing their job but is also dealing with their personal life too – there’s lots to get to grips with!
How do you think Neville has developed over the last two years on the island?
I think the writers have done a great job with Neville. I was involved at the very start with who he was going to be and what he was going to be like. For a character to work coming into a series, they have to arrive struggling with something. If they don’t, it’s all too easy and viewers – whether they realise it or not – aren’t interested in a character with no issues. Neville’s thing when he arrived was dealing with the fact that he loved the idea of being on the island, but the island didn’t like him. He was in battle with it all the time. If there was a beautiful palm tree that he thought was gorgeous, you could guarantee he’s allergic to the pollen, and the sand played havoc with his skin and the sun burned him.
Ultimately what I thought was really interesting character-wise was that it wasn’t that he suddenly gained tolerance to these things, it wasn’t that he suddenly wasn’t allergic anymore, it was more he gained an understanding of it all.
There was always a nice thing me and the writers would say about Neville not being a two-dimensional character, not a ‘nerd’ or ‘geek’ – not that there’s anything wrong with that, geeks run the world – but it would be too easy for Neville to be that. It’s very possible that Neville could have been a good football player. He’s not incapable, but the fact is, instead of becoming a good football player, he was allergic to the pollen in the grass so he’d play for five minutes, start sneezing and his mum would be like, ‘come on let’s take you home and make sure you have an inhaler.’
Neville never really gave himself the chance to live a full life and be good at stuff, it just wasn’t worth the hassle. Even something like meeting his friends for a curry night would be too much hassle because even a chicken korma might bring him out in a sweat. What’s been a genuinely lovely character progression for him in this space is him going, ‘it is worth the risk?’ The moment he embraced that, he started to love island life and, yes, it comes at a price. Every time he tries something new there’s probably something he has to deal with, whether it’s too much spice and having to get a cold compress, or having to spend all night on the toilet! Every new thing he tries comes at a cost, but it’s a cost he has learned is worth paying to live a fuller life. And that, I think, is a lovely character progression.
You seem to have really thought about the character in depth, do you always do that when you take on a role?
Yeah, of course. Every character you play you try and work out where they came from, where they are now and where they’re going – that’s the job. Anyone who studies screenplay structure or narrative structure knows you must start from a place where things aren’t right for the character, where they learn something, they progress and they develop, otherwise it’s not a narrative.
What was lovely about this character is the producers and the writers got me in early on before they’d written any episodes. They had an idea about what Neville was going to be like, but they were really generous with giving me input into what my thoughts were on not making him two-dimensional. So he’s not just like, ‘oooh it’s a bit hot’. There’s got to be a reason for him not liking the sun, not wanting to try any new foods, not going into the sea. And if there’s a reason for it and it’s more than just, ‘I’m a bit scared of stuff’, it’s much more interesting and much more relatable to an audience. What’s interesting is the reaction on social media – it seems to be that in the beginning, people were like, ‘Neville’s allergies are a bit much aren’t they? He’s allergic to a lot of stuff, doesn’t it get a bit grating’, to social media going, ‘we really understand where he was coming from and we appreciate what he was struggling with to begin with – what a lovely journey for him to have gone on.’ From my point of view, it’s been a real success.
And that’s relatable to a lot of people…
Exactly. There was a gorgeous article from a journalist, who wrote an article basically saying how Neville Parker in Death in Paradise is a really important character for someone like me. Someone they said, struggles with going out and being gregarious, has a little bit of social anxiety, is allergic to certain things. It felt like a real vindication for choices that we’d made, for a very serious journalist to say, ‘this character spoke to me in a way that so many characters on TV don’t’. It felt like a real win. We did something very important with Neville that was very realistic and relatable.
We’ve talked about Neville getting used to the island, how about yourself? What was it like for you when you first arrived compared to now?
Well, Neville and I are very different people! I arrived and just embraced it immediately and loved it from day one. There’s not a day that goes by where I don’t think, ‘I’m the luckiest man in the world’. It is physically demanding, there’s no two ways about it, and it’s cumulative – before anyone reads this and goes ‘oh boo-hoo, poor you’, of course you could do it for two weeks, you could do it for four weeks, you could even do it for six weeks and be fine, but after you’ve been out here for five months, it’s tiring, being out in the sun all day every day, wearing an outfit that is not conducive to the sun. But with that said, once you’ve accepted that and you know that’s the deal and you deal with it, it’s the best job in the world.
Tahj Miles has become a real fan favourite… how were you looking forward to getting back on screen with him?
Every single time I’m in a scene with Tahj, I’ll have about three pages of monologue, speeches about how something happened that’s taken me ages to learn. Not just a speech, but a theatrical and physical performance and Tahj will have one line at the end, sometimes not even a line, he’ll just do something so funny and so watchable and so likeable that you just go, ‘no one’s going to remember what I did!’ Of course, he’s become a fan favourite, he’s fantastic.
We also have a new arrival this year, Shantol Jackson who plays Sergeant Naomi Thomas. What has she been like to work with?
She is an absolute dream. What’s been fascinating is, the cast are pretending that they grew up in the Caribbean, Tahj, Josie and so on. We’re all pretending we’re used to island life and Neville’s getting used to island life, and it’s interesting because Shantol was born and raised in Jamaica, so she’s technically not from that far away from here, certainly from the Caribbean. It’s been interesting to talk to her about what’s different about Guadeloupe as a Caribbean Island and Jamaica. There’s some really big differences, cultural differences, which has been very interesting to listen to.
Shantol is very talented, she’s just lovely, very cool, undemanding, loves working, loves the show. She’s brilliant as Naomi and brings to the character this incredible naivety and intelligence, she’s both at the same time. Like Naomi, she just really wants to please and do well. She’s very professional, she turns up on set and wants to be the best that she can be – I think the fans are going to love her.
And how does Naomi fit into the team?
Great! Without giving too much away, it’s quite a big break for her to be working with Florence and Neville. It’s a big deal as a job and she really wants to make sure she’s good and impresses which is a lovely counterpart to Marlon, who arrived being not really that bothered about the job. Really, he just saw it as a get away from the life that he was living. He was blagging at first but at the end of last series he realised that this was something he could do. JP made a big sacrifice for Marlon, saving his career and his future and Marlon understood the weight of that, so at the start of this series Marlon takes his duties as a police officer seriously. He’s still Marlon, he still understands the street and the way things work, and Naomi comes in and she’s very by the book and a brilliant police officer. The two of them play these fantastic counterparts to each other. Naomi is slightly more senior than him, so Marlon has to answer to her but sometimes his way of doing things like, ‘I’ll have a word with my contacts on the street’, and her way of doing things by the book means they’re at odds with each other and yet they work really well. They work well together as actors, they’re a brilliant partnership.
Were there any challenging moments you faced during filming?
Just the usual, the rain and the heat. What most people won’t realise is that on any TV show you have what you call ‘wet weather cover’, so if you’ve got a whole day of filming scenes outside and the weather is bad and you can’t do it, wet weather cover means you’ll swap out the scenes, go inside and shoot in the studio where the environment can be controlled. There’s no such thing here, there is no wet weather cover and the main reason is, even though we could go inside, what’s the point? We’re making a show in the Caribbean, it’s called ‘Death in Paradise’! There’s very little point in having a show called that if you’re going to shoot inside a studio. Mainly the point of being out here is you show the beautiful views, the coast and the extraordinary landscape which Guadeloupe has to offer, and if you’re not going to show that, we might as well shoot in England. If it starts to rain, it rains – it’s like a huge tropical storm. So, a lot of the time the challenges are having to sit there, all huddled under umbrellas and waiting it out, hoping for the best. And somehow it works out. We usually wait half an hour and the rain tends to pass. You might think that’s great, at least while it’s raining the temperature will drop. However, about fifteen minutes after it finishes raining, the temperature turns to normal, the water starts to evaporate from the ground and you get humidity as well! That’s when they say, ‘OK Ralf, do you want to put your shirt and tie and jacket on and carry your bag…’ I was going to say this isn’t what I signed up for, but it’s exactly what I signed up for, so you just get on with it.
You rescued a pup called Dora last year…
[Ralf holds a dog up to the camera] Well, this is Suzy… she’s a tiny puppy, we found her on the street and she was a bag of bones. We were driving to a restaurant and saw her run across the road and my missus was like, ‘Was that a cat? Oh no, I think it was a puppy!’ I said, ‘we’re not stopping, we can’t stop, we can’t do this again, we can’t take another’. As I was saying it, I was turning the wheel to turn the car around and I didn’t even realise, which was very strange! We’ve taken her to the vet and she’s a French citizen, she’s got a passport. We can’t keep her though because we already have two dogs.