New BBC One drama starring Ben Miller and Sara Martins
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 Televisions, 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.
Ben Miller France Interview
You’ve been in the French Caribbean filming the BBC television series Death in Paradise recently, how did you like Guadeloupe?
I loved Guadeloupe; I was very surprised to find it was in France! There is a fantastic mix of cultures there, it was an amazing experience. The island is basically a butterfly shape so there is Grande-Terre and Basse-Terre. Grande-Terre is the more developed side, and thats where the capital is. I was in Basse-Terre which is the rainforest, volcano part. Its a place of extraordinary natural beauty. Its basically a rainforest with a beach around it. Its amazing.
Did you learn French while you were there?
I did learn French, in fact my French improved enormously while I was there. Part of the joy of learning French is that most people arent necessarily that pleased to speak to you in French, and so it took me a while to break through the English barrier. What happens is that you start speaking French, then the person replies to you in English. I really enjoyed the act of learning, despite that.
What was your knowledge of French before that? Had you learnt it at school?
I did a French exchange in Brittany when I was 14. I stayed in a little hamlet in a lovely area of France. The daughter came to stay with our family in Cheshire; she rather got the short end of the straw, as when my turn came to go to France, I got to go on their family holiday to the Alps. She came to Crewe, I went to Chamonix. Bad luck!
Did you often go to France on holiday as a child?
We used to go to Brittany and we spent a summer in Lyon, as we had some family friends who lived there. We also went to the French Alps skiing every year. These days, I visit Paris quite regularly and, a year ago, we spent Christmas time in a big house in Burgundy.
Where would you say your favourite place is?
I absolutely love the French Alps I tend to go to a little place called Vaujany. In return for letting the French government build a hydroelectric reservoir there, the resort got a huge cable car built that goes right to the top of the French Alps, which I love, its fantastic.
Theres a sketch in The Armstrong & Miller Show featuring Simpkins, an English expat in France who cant remember how to speak English properly. What inspired this character?
It was inspired by people I know, especially an expat I met who had moved to Paris. Although, after spending six months speaking French on Guadeloupe, the joke has rather turned on me! One of my close friends is French and he helped with the colloquial French in the sketch. He is a restaurateur in London and he gave me all of the brilliantly vernacular bits that the French characters speak in the sketch.
Which area of Paris do you like best?
I know its terribly touristy but I am a huge fan of Saint-Germain. I stayed in a brilliant hotel there called LHtel which was where Oscar Wilde stayed. In fact I think he might have died there. Youve got all of that tourist stuff in that area, but I still love it.
Have you come across any French comedians in your work?
Very few, but French comedy has had a huge influence on me over the years. I love French comedy I love how it is played in a very straight way Im a huge admirer of that style of play. It was really fun to work with some French actors in Death in Paradise: Sara Martins [his French co-star] is a brilliant comic actor. She plays it very straight; I think she is very, very funny.
Would you like to work in France?
I would love to act in French, if my French were ever good enough. If I had the opportunity to work in France, that would be amazing. The chance to experience French culture is a huge incentive to me in this job.
Ben Miller about "Death In Paradise"
Ben Miller once again dons British detective Richard Poole’s woollen suits to crack more cases in the stifling heat of Caribbean island Saint-Marie. Known for his comic partnership with Alexander Armstrong, Ben tells TV Choice about the secrets of Death In Paradise’s success...
Why do you think Death In Paradise was such a hit?
I have no idea! It’s really hard to say. When we were filming it, we were thinking, is anyone going to go for this, because it has these really intense dramatic moments followed by these very light bits, but it’s on this bonkers island with bonkers people. A lot of reviews were like, “What is this? Is it funny, is it serious?’ But it does work. I don’t know why or how it works, but it does. It’s a risky mix, but Tony Jordan, the creator, knew how far to push things in every direction. Also, it’s in the Caribbean, which is rich and lush and sunny and different to anything else on TV.
So you must have been delighted to get a second series?
Yes, I was. I have so much affection for it and I adore working with the cast. It is such fun to make and what really comes across is that there’s a lot of heart to it. It doesn’t take itself tremendously seriously, and with the intriguing murder-mystery puzzles it gives you lots to think about. It’s an unusual show.
Do you find you’re getting recognised more for this than for anything you’ve done previously?
Yes, I am. Reviews were quite harsh to begin with, but the viewing figures were great. One episode actually got higher ratings than an England match on the same night! At that point I started to think, “This is amazing’. This is definitely the first time in my career that anything I’ve done has reached such a big audience, which, for me personally, is a great joy.
What do the locals make of all this?
The first year they didn’t quite believe we were making a series. Although France put in a lot of money to make the show, and Guadeloupe is part of France, it’s not been shown here. So at the end of the last series we had a big screening for the islanders, and they loved it. They’ve been very kind and enthusiastic about it. All the background artists are local people and they really enjoy the experience.
So you’re doing this, and your comedy partner Alexander Armstrong is doing his own thing. Are you planning on working together again?
We are coming back together. We’re writing something at the moment, but the next thing we’ll do is probably a series of adverts, which will be a great chance for us to do some sketches again, so we’re very much plotting and planning at the moment.
Actor and comedian Ben Miller talks Death in Paradise, and being in the eye of Hurricane Sandy
IT IS a storm of biblical proportions. And the torrential downpour seems to have come from nowhere to assail the set of BBC1’s hit drama, Death in Paradise.
The rain lashing the strip of sand in the town of Deshaies on the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe came on so suddenly the crew were caught unprepared and now they are working frantically to erect a makeshift bivouac to protect their valuable camera equipment.
Before you can say “woefully underdressed”, I’m knee-deep in dark, churning water, and my trainers are drowning in the most pitiable, unsalvageable fashion.
At that moment, who should helpfully appear at my shoulder but the star of Death in Paradise, Ben Miller. Knowing that I had made the schoolboy error of travelling to the Caribbean with only one pair of shoes, he generously offers me his backup pair. “Are you a little overwhelmed by the glamour of our set?” the actor smiles. “You must borrow my spare pair of trainers.” He is that sort of guy.
And it is exactly this kind of understated charm that has turned Miller into one of television’s leading men. In Death in Paradise, an archetypal “fish out of water” drama which returns for a second series this Tuesday, Miller plays DCI Richard Poole, an uptight English police officer. Against his will, he is transferred – “boil in the bag” sweaty suit and all – to the (fictional) paradise island of Saint Marie (which Guadeloupe is doing a very good job of impersonating.)
There, battling against the twin challenges of the intense heat and the suspicions of the locals, Poole attempts to solve some of the most fiendish crimes the Caribbean has ever witnessed. Miller grins that, “The murder rate on Saint Marie is so high, it makes Midsomer looked like a world centre of pacifism.”
Later, Miller and I chat over dinner on the terrace at the very agreeable Habitation du Comte Hotel in Sainte-Rose near the set. He is approaching the end of a six-month stint in Guadeloupe and looks enviably tanned and relaxed in flip-flops, and a white collarless shirt with matching trousers. We both smother ourselves in the strongest possible mosquito repellent. Welcome to the tropics.
He is an intriguing mixture of the witty – he and his double-act partner Alexander Armstrong have won enough awards for their comedy to fill several mantelpieces – and the wise – how many comedians have embarked on a PhD at Cambridge entitled “Novel quantum effects in low-temperature quasi-zero dimensional mesoscopic electron systems” (no, me neither)?
The 46-year-old actor, who lives in London with his partner, production executive Jessica Parker, tells me how he copes with the extreme climate in Guadeloupe, an eye-catching archipelago of five islands named Basse-Terre, Grande-Terre, La Desirade, Les Saintes and Marie-Galante.
Storms often clear within half an hour, giving way to exceptionally hot and humid conditions. When he is filming in that weather, Miller wears a backless shirt underneath his suit, which he admits, “boils me alive.” Also, if his feet are not in shot, he immediately rolls up his trouser legs, whips off his black shoes and socks and replaces them with sandals.
He has also been known to wear a Formula One-style, water-cooled suit underneath his jacket. “It’s like a life vest made out of those things you put in picnic boxes to keep them cool. You put them in the freezer and take them out at the right moment.”
But Miller, who has two young sons, Sonny and Harrison, believes the very un-British climate greatly adds to the texture of Death in Paradise. It is certainly rather more dramatic than filming, say, on the back lot at a suburban London studio.
“You definitely couldn’t make this at Pinewood. We really are in the jungle here. It’s not like Carry On Up the Khyber where one minute Sid James is pretending to defend the Khyber Pass and the next is ordering a coffee from the Pinewood canteen.”
Miller, a very versatile artist who is also an accomplished musician and has directed a feature film, Huge, about a struggling comedy double act, says he is stunned by the power of the storms he has witnessed.
“The weather here is extraordinary.
“We had Hurricane Isaac here, and that was properly exciting. You can feel the power of the thing coming over the ocean. In Britain during a storm, you realise the power of the wind. But in Guadeloupe, you realise the power of the ocean. This hot, hot, ocean drives a huge great tumble-dryer of air towards you.”
He adds, “When Hurricane Isaac made landfall, the main street in Deshaies became a river. I saw things floating down it that you don’t use normally see floating down a river. For example, I saw a chicken quite happily floating downstream. Is it scary to be in the middle of a hurricane? No, it’s thrilling.”
The other advantage of using Guadeloupe as the location for Death in Paradise is that it has never really been seen before on British TV. Miller reflects that, “I love the fact that this is such a different place to anywhere I’ve ever lived before. You’re very close to the thrum of Nature here.
“You’ve got the hood up and are looking at the engine of Nature turning. Have you ever seen anything fall over here? It’s eaten within 15 minutes. Hungry termites can reduce a fallen lamppost to iron filings in seconds. I also love the weirdness of the rainforest. You know when you go to the tropical part of Kew Gardens and you see all that water sloshing around in the air and think, ‘This is over the top’? Well, it’s not over the top. The real rainforest is just like that.”
Miller, who in July published a book, It’s Not Rocket Science, about his favourite aspects of science, including black holes, DNA, and the Large Hadron Collider loves the fact that these spectacular elements of Nature are merely part of everyday life in Guadeloupe, “In the UK we put up footpath signs to ancient barrows.
“Here they do that to tropical waterfalls in the jungle. I’ve never lived anywhere where natural beauty is held to be something so municipal. It’s like our public libraries. I love that.”
Miller also plays a straight role in Primeval, ITV’s successful dinosaur series. However, he is still primarily best known for his comedy work with Armstrong and in such pieces as Johnny English, Moving Wallpaper and The Worst Week of My Life.
In that sense, Death in Paradise was something of a departure for the actor. “No one was more surprised than me that people took me seriously as Poole. Beforehand, I knew I didn’t have a great deal of experience in this field and I did worry that people would want to laugh when I said serious things. But I feel more comfortable with it now,” he says.
He believes the first series of Death in Paradise proved so popular because it was different from anything else on the box. “It took a risk, and that’s always a good thing. It stood out because it doesn’t feel cool or like anything else. It was never going to be The Wire, but people tell me, ‘It’s my guilty pleasure’.”
As the production has been in Guadeloupe for six months, local colour has inevitably seeped into the scripts for Death in Paradise. Miller observes that, “It’s already changed. Little bits of Creole have crept into the dialogue. This year we’ve created stories based on things we experienced here last year. One great episode focuses on ‘liming’.”
“That is a Caribbean expression for doing nothing, but in a very active way. People will say, ‘We’re going fishing on Friday. Do you want to come with us?’ ‘Sorry, I can’t come. I’m liming that day’.
“There is a lovely, mile-long beach where I go for a swim at lunchtime. You wind down a little road to the beach. The other day I saw a bloke by the roadside miles from anywhere sitting under a palm tree with his arms folded. He was just liming.
“In the episode, Richard initially doesn’t understand the concept. He then spends the entire episode trying to lime. But he can’t – he has no comprehension of the idea of doing nothing.”
Miller reckons we could all learn from the limers. “One thing that is brought home to me whenever I go back to the UK is our constant busy-ness. I used to boast about being busy – I would say, ‘I’d love to come to that, but I’m really, really busy’. Here that’s a bad thing. If you do anything too quickly here, you’ll be in a muck sweat immediately and have to change your shirt.
“I’d like to think I’ll be able to carry on liming when I go back home. But I’m sure it’ll only last ten minutes, and by the time I’m picking up my bags at Heathrow. I’ll be elbowing everyone else out of the way, trying to make a meeting.”
Wherever he goes in Guadeloupe, Miller is constantly recognised because of the international success of Primeval. “People keep coming up to me and saying, ‘Les Portes du Temps’! [The Gates of Time]. That must be the title of Primeval over here. Either that or it’s the biggest ‘it’s behind you’ of all time, and there is a time portal that is constantly opening up behind me in Guadeloupe.”
In the UK, however, the actor is more likely to be stopped in the street by people quoting from the Second World War Pilots, the series of sketches from The Armstrong and Miller Show, in which heroic airmen talk like modern day wannabe gangsters. “People never come up to me and say, ‘Hello’. They say things like, ‘You as well, nang blood, and your ‘hos and bitches’. They give us Pilots’ lines which are usually much better delivered and much funnier than anything in the show. That’s wonderful. Thanks to the Pilots, we’ve also added a new word to the dictionary – ‘Rentard’ – which means someone who is perhaps not the quickest-witted of people. That’s very exciting. What’s lovely is the feeling that people have really connected with something you’ve made. That’s the best reason for doing it.”
Miller has been working with fellow Cambridge graduate Armstrong for the past two decades. He thinks their partnership has worked so well because, “Our friendship comes before everything else. We’ve been very close for many years. We have been through such a lot together and share the same group of friends. It’s like a sibling relationship. I never had a brother, but I regard Xander as my brother.
“Also, we still find the same things funny. I still think he’s the funniest man on the planet. I’d love to get him in as a guest on Death in Paradise. But I think it would be a bit too much like the programmes we used to do sketches about on The Armstrong and Miller Show. There might be some kind of matter/anti-matter implosion. Also, I don’t think we could possibly take it seriously.”
Miller, who starred with Peter Capaldi in the acclaimed West End production of The Ladykillers last year, says he would relish making further series of BBC1’s The Armstrong and Miller Show. “We’d love to come back and do some more. We’ve decided to take a break for the moment, like we have done before. The only way to come back is to ditch the old characters and do totally new ones.”
Before then, though, Armstrong and Miller are hoping to find the time to work on another project.
“We’d love to do a narrative comedy show together. But it’s difficult. I’ve been on Guadeloupe for six months, and Xander is about to go and film a new game show called Prize Island off the East African coast. Both of us will be on different tropical islands. We’re like two Richard Bransons.
“Perhaps somebody should pitch that as a programme idea – ‘Armstrong and Miller on two different tropical islands, or Morecambe and Wise at the top of two different mountains, or Hale and Pace in two different tin mines, one in Bolivia and one in Cornwall.’”
But before he embarks on that, Miller is looking forward to doing very little indeed. “I was here last year, making the first series of Death in Paradise. Then I did a West End stage play, wrote a book and came straight back here without a pause. I now want a long break where I do nothing.
“I’m going to do some serious liming.”
Filming on a Caribbean island for half the year has to be every actor's dream. Not quite, says Death In Paradise's Ben Miller
Ben Miller can be forgiven if his thoughts are elsewhere. While filming in temperatures of over 100°F on the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, he's heard his baby son Harrison has been taken to hospital suffering an asthma attack 4,000 miles away in London.
Compounding the discomfort is the buttoned-up suit, tie and shiny brogues his eccentric, very English character, Detective Inspector Richard Poole in the BBC1 comedy drama Death In Paradise, insists on wearing despite the climate.
'My partner Jessica [TV producer Jessica Parker] had to rush Harrison to hospital and I've just heard they're back home now,' he says later when the day's filming is over, more relaxed in a white linen shirt, trousers and flip-flops. 'He's fine and they've got to keep an eye on him. That side of things is really difficult, being so isolated from the family.'
Back in the summer, Ben, 46, tried bringing the whole family out to the neighbouring island of Antigua, but it didn't work out. 'Jess brought Harrison and my six-year-old son Sonny. Poor Harrison has only just started sleeping at home and we brought him out with a four-hour time difference and it didn't really work.
'He hated the flight, he hated the heat. It's very tough on babies. We didn't get any sleep because Harrison didn't sleep. We were absolutely washed out.' Ultimately, it's proved easier for Miller to fly back and forth on a 14-hour journey via Paris. 'I pop back every couple of weeks. Even if I go back for a couple of days, it's still worth it.'
Miller made his name in the late 90s as one half of the surreal comedy partnership Armstrong & Miller with best friend and fellow Cambridge University graduate Alexander Armstrong. But in Death In Paradise he plays it straight, almost - the repressed Englishman abroad who's funny because he's so set in his ways.
During filming, mostly in the picturesque town of Deshaies, Miller's had to develop a way of keeping cool. In the first season he wore backless shirts, but finding his back stuck to the suit lining he abandoned the practice. Thankfully his suits are now bespoke in a light fabric.
'You learn to take the heat seriously. If you're English you think, “Oh, I feel a bit hot” and you just carry on. That's when you run the risk of getting heat stroke. I only got it once last year. I had heat exhaustion a number of times, where you get very light-headed, dizzy and sick, but I've not had any problems this year.'
DI Poole was seconded by Scotland Yard to the fictional island of Saint-Marie, a British colony, in the first series to solve a murder and ordered to stay. Eagle-eyed viewers will spot that the vehicles have French number plates. That's because the real five islands of Guadeloupe are a French department. Death In Paradise is the first major TV show to be shot there, giving it a chance to show off its credentials as a holiday paradise.
The temperature between DI Poole and his glamorous sidekick DI Camille Bordey (played by French actress Sara Martins) heats up in the second series too.
'My character definitely has an eye for the ladies,' says Miller, 'but I don't think he has the confidence or belief in himself. He's tremendously awkward. I think he's given up on relationships. I imagine he's been hurt at some point.'
In real life Miller had no such problems. He dated Rachel Weisz in the 80s when they were both at Cambridge.
'Rachel was probably the most beautiful girl in the world, still is. I was punching above my weight and have been ever since. I'm prepared to try to talk to a very beautiful girl. I learned a fantastic secret, which is that the most beautiful woman in the room is not being spoken to because she's too intimidating. They're not looking for somebody beautiful, they're looking for somebody to amuse them.'
He learned about courage and self-belief at Cambridge, something he didn't possess when he arrived from a Cheshire comprehensive.
'I was only one of two people from a comprehensive in my year. I didn't come from a difficult background but I did feel like a fish out of water. It's about the fact that you don't know the shorthand of how that world operates.'
His earlier self is a useful reference point for his portrayal of Poole, who's hemmed in by his own self-consciousness and inhibitions. 'He uses his Englishness as an armour. The suits are about him needing to feel some kind of barrier between him and the world. I take my jacket off a few times in the new series, which is quite exciting. He's loosening up a bit. It's really a story about a man who has no friends. It's not really about the murders for me. It's about a man who finally finds a place he fits in.'
With filming of the second series complete he's enjoying doing nothing for a few months and spending time with the family. DI Poole looks like he's going to be around for some time and Miller may have to continue suffering for his art and juggling family life
Audiences from Mexico to Holland enjoy his depiction of an Englishman sweating in the sun. 'The world goes to bed happy at night knowing there's an Englishman suffering for being English,' he says.
Death in Paradise: Ben Miller on investigating the deadliest place on the planet
He’s swapped a grey life on the streets of London for the desert-island beaches of the Caribbean, yet Detective Inspector Richard Poole always manages to look gloomy. And that is, of course, one of the pleasures of Death in Paradise, which returns to BBC1 this week.
There’s a certain amusement in watching Ben Miller’s fish-out-of- water investigator – drafted in, against his will, as the top cop on a tiny island thousands of miles from home – struggling to retain his British stiff upper lip under the palm trees. Here’s a man, you feel, who’d rather spend his days in the gloom of Inspector Morse’s Oxford than in a place where the pesky blue ocean twinkles so brightly that it hurts your eyes.
As a result, Poole doesn’t make any concessions to his new workplace: it may be 40°C in the shade but Miller is forced to wear a grey woollen suit every moment he’s on set. Not a great idea – last year filming of series one had to be halted temporarily after the actor suffered heatstroke.
This time around, there are precautions in place. When RT flies out to visit Miller on set, there’s a sneaky picnic-style freezer box tucked away on the beach, behind the cameras. The handwritten note on top says: “Ben’s Cold Vest”. Inside is a piece of clothing that looks like a life jacket but is fitted out with ice packs. Miller pops it on whenever there’s a pause in filming.
While the cameras are rolling Miller continues cheating: his suit looks like wool, but isn’t. The shirt beneath has a hole where the back should be – and, whenever Miller’s feet are out of shot, he ditches his black leather brogues and pads around in bare feet, his trousers rolled up to the knee.
Well, it’s not supposed to be a documentary. Although, as Miller tells me, he met a former Metropolitan Police officer who, like Poole, was seconded to the Caribbean, who told him: “We have to wear our suits because we’re representing the Crown. Suit, tie, collar, the whole thing. We hate it.”
Death in Paradise is set on the fictional island of Saint-Marie, supposedly a British dependency in the Caribbean. In reality, the show is filmed on the French-owned island of Guadeloupe. When RT joins Miller in Deshaies, on the northwest tip of the island, he’s four-fifths of the way through the 20-week shoot and, despite his backless shirt, he’s sweltering like everyone else.
Still, he has no complaints – aside from being separated from his partner, Jessica, and his baby son, Harrison. “I’ve flown home every two or three weeks for a few days. Luckily, so far I’ve been back for many of his milestones, such as when he sat up for the first time. And Jess saved weaning him to solid foods for when I was there. Any day now Harrison could crawl. I’m sitting here thinking: please don’t let him crawl until I’m home at the weekend!”
Actors cast as TV policemen usually end up filming car chases in the back streets of Manchester. “I’m probably the only person in the history of British television to film a cop show in the Caribbean,” he grins. “Quite incredible.”
He’s not wrong. Guadeloupe is breathtakingly gorgeous. As you drive round this butterfly- shaped island your eyes are assaulted by striking primary colours – deep blue sea, yellow sand, red bougainvilleas. The leaves on the palm trees are such a luminous green it’s as if they’ve been plugged in at the mains. This is mother nature brought to you in association with Technicolor.
There’s also something endearingly odd about the place. Four thousand miles from Paris, Guadeloupe is as technically integral to France as the Dordogne – it is no Falklands-style colonial outpost but a fully paid-up French departement, and sends deputies to Paris’s National Assembly.
Yet despite being part of the European Union – the currency here is the euro – Guadeloupe also has a dusty, old-world charm; it’s not odd to see chickens wandering down the street. Everyone speaks French and there are Carrefour supermarkets in the towns. And, get this, Guadeloupe boasts the world’s highest per-capita champagne consumption.
What about crime? How does life in Saint-Marie compare to Guadeloupe? Miller smiles. “Saint-Marie has an incredibly high murder rate, doesn’t it?” He’s right – every week, there’s at least one murder victim to confront DI Poole, often two. That’d make perhaps 70 murders over a year – “and what’s the population of Saint- Marie? Maybe 10,000.”
And Guadeloupe? “Well, it’s one of the friendliest, safest places you could possibly go. It feels like there’s no crime around here whatsoever.”
I decide to find out more. I make an appointment to meet police commander Roland Trochet – the top murder cop on the island. Before I see him, I glance at the website of Guadeloupe’s newspaper, France-Antilles. Sure, there are nasty tales – name me a local paper in the democratic world that doesn’t feast on crime – but there’s also a charming provincial feel: one day the lead story is about a man who’s been arrested for failing to produce his driving licence.
At first glance, Trochet has little in common with his fictional counterpart. He’s not wearing a suit but heavy stubble and a rumpled blue T-shirt. Sitting behind his desk in a sparse office in Guadeloupe’s largest town, Pointe-a-Pitre, he tells me: “People don’t have a realistic idea of the work we do here. Their picture of us is going to work under the palm trees. “Last year was calm. There were 33 murders and 27 murder attempts. There are only 400,000 inhabitants in Guadeloupe so in terms of murders per capita, the death rate is higher than in Paris.”
If you want to get statistical, Trochet’s figures reveal a murder rate of around 8.2 per 100,000 inhabitants. Though this makes Guadeloupe one of the safest islands in the Caribbean – Jamaica has a rate of more than 50 murders per 100,000, according to official figures from the United Nations – its murder rate is roughly on a par with that of Los Angeles; meanwhile, the rate here in the UK is 1.2 murders per 100,000.
Saint-Marie, on the other hand, has an annualised murder rate of 700 per 100,000 – making it far and away the deadliest place on the planet. This is despite a 100 per cent clear- up rate, courtesy of DI Poole and his three colleagues – and without the use of any 21st-century forensic science. And Guadeloupe? Trochet says, “We don’t have the same resources as metropolitan France, of course. We have to send all our samples to Paris for analysis. But in a really urgent case, we can have the results by telephone in two or three days.”
But the people who get caught up in violence are involved in the drugs trade or are victims of domestic disputes. “There’s no random crime here: you won’t be killed just for strolling the streets, as you might in some places.” France- Antilles editor Andre-Jean Vidal confirms: “There’s not a lot of everyday crime here.”
As Miller says, this island feels safe. Last year, he found himself filming in a beautiful villa in a neighbouring town. “I got talking to the owner, and she explained that she didn’t sleep inside the house but in a hammock in the garden. I asked: ‘Is that safe?’ She replied: ‘Well, there is one burglar. But everybody knows him. And when he comes I just give him chocolate."
Ben Miller on quitting Death In Paradise: 'I can't leave my family again'
It’s got to be right up there with the best jobs in acting – jetting off for six months to film on a sun-drenched Caribbean island. Not only that, but it just happens to be for one of the highest-rated shows on the BBC.
So when it was announced last spring that Ben Miller had quit his starring role in crime comedy drama Death In Paradise, filmed on tropical Guadalupe, many fans were left scratching their heads in disbelief.
What could have prompted him to leave one of the cushiest jobs in showbiz? Ben, 47, explains that it was love for his family that made the decision inevitable.
“I had just begun work on the first series of Death In Paradise when my wife Jessica discovered she was pregnant,” he says.
“Our son, Harrison, was born just after I finished filming, but when I went back out for the second series, I didn’t see much of him at all. It was hard, and I just didn’t feel like I could do that again.
“My elder son, [seven-year-old] Sonny, was at nursery at the time, but now he’s started school so he couldn’t come out either. It just wasn’t going to work. That said, I’m very sorry to be leaving.”
The actor, who portrays Richard Poole, a grumpy English detective inspector on the fictional island Saint-Marie, has another surprise up his sleeve for fans.
In true Death In Paradise fashion, his character is set to be bumped off in a major whodunnit plot in the first episode.
While the exact details of the murder – and culprit – are being kept under wraps, the first episode will see a host of stars making a guest appearance as suspects, most notably Cold Feet and Cuckoo actress Helen Baxendale.
Heading up the murder investigation is the bright, but rather disorganised and gawky DI Humphrey Goodman (played by My Family and Lightfields star Kris Marshall), fresh off a plane from London.
“I’m thrilled,” says Kris, 40, who will join series regulars Sara Martins (Camille), Danny John-Jules (Dwayne) and Gary Carr (Fidel) as the show’s new lead detective.
“Six months filming on a tropical island with an amazing cast and glorious sunshine? What isn’t there to love?”
Thankfully for Kris, his family (wife Hannah Dodkins and his baby son, Thomas) were able to make the move out to Guadalupe to be with him for the entire duration of filming, making the transition easier. However, he does admit to feeling apprehensive about the public’s reaction to such a major cast change.
“It is a risk,” says Kris. “Ben has done such a fantastic job. I know some people are not going to be happy; there’s no two ways about it. But I just hope that the majority of people are.”
Ben says he’s confident that Kris will be a worthy successor. In fact, far from offering him any pearls of wisdom, he reveals Kris slotted seamlessly into the cast – leaving him to enjoy the perks of being a guest star.
“Guesting on Death In Paradise is probably one of the best jobs in TV. We always find that there’s one person every series who comes out and then never goes home,” he laughs
Surviving Death in Paradise: Ben Miller's advice for Kris Marshall
1. LEARN TO TREAD WATER
Ben Miller I made a rule with myself that I would get in the sea every day. Even if it’s just for half an hour. We have to start filming at six in the morning to make the most of the natural light, and finish just before six when the sun goes out like a light. But we’ve got these magic few moments as the sun goes down and the cameras are turned off when everybody gets in the sea. Those chats with the cast and crew while we’re bobbing around are what I will miss the most. That is where all our production meetings really happened. It beats a meeting room in an airless office!
BM The locals here will also swear that it has all kinds of healing properties. Apparently it will sort out anything that’s wrong with you.
KM Has it cleared up all your ailments?
BM It actually gave me a bit of psoriasis but it soon helped clear it up! I do have one word of warning, though. Be careful where you swim. I had a terrible experience at the beach barbecue the crew held for me when I arrived. There was a sign – in French – that said on no account go into the water on this beach. I remember thinking, “What absolute rubbish, it’s clearly for tourists.” I wandered out there casually to cool my feet and all of a sudden it was like a man under the sand grabbed my ankles and threw me over. I was rolled into the waves and thrashed to within an inch of my life, while frantically waving for help. Nobody noticed. I lost everything on me – my glasses, my wallet... every scrap of dignity I had. I finally found my feet and limped back to my room to get changed. When I returned to the barbecue the producer asked, “What on earth kept you?” I never admitted how stupid I’d been.
2. PACK YOUR FLIP-FLOPS
BM I had no idea what I was letting myself in for in terms of the heat out here. When I came out for the first series I brought completely the wrong clothes and couldn’t wear anything without sweating profusely. Although at that point there would have nothing I would have been comfortable in.
KM A thong, perhaps? I boarded a plane a couple of weeks ago on a cold Wednesday morning at London’s City Airport, chugging down hot chocolate in the lounge trying to keep warm. I got out at this end and instantly felt my boots filling up with sweat. I have been in hot countries before but have never experienced anything like that. I thought it was some sort of freak occurrence but it’s like that every day.
BM You do get used to the heat. During the filming of the second series I had no trouble whatsoever; I packed completely differently. I bought everything Marks & Spencer had in white linen. I had a white linen shirt, white linen trousers, a white linen hat... I looked like an extra from a Phil Collins video. And now, look, I’m sitting in jeans. I’ve even got socks on!
KM My character wears a lot of white linen. There are rotating neutron stars in the galaxy that are less conspicuous than I am in white linen. But at least I’m not wearing a suit, like you did. I’m not sure I could have coped with that.
BM It was awful and I did collapse from the heat in the first series but my character was also suffering, so at least there was no acting involved there! My top tip is to get all full-length shots done before lunchtime, when it’s cooler. Then you can spend the rest of the day with a suit on top and shorts and flip-flops out of shot underneath. In any given shot, if there’s an item of my clothing you can’t see, I’m not wearing it – will that put people off watching, do you think?
KM Well, I pretty much do the same, but I just wear a thong – that will definitely put people off, won’t it?!
3. BRING YOUR OWN TEABAGSBM I fear I am a completely stereotypical Brit abroad – every time I go away my suitcase is packed with Typhoo tea and English mustard.
KM I do miss Colman’s mustard, but my luxury item is hair gel – that immediately flags up the difference between us! I haven’t had a cup of tea since I got here. I was never a drinker of coffee, but now I drink about seven cups a day. And I love a cup of PG Tips. But wherever I go, what I really miss about England is that I can’t take with me is milk. Normal, fresh milk. It’s all long-life milk abroad. I miss milk. I sound like an advert!
BM Oh, I meant PG Tips! I will get in a lot of trouble for that!
KM Of course – you’re the PG Tips monkey, aren’t you!
4. LEARN THE LINGOBM I learnt French, the official language used in Guadeloupe, on the hoof from the crew. It’s more effective than in a classroom. I quickly discovered that the French I did at school is great if you want to write a postcard to your mum, but not great if you want to have a conversation with anyone over the age of three. I have also picked up a bit of Creole.
Both “Pa gen pwoblem.”
KM It’s a bit like manana in Spanish – life is good, don’t worry about it. I did French at A-level. Unfortunately I failed. But I lived in France for a while so my French is pretty good. I love picking up Creole, though.
BM There is so much to learn about this island. I spent the first year learning French, learning about how French people live, because despite being in the middle of the Caribbean, the way of life is very French. The second year I learnt all about the Creole way of life. It is so diverse and the way the two cultures have blended together is beautiful.
KM It’s true, we think we’re a multicultural country in England, which we are, but over here it’s so much more assimilated. I just hope we come back for another series and I can enrol my little boy in a French creche here and watch him eat camembert!
5. BEWARE OF THE WILDLIFE
BM I went snorkelling on one of the reefs over on Petit Havre, off the main island, and it was stunning, like a lagoon... until I saw a five-foot reef shark. I didn’t react in a particularly macho way. Reef sharks probably think that one of our defence mechanisms when under attack is to defecate in the water.
KM I’m most daunted about coming face to face with a scolopendra, a type of centipede, which is apparently the only animal on land that can really do you a bit of damage.
BM Because there are no snakes.
KM Thank god! I hate snakes. I was watching an episode where someone said, “Watch out for the snakes.” In Saint-Marie there are snakes everywhere. But when I asked the locals they said Guadeloupe has no snakes because they introduced the mongoose to get rid of them.
BM I know mosquitoes don’t sound scary, but I got covered in bites until I discovered T-Rex. It’s the only insect repellent that works. I’ve had it on for five hours and look at me. Bite free.
KM They are voracious. They bite you through your clothes. I’ve never been anywhere else – even in the Congo – where they do that. The insects and bugs here are terrifying. I’m a little reluctant about my boy crawling around, there are cockroaches the size of an Airbus A380.
6. GO NATIVE
BM It’s pretty obvious that Kris is the one who needs to give me tips on how to live in the Caribbean! But I have one final thing to pass on – the local handshake. You have to say, “Check!”, put your fist out, and bump fists. As a white man growing up on the mean streets of Cheshire I was not particularly relaxed about this form of communication, but I’m totally into it now. I mean, Kris probably fist bumps people in London...
KM I don’t fist bump! And no one has fist bumped me so far.
BM You have to initiate it. I remember thinking that the guy who taught it to me was winding me up, like it was a horrific local joke and I’d be forced into the back of a Jeep and kidnapped for being a naive tourist once I’d done it, but I promise it is real!
KM I actually got kidnapped while making a film [2011’s Oka!] in the Congo jungle, where army warlords are ten-a-penny. I mean, I use the word kidnapped very loosely. Basically, the army used to turn up at our unit base and take the producer away whenever they were bored and we would have to pay to get him back. And then one day, when they found out I was the main actor on the job, they took me instead. So, I say kidnapped, but it involved me being led into the back of a jeep, driven away to some army/police office by drunk guys with machine guns standing around for about three hours, before they bought me back for about US$200.
BM How much did the producer go for?
BM I’d probably be worth about €40!