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Death in Paradise star Ralf Little: 'My mum is still waiting for me to get a proper job, I am sure'

A hit BBC One drama filmed in the sun, what's not to love? Ralf Little talks to Gemma Dunn about taking on the lead in Death in Paradise

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Ralf Little (Ian West/PA)

Ralf Little (Ian West/PA)

Ralf Little (Ian West/PA)

When an image of the latest detective to join Death in Paradise was teased last year, Twitter went wild. Sitting on a beach hammock, gazing out to sea, the actor in question - only identifiable by the back of his head - had people guessing in their droves, eager to figure out who would be stepping into the coveted role.

"Joe McFadden, maybe?" one suggested. "Richard Madden #thebodyguard would do nicely," said another fan of the BBC One hit crime drama.

Those who guessed Ralf Little were right and The Royle Family star soon found his cover rumbled as the fourth actor to take the lead spot since the show began.

"I'd only joined Instagram a week earlier and (co-star) Shyko Amos had said, 'You better follow me', so I said, 'Sure'," he explains. "Then a couple of people on Twitter went, 'It's definitely Ralf Little, he's only just joined Instagram, he only follows about five people, one of them is Shyko who plays Ruby in the show and his other half has been posting about how she's been in the Caribbean for the last two months'.

"I was like, 'These people are detectives, they should be solving the murders, not me'. It was quite impressive and terrifying at the same time."

The reaction has been nothing but positive since then, Little (39) says.

"I've literally just come from Bruges," he says, having profusely apologised for running late for this interview. "I was in a chocolate shop and this lady came up and said, 'Excuse me, Mr Little, I'm so sorry to bother you'. I thought she was going to say, 'I loved you in The Royle Family'. And she said, 'Is it true that you're taking over in Death in Paradise? I'm so pleased - you're going to be great, it's my favourite show'.

"That was the first person who's stopped me talk about that, as opposed to the stuff I've done previously. So, that was a lovely little moment for me. I hope people enjoy it half as much as I enjoyed making it."

Little takes over the mantle from Ardal O'Hanlon towards the end of its ninth series.

The actor will play DI Neville Parker, a British import from Manchester CID, who gets more than he bargained for when investigating the mysterious death of a young women at the unveiling of a luxury timeshare resort.

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Aude Legastelois as Madeleine Dumas

Aude Legastelois as Madeleine Dumas

Aude Legastelois as Madeleine Dumas

But how does he measure up to his predecessors, who were played by O'Hanlon, Ben Miller and Kris Marshall?

"His detective shtick is an eye for an otherwise insignificant detail," he says. "Whereas Kris was quite puppyish and excitable and would stumble into things and Ardal's character's thing was to be able to spin a yarn, almost storytelling to work his way into a case.

"Neville's not an abrasive character, he finds life a bit tricky and that can be quite frustrating for those around him.

"He's not a hypochondriac and he's not OCD either, but he's basically allergic to everything - particularly when he gets to Saint Marie," he teases of the show's fictional island, which is actually the French region Guadeloupe.

Little adds: "He has asthma and eczema. The salt water in the sea aggravates his condition, the wildlife aggravates that condition. If there's an issue to be had, he'll have it and he'll get it. So, he manages a lot of these conditions by having a very specific way of getting through life, which gets wearing to the team."

Little, on the other hand, took the process in his stride - even the scorching heat.

It was like, 'Yes, of course I'm going to go and solve murders in the Caribbean. Why would I not want to go and do that?'

"I think I slightly annoyed everyone on set because I was relentlessly positive," he says. "Admittedly, I was only out there for half a series, so I've not done the full five months yet, but every day I would come in going, 'Isn't this great? We're in the Caribbean'. Whereas everyone else was like, 'Look, I'm hot, I'm tired, I've been here four-and-a-half months and I need to go home and see my kids. Can you please stop coming in being so bouncy and bright?' But I just loved it."

Of shooting the famous denouement scenes, he recalls: "They were challenging but great.

"A denouement has this very large place in our cultural heart and yet very few actors - even the greats of history - will have ever got to do one.

"You have to play a detective in a very specific type of show, so I am now one of a fraction of professional actors who's had the chance to do one. What a badge of honour that is."

He adds: "I've been doing this job 23 years now and you develop a little bit of a cynical side about jobs and saying 'yes' to things but with this one, there was literally none of that. It was like, 'Yes, of course I'm going to go and solve murders in the Caribbean. Why would I not want to go and do that?' It was an absolute dream call to get."

There are no qualms surrounding the show's popularity, as the serial hit continues to pull in anything in the region of eight to nine million viewers per episode.

"It's lovely to be doing something where I don't have to worry about whether this is going to capture the public's imagination, because they already love it," says Little, who will fly back out to film the 10th series this year.

"I said this to my mum and she went, 'Well, the only way is down now, you can only ruin it for people'. Thanks mum. That's her keeping me honest, same as always. She's still waiting for me to get a proper job, I'm sure."

But playing the undisputed lead in a prime-time show is quite the achievement.

Little says: "I didn't even realise. I've been so lucky to be in shows that have this large place in people's psyche and yet I've not legitimately led a show before. So, what a joy.

"I've never cared about being number one before. I've no vanity as far as all that's concerned. But on my first day, I got the call sheet and it said 'number one - Ralf Little' and just for half-a-second I went, 'Ah, nice'.

"It was just a moment to go, 'Ah, I turn 40 soon and here we are'. A half-beat of recognition and we move on."

Death in Paradise, BBC One, Thursday, 9pm

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