Imagine trying to romance Dougal from Father Ted: that’s what Nina Wadia was up against when she joined Death in Paradise as a new love interest for Ardal O’Hanlon’s DI Jack Mooney.
O’Hanlon previously starred as hapless, naive, childlike Father Dougal McGuire in the classic sitcom.
“I kept saying to him, ‘I can’t take you seriously, it’s just Dougal! From Father Ted – that’s all I’m looking at! You’re just Dougal, I can’t separate that from that!'” EastEnders actress Wadia tells RadioTimes.com.
But it was laughter that broke the ice, even though the two actors only met the day before filming their first romantic scene together. Wadia adds: “I soon got over it… he’s such a genuine human being, and we just got on and he just made me laugh a lot.”
The new series begins on New Year’s Eve, when Wadia’s character Anna catches a glimpse of a mysterious masked man on the streets of Honoré. That masked man is soon announced as the prime suspect in a murder inquiry, so Anna goes to the police – and that’s when she first comes across DI Jack Mooney.
Newly-divorced Anna is only meant to be passing through Saint Marie on her travels. “She’s doing a year’s worth of travel because it’s on her bucket list,” Wadia explains, “And she’s had a bit of a time with her ex-husband Mike, who was quite selfish. And so she thinks, ‘You know what, I don’t need this in my life, I’m just going to go and do what I’ve always wanted to do.’
“And she literally flies out, and when she least expects to meet someone else, she sees Jack. And for her it’s quite instant, she kind of just knows that she likes him… for her it’s about finding herself first and foremost, but this is an interruption in what her plans were.”
We already know that O’Hanlon will be leaving Death in Paradise mid-way through this series, with the actor telling is it was “high time to move on” – but what we don’t yet know is what his character’s exit storyline will be.
So could Anna have something to do with it?
“Sort of,” Wadia says, laughing. “It’s a real rollercoaster, we don’t really want to give anything away, but she is part of the whole thing in a little way.”
She adds: “Every episode ends with a little bit of a cliffhanger of will-they-won’t-they, and that’s what’s lovely about it.”
Since Jack became Saint Marie’s new Detective Inspector back in 2017, finding love has been the last thing on his mind; he arrived on the island as a recent widower. But now he might be ready to think about dating again.
Executive producer Tim Key says: “I think it’s that thing of paying off the story we brought him in on, which is that he’d lost his wife, and where he was at in his life, and how he can move on. And obviously Nina’s character is a big part of that, and it’s very, it’s really lovely. It’s genuinely a really lovely story that I think the audience will be able to really, really go for.”
O’Hanlon has also provided a few teasers about what’s coming up, telling us: “Jack is very taken with her for some reason. He doesn’t quite understand his feelings himself, I think. And he invites her to his dance classes, because naturally enough he’s taking dance classes. And they strike up a friendship and it’s quite a warm, adult sort of friendship, both lonely people I think who kind of find each other. But that’s not necessarily the way the story goes.”
Fans might recognise Nina Wadia as Zainab from EastEnders, or for her roles in Trollied, Aladdin, Still Open All Hours, or Goodness Gracious Me. But playing Anna is a bit of a departure from her usual kind of role – as well as a literal departure from her usual filming location.
“At first I genuinely thought my agent was joking,” she reveals. “Because there’s a running joke that when I do any project, nine times out of ten I end up filming it in Hackney! I don’t know why that happens to me and it’s a real thing.
“So my agent said – they’ve got this role for you and it’s different to what you normally play, because normally if I go in, I feel I create quite quirky or very character-led parts, because I am a character actor. And then when this came up, and it’s more of a romantic lead, it’s just something very different for me to play.
“And it was great fun! Because I didn’t take it very seriously in terms of, when they told me the part was this woman who was sort of – she’s divorced, she’s starting her life again, she wants to find herself and all of this, and I thought, ‘ah I don’t want to do something that might be what’s quite predictable to do with a character like that,’ so instead I just played her more like how I am which is slightly awkward with new people and just a little bit shy, a bit quirky… and it was really nice to discover this character that came out of me, I just thought, oh she’s kind of fun! I like her!”
Death in Paradise airs on Thursdays from 9th January on BBC One