Having waved goodbye to Ardal O’Hanlon, Honoré Police finds itself in need of a new Detective Inspector – and arriving on the next plane from Manchester is DI Neville Parker (Ralf Little), who’s been summoned to sign off on the apparent suicide of a British tourist.
But though he’s only packed one change of clothes in his rucksack, Neville soon finds he’ll be staying for longer than he thought…
Ralf Little tells RadioTimes.com what to expect from the new DI.
What’s up with DI Neville Parker and his health issues?
DI Neville Parker arrives at Saint Marie airport, collides with some chickens, takes a puff from his inhaler, glares up at the sun, and immediately begins slathering his face in sunscreen. It’s a very appropriate introduction to Death in Paradise’s latest star, who turns out to have a whole litany of health issues.
“He doesn’t travel well,” Ralf Little explains. “Neville is a man who’s besieged by many physical problems. Neville basically is allergic to everything.
“So he’s had to develop over the course of his life a very narrow band of experiences, a very limited routine. Just because it’s just easier to make his life run smoothly than it is to take even the small risk and then have to deal with the really, really tricky consequences. He’s asthmatic and he’s got eczema, he’s allergic to every type of pollen and he gets sunburnt really easily and has hypoallergenic shampoo and all this kind of stuff. But he’s also not one of these real nerdy losers – he’s a normal guy. Out of necessity, this is the way he has to live.”
Poor Neville! He’s definitely not suited to life in the Caribbean.
“When he arrives in Saint Marie, of course, it’s a disaster for him because he’s basically allergic to the entire island,” Little tells us. “You know, he’s a mosquito magnet and the suns beating down on him – every type of tree, every type of pollen, every bit of wildlife is a massive problem for him.”
As for the shack on the beach, with its rustic features and its resident lizard Harry, “He’s not a fan… and the less said about the relationship with Harry the better.”
However, while DI Neville Parker does suffer from very real (and dangerous) physical ailments, Little says he will begin to adapt to his new environment. “We get the sense I think, that during the course of this half series… the preemptive measures he has put in place are possibly a bit too regimented,” the actor says.”He hasn’t quite struck the right balance… between limiting his risk and just limiting his life.”
Hasn’t Ralf Little been in Death in Paradise before?
Yep! Back in 2013, when Death in Paradise was only in its second season, Ralf Little played a character called Will Teague in the episode A Dash of Sunshine – opposite then-DI Richard Poole (Ben Miller).
So, when Little heard from his agent about a possible new role in Death in Paradise, he was skeptical. “I said, ‘Don’t be ridiculous, I’ve already done an episode I cant be a guest again,'” Little recalls. “I can’t just go in and be a murderer or a red herring or something like that. Then my agent said, ‘No, no they mean for a new detective.’ I said, ‘What?‘”
But don’t expect any kind of nod to Little’s previous role…
“We are absolutely not referencing it,” the actor says. “There were some discussions about whether we should do a kind of cheeky little reference, or a nod or a wink or a clever little joke in the show. Then we thought: you know what, just leave it, people are going to know. And it’s fine, and we can just accept that as part of the show’s history and move on. In TV world it’s not that unusual to be honest… I was four different characters in Heartbeat. Peter Capaldi was in an episode of Doctor Who before he was Doctor Who!”
How does DI Neville Parker get on with the team – and the Commissioner?
Put it this way: the transition is not a smooth one.
While DS Madeleine Dumas (Aude Legastelois), Officer Ruby Patterson (Shyko Amos) and Officer JP Hooper (Tobi Bakare) get on just fine with their new boss, “They also find him easily frustrating,” Little admits. “And not because he’s a tricky personality, but because his peculiar quirks and necessary safety measures are a real pain for everyone else. He’s a very frustrating person to be around.”
He explains: “You know Madeleine, for example, is a very active go-getter type of personality? She will drive the jeep and get to a crime scene and go, ‘Right, let’s go!” and she’ll leap out an stride up to the front door ready to check out a crime scene, and she’ll turn round to him and he’ll still be in the jeep peering gently out of the window at the sunshine going, ‘Oh wait a second I’ve got to put three more layers of sunscreen,’ and figuring out what trees are nearby and if he needs to take an an antihistamine for the pollen, and all that kind of thing.
“So he is well liked and certainly well-respected professionally. But there’s a little bit of eye rolling, certainly.”
However, there’s one big exception: Commissioner Selwyn Patterson (Don Warrington) is NOT a fan. At all.
“Selwyn finds him deeply, deeply annoying,” says Little. “Selwyn is of the very clearly-stated opinion that he is really not cut out to be a detective on this island.”
What is the new DI’s crime-solving style?
“His thing as a detective, his peculiar brilliance as a detective, is his eye for seemingly insignificant detail,” Little reveals. “And often a single insignificant detail which everybody else might step over.
“So while Richard Poole, Ben Miller’s character, was extremely methodical – and Kris Marshall, with Humphrey, with clumsily puppyish [style] might stumble upon something and have the wherewithal to know what it meant – and Ardal’s character is able to see the overarching narrative about how a crime might happen, because he’s a storyteller. Neville’s thing is his eye for detail.”
He adds: “An example would be – and it’s not an example in the show – if a victim was not to take sugar in their tea but they were found with a sachet of sweetener in their pocket, other detectives and other police might just dismiss that as nothing major. But in the end it would be a tiny insignificant detail for him to realise something is amiss here, something isn’t right. And it would be this little key detail that everyone else missed, is what would allow him to access and unlock the picture of a case.”
How long will Ralf Little stay?
Kris Marshall left Death in Paradise to spend more time with his young family. Ardal O’Hanlon left to “explore other opportunities” and see more of his wife and kids. So how long is Ralf Little planning to stay?
“I’m still not over the stage of being delighted to be in it, and I’ve only done half a series so I feel like I’m just getting going,” he tells us.
“And there’re are certain factors of my life that should been taken into account. I think for all three previous guys, the fact of having kids and a family back here has been something to consider, and quite difficult… I don’t have any responsibilities like that, and plus my other half is American and lives and works in America, so I’m very used to crossing the Atlantic – in fact when I was in the Caribbean I was closer to her than I normally am anyway.”
Little’s fiancé is the American playwright Lindsey Ferrentino, who wrote on Instagram when the casting was confirmed: “FINALLY! Here is why we were living in the Caribbean this summer. Because my fiancé @ralf.little is amazing. I can’t wait for everyone else to see how funny and charming and talented he is as the new lead inspector.”
For now, Little is “deeply relieved” that fans seem excited to welcome him to the show.
“It’s a precious thing for people when they feel they have an emotional stake in a show, it’s a precious thing in a show for the lead character to be changed in and out like this,” he says. “So it’s up to me to kind of earn people’s trust and affection. It’s a big responsibility.”
Death in Paradise continues on BBC One at 9pm on Thursdays