As DI Jack Mooney becomes the latest detective to say adieu to Saint Marie, Death in Paradise star Ardal O’Hanlon is firmly convinced it’s the right moment for him to go. “I think we had a great ride and it was a fantastic time,” he says. “And I think it was high time to move on.”
The Father Ted actor has starred in the BBC Caribbean crime drama since 2016. But in a surprise announcement in October 2019, he revealed he will be leaving the show part-way through the upcoming ninth series to “explore other opportunities.”
Saint Marie’s new top cop will be Ralf Little (DI Neville Parker).
Explaining his decision, O’Hanlon told RadioTimes.com: “I think most actors, and I would include myself, are kind of curious by nature, and you always wonder what else is out there. Much as you appreciate the job you’re doing at the time, you’re always thinking, ‘Well, what else is there?’.”
And with Death in Paradise in his rear-view mirror, O’Hanlon will now be throwing himself back into stand-up comedy and touring on a grander scale. “I had a show that was bubbling away and I really wanted to get out there and focus on that for a change,” he explained.
“It was a really amazing experience and a really amazing chapter, but I really did feel like a sense of completion, in terms of doing everything possible with the character.
“And given the formulaic nature of the show, Death in Paradise and everything else, there’s only so many places you can go, do you know what I mean? In terms of character. So I just felt that we had really left nothing behind and left no stone unturned, and it was a great experience, and it was just time to move on.”
O’Hanlon’s Detective Inspector Jack Mooney arrived part-way through series five. Although Mooney was only meant to be visiting Saint Marie for a holiday, everything changed when lovestruck DI Humphrey Goodman (Kris Marshall) got engaged in the UK and quit his Caribbean police job. There was a vacancy, and DI Mooney was persuaded to fill it.
Since then, Mooney has embraced Saint Marie as his new home. But now, after four years, he’ll be leaving the island in an as-yet-undisclosed exit storyline.
“I suppose I didn’t think I’d be doing anything for a fourth series,” O’Hanlon revealed. “I really thought three series would be the max, you know. Because it’s quite a demanding show… it’s a tough old show in terms of being away from home for so long, and in terms of the conditions that you film in – the heat and the humidity.”
Like Ben Miller and Kris Marshall before him, O’Hanlon also missed his family while he was out filming in Guadeloupe: his children Emily, Rebecca and Red, and his wife Melanie. That also fed in to his decision to quit.
“I think she found it very tough, because we’ve got three big grown-up kids living in the house and she’s got a lot on her plate, so I think she was finding it tougher as the years went on,” he said. “And I was missing them all hugely as well, so I think it made sense.”
We don’t know much about how DI Mooney will leave the show just yet, but we do know that he won’t be getting an ice-pick to the head à la DI Richard Poole (Ben Miller), who famously exited Death in Paradise by becoming a murder victim himself.
So was there ever talk of killing Mooney off, too? Apparently not!
“It’s a funny sort of show, you know,” O’Hanlon reflected. “Because it’s kind of a lighter drama, they don’t tend to go there. Last year when Florence [Cassell, played by Joséphine Jobert] was shot, I think that was a shock for the audience. She didn’t die, thankfully, but it was pretty serious – she was shot and her boyfriend was murdered.
“So yeah that was enough to be getting on with. Because I think people are tuning into this show for different reasons than they’re tuning into Line of Duty for example. you know? So you want drama, but you don’t want that much drama.”
We also know that, in series nine, Mooney will meet a potential love interest called Anna (played by Nina Wadia).
“So Anna is a witness to a murder, she’s travelling around the world and she ends up on our island on New Year’s Eve and she feels she’s witnessed a murder – she sees a man in a devil mask and she reports that to the police,” O’Hanlon explained.
“And 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.”
DI Jack Mooney is a widower who lost his beloved wife before moving to Saint Marie. So far on the show, he hasn’t been interested in romance at all. But that could change.
“I think it’s going to be interesting for the audience, I think there’s a few surprises and a few twists and turns,” the actor teased. “But she’s a great character. Nina herself is a great character, and she plays this very warm, fun-loving character Anna.”
He added: “It’s interesting, because Jack is having to deal with an awful lot of feelings and emotions and I think he’s really growing as a person and I think he’s really conquering some of his own demons, and I think he’s come to terms with a lot of things in his life and I think the island and I think his own team in the police station have really helped him reach a good place in his life. It’s very uplifting, the way it goes.”
O’Hanlon will soon pass the baton to Ralf Little, who says it is a “dream come true” to join Death in Paradise.
“I know the audience are going to love Ralf, and Ralf’s going to be great in the part, and I’ll be forgotten about in the blink of an eye,” O”Hanlon said.
The actor added: “We were in touch by email, he was kind of picking my brains a little bit and I was offering whatever advice I could.”
But O’Hanlon has no intention of showering Little with sage advice and hard-won wisdom. He explained: “I was very conscious that when Kris was giving me the same advice, it kind of washed over me a bit, because nothing really prepares you for it until you’re out there – for the smells, the sights, the sounds. The heat, the humidity, the environment, the weather, everything. So nothing prepares you for that, no one can convey that to you.
“So you kind of learn as you go along, and you learn quickly, you have to learn quickly, but I think Ralf is smart and I think he’ll land on his feet out there and he’ll be absolutely grand.”
And could O’Hanlon ever be persuaded to bring DI Jack Mooney back for a cameo? “Maybe the island will come to me,” he joked. “I might retire to the Outer Hebrides or somewhere and start crime-busting there, and maybe the team will reunite.
“You never know, I mean you never say never in this business anyway. Full stop.”
Death in Paradise airs on BBC One at 9pm on Thursdays