Speaking with Alfred Molina, it seems almost implausible that it's taken this long for him to star in a detective series.
Sure, he's had previous roles as detectives - he even once played arguably the most famous mystery-solver of them all, Hercule Poirot, in the 2001 TV film of Murder on the Orient Express.
But this is the first time he's fully embracing one of TV's longest and most ubiquitous traditions: playing the leading role in a long form detective series, adapting multiple books from an author's oeuvre.
It certainly hasn't been for lack of interest in the genre. "I'm your typical guy that goes down the rabbit hole on true crime podcasts and all that malarkey. I always have been," says Molina. "I remember reading a Raymond Chandler book that my dad had when I was 13 or 14, and not really understanding all the sexy stuff, but getting all the violence and all the wonderful, delicious language of the cops."
We're talking over Zoom in advance of the release of new Amazon Prime Video series Three Pines, with stars Molina as Chief Inspector Armand Gamache. The eight-part series is based on the books of Louise Penny, a Canadian author whose works are beloved around the world - particularly those featuring Gamache.
Molina admits he wasn't familiar with the books before the project came his way, but the enthusiastic reception of a producer he was working with to the prospect of him taking the role was enough assurance he needed.
Molina says: "I just happened to mention Louise Penny to the producer that I was working with. And she just went off, like, 'Oh my gosh, she's fantastic, I've read all her books, I'm a big fan!' Really, I mean, just thrilled with the notion.
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"And then she said, ‘What part are they thinking of you for?’ and I said, ‘Well, they're thinking of me for Gamache,’ and then she just literally screamed in my face. ‘You've got to do it! You've got to do it!’ And this is a woman whose taste and whose opinion I really respect, so I thought, ‘Well, I better take this seriously.’"
This led Molina on a quest to discover what all the fuss was about, and although he started with one of Penny's novels from the middle of the series (the novels are sequential, with references following on from previous stories), he was hooked.
"I caught the fifth or sixth book in the sequence without really knowing it," he says. "But I read it and I read enough to really get a sense of the character and what was involved and what kind of world we were going to try and create and so on."
Molina was almost on board. However, there was one additional request he had before agreeing to take the lead in what could potentially become a long-form series.
He explains: "I thought, ‘Well, if this runs into a second season or third season, possibly even a fourth season, if I'm going to be that invested, I want to be involved in a much more molecular level.' So I said, 'Well, would they consider me coming on as an executive producer?'"
Molina is quick to point out this wasn't just as a "vanity credit" - he wanted to be fully involved in the creative side of the production, only drawing the line at casting ("as I was going to be acting in the show, it seemed inappropriate").
He continues: "So I made my contribution in the writers room, working with the writers and hashing out stuff and saying, ‘Oh, there's this bit in the book that I think we should keep’ and 'I love this thing that he says here,' and 'Let's not do that, because that doesn't sound like him.' That kind of thing.
"And it was a very, very productive, very challenging but very satisfying experience. I was saying to someone the other day, I finally got to see how the sausage gets made."
It's been a long time coming - Molina's career has been long and varied, ever since he first appeared on screen in 1978's The Losers. He has since appeared in iconic films such as Raiders of the Lost Arc and Boogie Nights, and been nominated for three BAFTAs, two Emmys and a Golden Globe.
He has played characters including Robert Aldrich in Feud, Bishop Aringarosa in The Da Vinci Code and even Superman's father Jor-El in this summer's DC League of Super Pets. So what made Armand Gamache stack up?
"My 16-year-old granddaughter asked me, 'Well, what's his superpower?' And I said, I know it sounds a bit cheesy, but his superpower is empathy. Not just his willingness to empathise, but his desire to empathise, his need to understand and see a point of view that may not be his own.
"I think that's what makes him kind of special as a detective, he has a moral standard about he won't carry a gun, even though it's standard issue for Canadian police. So there was, not a moral compass exactly, but just an understanding of self, knowing that this is who he is and he can't be anything else. And this desire to discover why things happen, rather than just how it happened, and who's responsible.
"I think there are lots of little strands in the books which are very consistent about him trying to do good and trying to seem good. I think at one point, one of the characters says, ‘You always seem to look for the good in people’ and he says, ‘Yeah, and sometimes I even find it.'
"I thought those moments were like, 'Yeah, that’s a really interesting clue to the character.' And because it's very consistent through the books, we felt it was important to make it a feature of our version of Gamache as well."
The series is shot in Canada, and the setting plays a big role in establishing the tone, as well as important elements of story and character.
Molina notes that "in the books, Three Pines itself becomes like a character almost in its own right".
He says: "We wanted to establish where we were, hence the rather luxurious use of drones to get those beautiful rising landscape shots, so hopefully the audience really gets a sense of where they are."
This Canadian locale also meant there was a choice to be made when it came to Gamache's accent. In the books, Penny suggests that, because of his education at Cambridge, the detective speaks with an English accent. But the team went for a different choice, giving the character a mid-Atlantic accent instead.
Molina explains: "We went through all kinds of thoughts about it. I felt that I didn't want to try and do an accent that was completely foreign to me. I thought there's no point doing a French Canadian accent. A, it's a very hard one to achieve, but also it would suddenly become a thing.
"As we were kind of doing the bartering between, 'How do we turn the book into a piece of television without losing too much of the book?', I think the decision was a very practical one.
"It was, 'Let's give him a kind of mid-Atlantic accent that's going to fall easily on the ear and it's not going to make people kind of go, "Where does he come from?"' That was one less obstacle to place in front of the audience and its willingness to suspend disbelief."
The setting also plays a big part when it comes to the season's over-arching storyline. While each two episodes adapt one of Penny's books and tell a stand-alone 'murder of the week' story, there is also an arc across the eight episodes as Gamache searches for missing indigenous girls and women, including the 18-year-old Blue Two-Rivers.
Molina explains the inclusion of this storyline, noting that it was an important element of Canadian cultural life to recognise.
He says: "If you're going to do a police series in Canada, there's no way you can avoid it. To avoid it I think would be insulting, not least to the indigenous population.
"But in order to tell that story, we didn't want to be in a position where we were coming in as kind of like the white saviours to solve everyone's problems. We felt that if we're going to have those stories told then they have to be told by the people to whom the stories happened."
This meant casting indigenous actors was "absolutely essential", while episodes are also directed by a Mohawk, indigenous director, Tracy Deer.
Molina continues: "She directed the two episodes that deal most closely with the indigenous issue and those plot lines. Because it was important that that community got to tell its own story, rather than have us kind of do it from some other patronising point of view.
"And we had indigenous consultants working on the scripts to ensure that everything was as authentic and as realistic as possible. And there's great use of indigenous musicians in the soundtracks and a lot of indigenous art that gets very prominent placing in the episodes."
So, what of the show's future? Well, Molina is quick to point out that this season has only just scratched the surface of Penny's book series.
He says that for season 1, "We looked at the first three books plus a book that kind of stands alone. She wrote a novella called The Hangman, and it's got all the same characters but it's not part of the sequence of books. She wrote it as a fundraiser for a literary charity that she's involved with, but it's got such good material in there that we thought, 'Well this can definitely stand up as a plot for an episode.'"
I point out that Gamache also appears in a small role in State of Terror, a book Penny wrote with former Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
"I didn't know that! I'm going to have to read it," Molina says. "I just assumed because Hillary Clinton was a co-writer that maybe she'd gone off piste or was doing a whole other political thriller or something like that. So I'm gonna have to read it."
However, it seems there will be no shortage of stories to tell. "Even without that book, there's 18 or 19 Three Pines novels," Molina explains. "I mean, there's a lot of material there."
But what of Molina's other upcoming projects? I, of course, can't end our conversation without asking about perhaps the star's most famous role - Doctor Octopus in the Spider-Man film series.
Molina first appeared in the role back in 2004's Spider-Man 2, but made a surprise re-appearance as the character in last year's Spider-Man: No Way Home, entering the MCU proper and sparring with Tom Holland's web-slinger.
The end of that film seemingly saw his character's story closed off, with Doc Ock returning to his original universe. But with more multiversal shenanigans on the cards for future Marvel films, could Molina still return to the role for a future project?
"I can neither confirm or deny," he says teasingly. "That's the official line. I got into a bit of trouble over the last iteration because I happened to let the cat out of the bag quite innocently. Just accidentally, I was talking to a journalist who said, ‘So, you know, how's the Spider Man movie going?’ And I went, ‘Oh, great thanks.'
"The next day, literally the next day, Variety was like ‘Alfred Molina reveals Doc Ock returns’. And I got into such trouble. I was getting phone calls from Amy Pascal, Kevin Feige was on the red carpet somewhere and somebody asked him about some Marvel movie and apparently he got a bit snippy and turned around and said, ‘Ask Alfred Molina.' So I got into a little bit of hot water.
"So that's the official line. I can neither confirm nor deny."
Three Pines episodes 1 and 2 are available now on Amazon Prime Video, with two new episodes dropping each Friday – you can sign up now for a free 30-day Prime Video trial.