‘Only Columbo could trump Humphrey’

Kris Marshall in Death In Paradise
Kris Marshall in Death In Paradise
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Residing on a tropical island may sound like an appealing move, but for British actor Kris Marshall - who, in the past three years has spent 18 months filming BBC One’s hit crime drama Death In Paradise on the French-Caribbean island of Guadeloupe - there’s no place quite like home.

“I absolutely love coming back to the UK. The colder the better!” he chimes, after completing the fifth series - his third as lead DI Humphrey Goodman - on the fictional set of Saint Marie.

But for the nine million or so viewers that tune in every week, the blue skies, stretching coastlines and series’ mind-boggling murders provide a much-needed respite from an otherwise dreary season.

“The BBC is very smart about when they put it on,” Marshall admits, laughing. “But the key to the show’s success is warmth, I think. Even though it’s dealing with murder, you can watch it with your kids or your granny - we can all play along.”

Although, he adds: “Only Columbo could trump Humphrey.”

“I’m actually really bad at solving murders; I sometimes have to read the end first, so I know what’s going on. It’s a bit like Cluedo, but I miss all the clues and everything.”

Two episodes into the latest series, and bumbling DI Humphrey and his crime-fighting police team are (thankfully) seeing more success, having already used their expert skills of deduction to solve in-land cases, including the untimely shooting of a wealthy philanthropist and oceanographic leader of a diving party, and a suspect poison plot.

“There are no main cast changes or anything this series, so we’ve been able to concentrate totally on the show itself,” explains 42-year-old Marshall, who is perhaps best known for his role in much-loved early-Noughties sitcom My Family, and as the face of those BT adverts.

“We tried to find different ways of tweaking the genre without changing it, if you know what I mean. We looked at new ways of telling the stories and the murders, some of which are brilliant - almost impossible to solve.

“There are some wedding bells too, but I can’t say who.”

An instant hit after its 2011 debut, Death In Paradise remains one of the broadcaster’s highest-rating dramas, despite controversial cast changes in series three and four, including the death of Humphrey’s predecessor Richard Poole (played by Ben Miller) and departure of his love interest Camille (Sara Martins), who was replaced by DS Florence Cassell (Josephine Jobert).

But with the attraction platonic, this season witnesses Humphrey entering the brave, new world of dating, and Officer J.P. Hooper (Tobi Bakare) reunited with a blast from the past.

However, don’t expect a quick fix: “With Humphrey, the only thing that happens quickly is the solving of the crimes, so things don’t go smoothly,” Marshall warns.

And that’s the appeal behind Death In Paradise: it’s fun and not supposed to be taken seriously. But its sense of ‘ease’ is not to be underestimated.

“We have writers who come onto the show and say, ‘I thought this would be easy: write a bit of a murder, have a few cocktails and there you go’, when actually it’s really, really hard to make the show look that easy.”

A notion he says translates to the series’ tide of guest stars, which this time round includes Paul Nicholls, Heida Reed (Poldark), Julian Ovenden (Downton Abbey), Wendy Craig, Tara Fitzgerald (Game Of Thrones) and Keith Allen, among others.

“They have a very different experience to us, because they don’t live there. We live there the whole time, so we’re more like Londoners.

“Londoners are living in possibly the best city in the world - arguably London or New York - but they have this sort of, ‘London’s London’; they’re used to it. Someone said to me once, ‘If you want to know a place, ask a stranger’, because you walk past stuff every day and don’t even look at it when you’re a local.

“When you have a beautiful beach on your doorstep, suddenly it becomes normal, and when it becomes normal it becomes habitual. You go, ‘Shall we go to the beach and bathe in 32-degree heat?’ ‘Oh no, I don’t think I fancy that today; I might just read a book’.”

While Marshall, who can speak the French language and has become used to the “stifling” heat, enjoys aspects of beach life, he says he “couldn’t do it” if his wife and young son didn’t go with him.

“When I took Death In Paradise on, my son was very young so it was quite an easy decision in terms of him, but now he’s getting older, it would have an affect,” he says.

“Saying that, I’ve been filming on my own in Australia for seven weeks. I’m doing a sequel to a film I did three years ago called A Few Best Men. This one is called A Few Less Men and I’ve been in the outback, which is ironically as hot as where I’ve just come from!”

Death in Paradise continues on BBC One on Thursdays