TV preview: Douglas Henshall on why Shetland is a TV detective show with a difference

Douglas Henshall as DI Jimmy Perez.
Douglas Henshall as DI Jimmy Perez.
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Douglas Henshall’s life has changed massively since we last saw him solving mysteries as DI Jimmy Perez.

In the almost-two years since BBC One series Shetland has been off-screen, he’s become a dad.

And while shaking off the much-loved, dark cop drama after filming can still take time, he says having a 14-month-old baby girl has made a difference.

“I don’t really have time to dwell too much on things,” remarks the Glasgow-born star, who, before Shetland, was probably best known for science-fiction series Primeval.

“When I come home, thankfully I get to see the tail end of her day - help bath her or whatever - and so that kind of takes your mind off things.”

Adapted from the acclaimed novels by Ann Cleeves, Shetland follows Perez investigating crimes within the close-knit community on the Scottish archipelago.

The fourth series - as with the third - is an original story, rather than being based on one Cleeves has penned, and sees Perez and his team deal with murders from the past and present with unsettling similarities.

Of returning to the role, 52-year-old Henshall says: “It’s in my bones now. So, really, the minute I get there, it’s all very familiar ... familiar in a nice way.”

In the first of six episodes, Thomas Malone returns home to Shetland after spending 23 years in jail for murder.

And with the story exploring whether Thomas is a victim of a miscarriage of justice, Perez faces new challenges.

“The thing that Jimmy Perez finds difficult in this series is you’ve got someone who doesn’t trust the police at all and - as far as he’s concerned - has every right not to trust the police at all,” explains Henshall in his distinctive Scottish accent.

“It’s a really interesting story, it’s got a lot of levels to it, and I really think people will enjoy it.”

Series one of Shetland began with Perez moving back to the island to create a secure home for himself and his daughter, Cassie, following his wife’s death.

It has since built up a really strong fan base, with many saying its stunning (but sometimes bleak-looking) backdrop, high levels of suspense and fast-moving drama is reminiscent of the popular Scandi noir genre (think: Wallander and The Killing).

But with so many crime shows out there to watch, what is it about Perez that Henshall thinks makes him stand out on our screens?

“I’m not entirely sure really,” he confides. “Most detectives on the telly are kind of rough and a bit maverick and unpredictable and they upset people, and he’s not really like that.

“He’s a fairly decent man, trying to bring up his daughter the best way he can and get on with his life,” he continues. “He listens to people and tries to find the best way through things.

“I think he’s quite relatable as a person. That might have something to do with it.”But, he is keen to point out, he’s quite happy not being entirely clued up as to what draws people to the show.

“Actors are quite vain,” he says, “and if you think, ‘That’s why people like me’ ... It’s quite nice if you’re not aware of things like that because it stops you maybe over-thinking it.”

For Henshall, the chance to film in his home of Scotland is, of course, a massive plus - especially because his wife and daughter joined him for the first five weeks of filming in Glasgow.

“We got to hang out with my family. We were living together in a wee house up there, so it was great,” he gushes.

“Obviously I didn’t bring them up to Shetland when we went to shoot up there - because the hotel we stay in is lovely, but you’re either in a room or you’re in a bar downstairs. There isn’t really that much to do.”

Elaborating more on the uniqueness of remote island life, he says: “The longer I stay there, the more I enjoy it.

“It’s a wonderful place to be, and it’s a fantastic place to bring up kids. I forget how much noise pollution there is in somewhere like London.”

However, he isn’t entirely sure living there permanently would be right for him.

“Everybody says, ‘If you can handle the winters in Shetland, then you can maybe think about living there’,” he quips.Returning to film a fourth series has also meant being reunited with the cast and crew who, even if “it’s a cliche”, he’s happy to say are like family.

“And one of the best things about the show is welcoming in people who are here as guest actors,” he adds.

Shetland returns to BBC One on Tuesday at 9pm