Ben Miller has the golden touch when it comes to his projects. He shot to success as the first main detective DI Richard Poole in Death in Paradise, was the patriarch of the Featherington household in the triumphant success that is Bridgerton - and now, he has most certainly done it again with his role as Jasper Tempest - a blunt Criminology professor with severe OCD - in the ITV drama, Professor T.
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The show has previously received Belgian, German and French adaptations, so what is the appeal of the series, and indeed the mysterious professor at its heart?
Ben sat down for a chat with HELLO! Spotlight to talk all about taking on the iconic role, whether he’d return to Death in Paradise for another flashback episode, and to fill us in on that shocking Bridgerton twist…
Thanks for joining us Ben! We think that viewers are going to love Professor T. What made you want to take on the role?
I've just never seen a character like this in a crime drama, and I love crime drama. Apart from comedies, it’s what I watch all of the time. In fact, I think I probably watch it more than comedy now.
This series has really, really clever crimes, but I also think the great advantage of it is that every one of those main characters could have their own series, they're all really fully formed. And to be able to play a character who is as out there as he is - I’m hoping that to begin with, as an audience watching you think, ‘Oh my God, who is this guy? What a prick’, then you slowly sort of start to understand what's going on inside him and then the penny drops that this is somebody who you really want to give a hug to, although he would hate being hugged!
WATCH: Ben Miller stars as Professor T
In the first episode he tells his students about trauma, is that something he has experienced firsthand?
Absolutely, massively. He’s got this fascinating backstory that is incredibly traumatic. It goes partly to explain why he is as he is. He’s also on the autistic spectrum and he's got terrible OCD, he's got this really traumatic childhood, yet he's functioning and not only that highly functioning, higher than most of us would manage to.
There is an element of Sherlock Holmes about him. Harsh, but with a heart of gold.
Heart of gold, absolutely brilliant, but terrible with people. There's a lot of Sherlock Holmes, isn't there? I think the thing that Sherlock Holmes nails is that idea of the genius detective, the almost supernaturally gifted detective, and the professor is one of those.
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That’s not particularly in vogue, you know, what is in vogue right now is bright, hard-working detectives struggling with difficult family lives. And I think I love it for that reason as well. It's slightly stepping outside the realm of what's expected. But it does feel classic with its own unique twist.
I think people love the ‘gifted detective’ because we're fascinated by them
We're fascinated by criminals, aren't we, as well as fascinated by people who break the rules, and that's what's so interesting about Professor T. You've got the ultimate rule-breakers, the criminals, but then you also have him. He's a criminologist. He's not really even a detective. He's sort of playing detective, it’s not really even his main interest.
He’s really not that interested in real-life crime. I read a brilliant story in the news today about a girl who has just won a Spelling Bee. She's just won it and this isn’t even her main interest, her main interest is basketball and she holds several basketball records. He strikes me as that kind of person where he's interested in a lot of other things just besides crime. He just happens to be particularly good at it, you know?
Did you watch the other adaptations of Professor T for research?
I watched the show, and I loved it. I absolutely loved and Koen De Bouw, who played Professor T in the original, I just thought he was absolutely brilliant. I'm glad I'd seen the original show, because I didn't want to do anything in my version of Professor T that I'd seen in his version of the character. So it was really, really useful, I was so glad that I had seen it. We very much started with the original premise, but we approached it as if we were making our own version of those scripts, without reference to the existing show.
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We shot it in a very different way, lit it in a very different way, performed it in a very, different way. And I think it stands side by side with the original. We certainly don't feel like we ripped it off. We wanted our version of it to be authentically our own. I don't know how you’d copy it. It's just so brilliant.
It is so stylised too...
It’s so beautiful. We had a fantastic, director and cinematographer a Belgian director called Dries Vos, who's just so inspirational and the cinematographer and the two of them together, they are Professor T.
They created this beautiful look. And once you have all that beauty and you have these horrific crimes, you've suddenly got a really, really interesting mix. It's not an obvious choice, but it worked beautifully, I think.
It is most definitely a drama, but there a some comedic moments...
Some episodes are very dark and dramatic, other episodes are much more comical. In episode three, there's a hostage situation, and they have this hostage negotiator that comes in. And Professor T, while he's out of the room, picks up the phone to the kidnappers and tells them they're not meeting any of their demands [Laughs]. It's so fun, it is out and out comedy. I mean, this is essentially a drama as it's configured like a drama, it's set up like a drama.
It's got lots of dark stuff going on and I think you need those calming moments. And so that you feel it's real. If it was just all too weird and dark, I wouldn't trust it as a world. I feel like I can really get lost in it, when I know that there are light moments as well.
How is the show different to another one of your big successes, Death in Paradise?
Death in Paradise is tonally very different to this. It's got a much lighter tone, doesn't it? The classic example in death in Paradise is when that bride jumps off the top floor of a building with a harpoon in her back, and it's quite clearly just a dummy in a white dress. They never want any of the crimes in Death in Paradise to look too realistic, because it would ruin the comedy. It's a drama with comedy bones.
With Professor T, it's shot in a very beautiful way, but it is much darker, and I don't quite know where it's going. I don't think anybody really knows where it's going and could go in any direction. I'm not sure how trustworthy he is. I have a completely open mind about him.
Spoilers for the first episode here, but the final moments show a terrible moment in Jasper’s past. Are there a lot of these revelatory moments in the series?
There are lots of twists. That story really develops. The trauma of his childhood is a few of those blanks get filled during this first season. So he's really going on a journey into his past by stepping into the real world. He has been in his little ivory tower and he's never really risked anything. By stepping over the threshold into the real world, he's forced to confront his own childhood trauma and I find the end of the season really moving.
What can you tell us about season two?
There hasn’t been confirmation yet, so it'll just depend what the audience reaction is, what the reviews are, like, what the viewing figures are like and so on.
And you would like to go back to it?
Oh my God, I love it. I’d happily make this show for rest of my life, but I don't know, that's outside my control. I think it's wonderful. I love the character and I think there's a lot to explore. It would be a wonderful thing to be able to continue.
Let’s talk Death in Paradise. We were so happy to see your character back in season ten. Did your return make you want to get back onto the show?
Of course! It was so amazing. What was really, really wonderful was seeing Sara Martins again. I do see Sara occasionally, she's sometimes in London, and sometimes in Paris, but obviously not for the last couple of years. There's a few members of the cast who I keep in touch with. Danny John Jules is another one. What was great was, there was always something very, very special about we played those parts as Richard and Camille.
You worry that it was just about that moment and that time, and that time is gone. But to be back acting in scenes, it was just like, we'd never left. It was a bit like your school reunion when you all slip back into the same sort of roles. You will find yourself, your family, your friends all doing exactly the same thing. All behaving in exactly the same way and it was amazing. It was great. And the scene was really, really beautifully written and handled so well.
Did the set feel any different after all these years?
Guadeloupe has changed. There’s a lot of tourism there now, where there wasn't really any before. There are really lovely beach restaurants and everything seems to have changed for the better. The locals have adopted the show by the look of it.
It seems to have had a really good influence. It was lovely to see some of the original crew members that I worked with on the very first few seasons still there. It is mainly the local crew that are still doing the shooting. It was really cool. All of my original costumes were there, it's all kept looked after. So there I was, putting on exactly the same beautifully laundered costume that I’d worn ten seasons before!
We have to chat about Bridgerton too. Your role was written especially for the show, is that right?
Yes, I had a great part because through the course of the series, he's part of this family. There are two main families, the Bridgertons, and the Featheringtons. He’s what you’d call, in psychology, the unidentified patient. First of all, you think those daughters are really messed up, and then you think, ‘Oh the mother’s really messed them up, and then you realise, ‘Oh my God, it's all him.’ I loved the bravery of that.
It was quite a white knuckle thing to do because in the first few episodes, I didn't really do anything. I'm just sitting there with the newspaper, not really saying very much. I knew what the story was, and I was really excited. I've always wanted to play a part of a character that doesn't really speak much, but he's very present. And then I had all that story coming up at the end.
But it was very funny, there was a crew member on the show guy called Bradley. I've done a number of jobs with him, I think he was on death in Paradise, and every day he’d come in and say, ‘Have you still not said anything?’ [Laughs]
Bridgerton is successful for a reason, which is every character has their own story. Every character has a really, really fascinating story. It just might not be revealed straight away, that's all.
Did you know your character would be killed off? What was your reaction?
I thought was great. I loved it! And really unexpected. I loved Game of Thrones when Ned Stark got killed off within the first season. I'm not saying I’m the Bridgerton equivalent to Game of Thrones, but it can be a really, really great way of storytelling. It's really bold storytelling and it tells you, you just don't know what to expect as an audience, anything can happen.
Your characters are dead in Death in Paradise and Bridgerton - but you’ve returned for flashbacks! Could it happen again?
I don't know, you just never know if I could come back from the dead. In Death in Paradise I definitely got killed with a nice big ice pick in the chest. So you never know what's gonna happen.
In the meantime, I hear you have two children’s books published later this year?
Right now I am writing my fifth children's book! The first one I wrote was about my oldest son Jackson, and it was an unexpected hit. And then I've been writing other ones about my other kids. Harrison is the main character in The Boy Who Made the World Disappear, and then I wrote one for my daughter Lana called The Day I Fell into a Fairy Tale. That one took off way beyond what any of us were expecting.
Now I've written two more - but I’ve run out of children! So I'm writing one for my dog called How I Became a Dog Called Midnight. It's about a boy who swaps bodies with his pet dog. It's a cool story, I loved writing it. I’m writing another called The Diary of a Christmas Elf, which is about how he’s trying to make it in Santa’s toy workshop.
Do your kids enjoy knowing that they are the main characters in your books?
They couldn’t be less interested! It's so funny. They’ve got nothing to compare it to, I suppose. Do they enjoy it? For sure, and they’ve read them. And I think they enjoyed them, but I think what they really enjoy is when their friends say, ‘Oh, I've read that book,’ and they go, ‘Wait, so you're the real Harrison?!’
What’s next for you?
I’m writing these books at the moment and they're going to press in August, so that's my main focus. And then hopefully if it all goes well, we’ll do more Professor T. But at the moment, I'm available! [Laughs]
I can't think of many things that I've done that I that I've enjoyed so much as Professor T, so now we just need to get people to watch it, because nothing can happen without that! So I think that's what we're all focused on at the moment and just hoping that people like it!
Exclusive photos by David Reiss
Styling: Steph Kelly
Groomer: Sam Cooper at Carol Hayes Management
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