Ralf Little

Ralf Little proves he’s leading man material in BBC’s Death in Paradise, sharing the spotlight with fiction’s great detectives

When chatting with Ralf Little, it isn’t hard to be immediately at ease. He’s charming, witty, deeply thoughtful, effortlessly funny, and quick to tell a great story. You can’t help but be pulled in by the warmth of his nature. And for someone working in the film and television industry, it can be difficult to keep a sensible head on your shoulders, but Ralf? He’s as humble as they come. Nose to the grindstone and with a passion for his craft that radiates, it was only a matter of time before someone took a chance on him.  For years, he’s worked tirelessly at being seen. Patiently waiting for the opportunity to be given a shot at a leading role. His chance came in the form of an e-mail asking him to audition for Death in Paradise as the lead detective

Ralf credits luck and opportunity for getting to where he is today. And while that’s certainly true (as it is for most actors), there’s no discrediting the amount of work he’s done to leave his mark. It only takes one person to see your value and what you can bring to the table. For Ralf, he took that as a challenge. Constantly putting himself out into the world just hoping for the wind to catch his raised sail. Taking on the role of DI Neville Parker has given Ralf the opportunity of a lifetime to truly flex those creative muscles. As a fan of whodunits from a young age, watching the likes of Columbo, Murder She Wrote, Neville finds himself in good company among the greats.

In conversation with 1883 Magazine’s Dana Reboe, Ralf talks about season 12 of Death in Paradise, which castmate would best solve a murder, the dream franchise he’d like to be a part of, his favourite on-screen detective and so much more. 


What I love about Death in Paradise is despite the nature of the show – being a murder mystery – there’s a light-heartedness to it that’s charming. I think that’s one of the reasons why it’s been successful for so long. How did it feel to take the reins of the series and contribute to that legacy? How’s the journey been for you so far?

There are a few answers to that, but I’ll speak for a second to your point about the show being lighthearted. Lighthearted does not mean lightweight. I was always a fan of the show, but even more so now that I’m here. Now that I’m doing it. It takes a lot of effort to make it look so easy. Across the board, from writing to development from the crew, and the cast, there’s a lot of work that goes into it being so neatly packaged. I’ve used this analogy before, I think I might have read an old interview that Russell Tovey did with you guys where he talks about the swan analogy. I was like, that’s annoying because that’s the one I always use for Death in Paradise. So, I’m going to steal it. I’m going to plagiarize Russell Tovey from this very magazine [laughs]. There’s a swan gliding serenely across the lake, but underneath, it’s paddling furiously. There’s a lot of work that goes into it [the show].  Occasionally, you know, people say – and they mean it as a compliment – people say: I love Death in Paradise it’s my guilty pleasure. I always feel like – don’t be guilty! [laughs] So much goes into making the show. Enjoy watching it!

To the second part of the question, I’m incredibly proud to be a part of this legacy, to be a part of this team, this machine that works so, so hard to make a show people love. I’ve been overwhelmed, particularly this year, by the amount of affection and love. This year loads of people have come out to visit the set. 

Because the pandemic is largely behind us, travel has opened the number of people that go to Guadeloupe to try and see the locations. Often they don’t know where we’re filming, so they’ll be outside the police station or whatever. So, if I have a couple of minutes in between scenes, I’ll go out and say hello. If it’s not in anybody’s way, there’s been a few people whom I’ve managed to take on a sneaky, spontaneous tour. Why not? It’s not an easy place to get to, you know, you have to go through Paris, or you have to go through Miami. If people have made the effort to get there, then spending a few minutes just to say thank you and show them around? It’s a real pleasure to do. 

But you know what the weirdest thing about it has been? Plenty of English people coming over, but you know, Belgian, Dutch, German, French, of course, all over Europe, all over Eastern Europe. Fair few Canadians. There was one guy, I think he was from LA, with his two teenage daughters, he said he had to bring them to this. They live in LA, they can see huge Hollywood stars on any corner anywhere, but this is where they wanted to be. So yeah, it’s the least I can do to spend a bit of time and say thank you. It’s incredible being part of such an internationally beloved show. 

As far as responsibility goes, I was so excited to be part of it, because I’ve known the show for a long time. I jumped at the chance. I mean, who’s not going to be excited about going to film in the Caribbean for a few months? I really wanted to do the best job I could and that’s what I tried to do. When my episode was first broadcast – I arrived halfway through season nine – at 20 to nine that night, certainly all the previous few months of gentle anxiety or worry, or whatever you call it, was all condensed into a 120-minute period. What if people hate this? I got to a point where I couldn’t watch it. I think I turned on Rick and Morty. Then, at about 10 past nine, my other half texted me. She said she’d been following along on Twitter, and that I didn’t need to worry, I can turn the show on. She was able to tell immediately by following social media, she’s like: you’re good, people like you.



Can you explain a little bit about getting the role and how it changed your life?

Yeah, so in the UK, I’m relatively well-known for various things. Mostly comedy leaning, though not always, that’s just what I’m most known for. I had, by any metric, a successful career that I’m very, very proud of. But I was towards my mid to late 30s, I found that I would tend to be thought of as the sort of slightly cheeky brother-in-law, rather than somebody whom producers felt an audience might respond to, who could lead a show or carry a show or be a protagonist. I was looking for something that would give me the opportunity to do that. Somebody’s got to take a chance on you, you know? It’s not just what you’re trying to put out there. 

The audition came about, I got an email from my agent saying, ‘can you go in and have a meeting for Death in Paradise next week?’ I was a bit like, ‘this is a mistake,’ because I’ve already done the show. I was a guest in series two. I’d been a red herring. I know for a fact that they never have repeat cast, they just don’t do it, unless it’s the same character coming back. This is obviously a mistake, I need to call my agent to say ‘guys, you probably should know that I’ve been on the show before.’ Then I read the e-mail again. It was like wait – new detective? No way! I quickly swallowed my own lack of attention to detail and read their email properly. 

Went in and chatted to the exec producer, who I knew from when I’d done season two. They had a rough outline of what they thought the character might look like, might sound like, and so on, which is different from what it is now. They said, ‘look, this is a rough sketch of a character. This is a dummy scene. This isn’t a real scene, but this is what it might look like. How do you feel? Do you want to read it with us?’ I went in and gave it my best shot. In every audition I’ve ever been in, I’ve always assumed I was terrible. Anytime I’ve left an audition and gone – ‘absolutely nailed that.’ Never heard a thing. I don’t know why that is. Now it comes to the point where I leave an audition thinking I was rubbish, because then I’ve got half a chance, you know? [both laugh] I didn’t think much of it. I thought, well, that seemed to go well. It’s a good company. I like Tim the Exec. I guess that was that. Over the years, I have developed a sort of defense safety mechanism. Once you finish an audition and you walk out of it? Try not to think about it ever again. Just let it go. You gave it your best shot. Bryan Cranston did a great interview; it was based on a talk I think he gave at the National where it’s your job to go in and give your best shot of your best interpretation. Then completely forget about it because the rest is s not up to you. 

I genuinely hadn’t given it any thought. Then a couple of weeks or maybe 10 days later, I was driving around. My other half is American, so she asked: ‘what are we doing this weekend?’ I’m like: ‘nothing just chilling out.’ She’s like: ‘I’ve crossed the Atlantic, we’re going to Amsterdam or similar, right?’ It has slightly put me to shame, that attitude, because it’s made me realize I should have been doing that my whole life. It’s so easy to get to these amazing places in Europe. We went to Ireland. We went to a wedding on the east coast. Then we drove across to the west coast. We were pulling into the car park in Dingle Bay, in the rain, to go and see Fungi the dolphin who lives there. As we pulled up, I parked the car, and I got a call from my agent. And all I said to Lindsey was: ‘oh there’s a possibility this might be big. Hold on, I’m going to step outside.’ I don’t know why I stepped outside. I just needed to either hear the good news or take the bad news privately, I guess.

I stepped outside into the rain. My agent said: ‘so how do you fancy being the new detective on Death in Paradise?’ That was that. I got this wonderful life-changing news, then got on a boat and saw a lone dolphin swimming around Dingle Bay. It was an incredibly odd day all around. Then a day later or two days later, we went to Blarney castle, and I kissed the Blarney Stone, which is said to bring you good luck. I sort of went: ‘I feel like I’ve done this the wrong way around.’ Just that sense of ‘wow, this is everything I didn’t even dare to hope for.’ I’ve had that feeling a handful of times over the course of my career because that’s what happens when you get a role that you really want. But this one felt like not just getting a role, but kind of a milestone. It’s the first time where somebody’s taken that chance and gone: ‘you know what, let’s see if he can carry a show.’ It worked out, everybody’s happy and here we are.


I think you’re doing a fantastic job. As a fan of the show myself, just amazing.

I mean, I just love it. It’s tough. It doesn’t sound tough. I don’t expect a lot of sympathy when I say it can be physically demanding. But of course, I love it. There are worse places to work, of course. It’s still up at 5:30 in the morning, and it’s still long days, still extremely hot. So, it’s not a cakewalk, but I just love it.


That’s totally fair! Is there a particular story from the show that has resonated with you?

Good question. I can’t remember most of them now [laughs]. The storylines sort of blur together. Neville’s journey, I think, is quite poignant if you look at it. When he arrived, he was deeply uncomfortable and desperate to go home. He was living a half-life because he was too afraid of what the price might be to live a full life. To have come as far as he’s come, trying to live a fuller life albeit with prices to pay, you know, food still gets to him, insects get to him, but that’s okay. These are the ups and downs of the human experience. What an amazing thing for this character. He’s now kind of living it to the full. Which of course means for season 12 He’s got a whole new set of challenges to face. Indeed, without any spoilers by some of his biggest ever. 


Oh, don’t do that.

That’s the most I can tell you [both laugh]. 


What a tease

He really does face his biggest challenge ever. It’s quite something.


That being said, going into season 12, is there a piece of advice that you would give Neville? 

I just had a very picky response. Then I was like, ‘no, I don’t think I can say that.’


Oh please, do tell.

[laughs] I’ll get in all sorts of trouble. A piece of advice? Trust your instincts. Your instincts have never let you down. Trust the people around you and keep doing what you do. Don’t lose heart. You’re good at what you do. Keep going.


Okay, I’ll take that. So, among your classmates, who do you think would be the best person to solve a murder?

Oh, that’s Shantol [Jackson]. I want to say she’s very studious, but that’s not quite the right word and meticulous isn’t quite the right word either. I don’t want to say professional because that implies no one else is which is not right at all. 

She’s got a real eye for detail. Very meticulous in that respect. She’d be a great detective. She notices people, she gets on with everybody. She’s very thorough. 


I did some digging on TikTok and Instagram and I have to know: did you, Shantol and Tahj actually crash that wedding?

Oh, no! Shantol really wanted to, as well. It’d be rude enough if they knew us from the show. But if they didn’t, we’re just three random people who walked into somebody’s wedding. No, we can’t do that. That’s ridiculous. She said, ‘oh, that would have been fun.’ Tahj is the most sensible 21-year-old you’ve ever known in your entire life. He came onto the show when he was 19. I’d be amazed if he didn’t have a huge career. He arrived as a fully formed superstar; professional, funny, easygoing, and mature way beyond his years. He’s just brilliant. It’s easy enough for me and Shantol to be a little mischievous. [laughs] But he’s not having any of it. So no, we didn’t crash the wedding, sorry. It would have been fun.


You’ve been on Doctor Who, is there another show or franchise that you would love to be a part of?

Doctor Who was great fun. It was nice for me to do something a bit different. Peter [Capaldi] was just a joy to work with…I mean, just one line in any Star Wars movie would make me very, very happy. I’m from that generation. I did find out that Mark Hamill is a fan of The Royale Family. If my five-year-old self could possibly have known that, I probably would have just melted. I’d love to do any Star Wars movie – I just love it. I do a lot of voiceover work too, I’d love to do any line in Rick and Morty. I think it’s the best show on television. It’s so good. They’re such masters of storytelling. Dan Harmon has done many, many workshops and he’s the master of the story circle. You know, as someone who’s also written a bit, that sort of crossover of interests appeals to me. They’ve mastered the story circle and they can now take the piss out of it at will. For me, as someone who’s written, as someone who loves storytelling, as opposed to somebody who’s watching it, it’s almost embarrassing how clever they are. I also would have loved to have done a bit in Game of Thrones. That would have been fun. Just because of the sheer epic scale of it.


House of the Dragon is still going.

That’s true. Maybe I should make some calls? You know, Bryan Cranston is a great example, as is Bob Odenkirk of the kind of thing I’d really love to do. Where it’s like, ‘what are you known for? Comedy?’ What if you could flick a switch and do something completely different? What would you want to do? Something with a massive hard-hitting punch. Death in Paradise suits what I’ve been known for perfectly because there’s an element of comedy in it, sometimes even physical comedy. But there are times when I get to flex those other creative muscles and it’s just a joy. Also, I have to say, denouements? I quite enjoy it because it’s just so much to learn. Sometimes it can run up to like 12 pages, which is a lot of dialogue. I enjoy the challenge. 

When I was growing up, you know, me and my grandparents, we used to watch all Agatha Christie’s: Poirot, Marple, Colombo. It occurred to me in the first few hours of doing it, there are not many actors, even hugely successful actors, that get a chance to do a denouement. Daniel Craig did one in Knives Out. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if one of the things that attracted him to the role was an opportunity to do one of these. It’s a real responsibility and a kind of professional pleasure. It’s something not many people get to do, and how lucky to be a select few. You know, you could list them. I’m now part of a club that includes Peter Falk and Angela Lansbury.


That’s great company to be in.

It’s been wonderful. That said, it also did occur to me, that the denouement as an idea is kind of ridiculous. Because in what world (apart from this genre) would a police officer or detective or a little old lady who helps the police or a writer of crime novels, does this person go: ’ah, I figured out who the killer is’ and instead of the police going: ‘oh, tell us who, let’s go and arrest them,’ they say: ‘let’s get everyone who’s been part of the story into a room and then show how clever I am.’ Doesn’t really make any sense. Especially because all the rest of the people in the room must be going: ‘why am I here? I’m innocent!’ Also, why does the murderer turn up? It makes no sense [both laugh]. Yet somehow it just works.


You mentioned Columbo, Murder She Wrote, and Agatha Christie’s: Poirot. Do you have a favourite whodunit?

I did think Knives Out was brilliant if we’re talking about films. On television, for the emotional resonance of watching it with my grandparents, I think possibly Columbo is my top one. We would spend our Sunday afternoons watching detective after detective. Also, Columbo is very interesting and kind of brilliant. The show was a reversal of the genre. Because in Columbo they showed you who did it, and they showed you the murder rather than have it revealed later. It should have taken the mystery out of it, but instead what you’ve got is a game of cat and mouse. Often you never know quite know who’s the cat or who’s the mouse. How far behind is Columbo? Or how far ahead is he? This job has given me an all-new appreciation of Peter Falk. In fact, in this series, we did have a line where I’m about to leave and I go: ‘oh, sorry. Just one more thing.’ I couldn’t help it.


So now that filming has wrapped on Death in Paradise can we expect to see more of the Two Pints podcast? Can you explain a little bit about how that came to be?

I mean, at some undetermined point in the future. We basically just had to put it on hold, because it was always difficult when I was in Guadeloupe. The time difference makes it harder, and not being in the same room makes it harder, too. It doesn’t mean it’s not doable, but it’s tricky. We would have done it again this year, except with Will [Mellor] on Strictly [Come Dancing]? It’s been intense. It’s been paying off though. He’s nailing it. But my workload is intense, his workload is intense. So yes, it’s been on hold for those reasons. But, you know, at some point, possibly in the new year, we’ll pick it back up again, particularly if we can be in the same room together.


Do you have a piece of advice for somebody that’s looking to break into the industry?

Write. I know that sounds counterintuitive because maybe you don’t want to write, you want to act. There are plenty of examples of people in the industry who have made it because they put pen to paper and did something too good to ignore. Ruth Jones, James Corden, Ricky Gervais, and so on, and so on. Phoebe Waller-Bridge, of course. That’s the dream. But the thing about writing is, not a second of it is wasted. Even if you spend a couple of hours writing something even if it’s complete crap, it doesn’t matter because the next version won’t be. Any creative endeavor hones your storytelling ability, and that’s all you’re doing. 

Really, you can put as many fancy ideas into it as you like. The first thing I wrote, I was 29, 30? Jesus, that’s a long time ago now. But I sat down and wrote a show called The Cafe, which got made. I was like, right this is easy. But [laughs] that’s not usually how it works. I’ve written a couple of things since. A couple of them have been made, and plenty of them haven’t. But they all still exist, and they never cease to exist. They’re still on the computer, and every one of them is a building block of creativity. I genuinely think it’s one of the best things you can do as an actor. 

Everyone gets opportunities. If it’s something you want to do, then you have to put yourself in a position where when that opportunity comes, you are ready to grasp it with both hands. Whether it’s writing stand-up, or whether it’s practicing accents or reading books on technique, or taking part in community theater, doesn’t matter. The best thing you can do is be prepared for the opportunity. 

The final and most practical thing, of course, is to try and find ways to – I don’t want to say hustle because that’s too primitive – but finding ways to give yourself the best chance for that opportunity. Now, the most obvious and direct way is drama school, right? If you’re young, you want to get into school, that’s the clearest route to it. But when I was a kid, I never went to drama school. I went to a local drama group. It was great because it was a space for kids. Whether they wanted to be an actor or not, it was a space to meet people, you know? Learn to express yourself. The number of people that came through and found their personality or overcame their shyness, or, in my case, had a safe space to kind of show off and just express my loudness. You know, I think that’s why my mom signed me up for it! 

So, you know, I went to a drama group when I was a kid, and then six months later, the lady that ran it started an acting agency for kids. I’ve had huge slices of luck throughout my life and my career. Every single person who is a professional actor, without exception, has had a huge slice of luck. You know what’s a good metaphor? You’ve got to raise your sails, you know, a gust of wind or calm, but if your sails aren’t raised, you’re not going anywhere.


I agree. Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me today. I really appreciate it. Good luck with the next season. I can’t wait to watch it. So excited!

I think season 12 is going to be great fun. Every year, we have to make sure to keep it interesting. The puzzles and mysteries are the framework of what the show hangs on. I very firmly feel the reasons people keep coming back are the characters, their relationships, and their challenges.


Death in Paradise is airing now.


Interview Dana Reboe

Photography Joseph Sinclair

Grooming Charlie Cullen

Styling Sarah Harrison

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