Interview – Douglas Henshall – Shetland
I recently spoke with Douglas Henshall who plays DI Jimmy Perez on the series Shetland. Shetland is a series based on the novels by Ann Cleeves. It is a crime drama set in the secluded island of Shetland, Scotland. The series follows Perez as he returns to his hometown of Shetland with a step-daughter in tow after his wife has died. The step-daughter’s father also lives in Shetland which becomes complicated. He joins the local police department and begins to investigate crimes.
Shetland is so secluded that Henshall says that it has its own box in the corner on weather maps. It is one of those places where it is always light, save for two to three hours of darkness. It is a close community, and because of this and its isolation, it makes for the perfect setting for a crime drama. The killer has no place to go and everyone knows each other on the island.
Because this is a UK series, it is not a show with typical seasons as we are accustomed to. The first season is actually two, one hour episodes. The second season is six episodes with three different crimes, and the third season is six episodes with each being in real time like the popular series 24.
While the series is based off Ann Cleeves’s novels, the third season is original material based off her characters. Henshall prefers to keep the novels and the scripts completely separate. He did read the first novel, but after that he kept the scripts in his mind rather than the source material. He did not want to be that guy on set saying, “But in the novel, they did this.”
US viewers will no doubt love the series. Henshall laments that there is no handsome, young man that will draw in the viewers unlike Outlander’s Sam Heughan. He says they are all pretty “craggy.” I disagree since I saw plenty of women sighing over Henshall when he played Tarran MacQuarrie in Outlander. While I drew a parallel to Broadchurch, having yet to see any Shetland episodes, Henshall says it is much more like Fargo, considering the setting.
Shetland is already on season three in the UK, and taking a peak at the BBC trailer for it shows that there are a few actors that US viewers will recognize, namely Archie Panjabi (The Good Wife), James Cosmo (Braveheart, Game of Thrones), Brian Cox (Troy, Bourne films) and Ciarán Hinds (Rome, Game of Thrones). Outlander fans will recognize Bryan Larkin, Steven Cree, and Finn den Hertog in the series. Henshall credits the producers for bringing in a great cast and also the location. Many actors were curious about the remote island of Shetland.
Since I had Douglas Henshall on the phone, I had to ask him about his time on Outlander. Like Shetland, the location of Scotland, albeit more of a broad location in comparison, is very much a character in the show. He thought Caitriona Balfe and Sam Heughan were delightful to work with and enjoyed his time on set. He also worked with a director that he had previously filmed with on another project. He is in four episodes of the second half of season one of Outlander, playing a character that is not in Diana Gabaldon’s books. What cemented the experience for Henshall was the Scottish Independence vote was at the same time he was filming Outlander. If you know of the political background of the Outlander story, this is all too great of a coincidence.
Because the Shetland series was picked up by KCET in Los Angeles, Henshall has to go back to the beginning of the series in 2013 and publicize it again. Henshall does not mind because he remembers it fondly and he can still remember the experience. No doubt it is because of the unique setting and great scripts of Shetland.
Shetland premieres on KCET in Los Angeles on Sunday, April 3, 2016 at 9 PM PT.