DDW sits down with Death in Paradise star Ralf Little to talk about all things acting, medical school and becoming a private helicopter pilot.
When actor Ralf Little turned 30 years old, he thought his friends were going to throw him a surprise birthday party. Better said, he was convinced. Whilst he’d been catapulted into the acting world with his role in BBC’s Royle Family, he’d had some pretty rock-and-roll-like twenties, but there he was, turning 30 watching TV on the sofa with his mother. And whilst I’d love to tell you this is some kind of relatable story, what Little did with to counteract the blues of turning thirty was nothing short of extraordinary. He decided qualify as a private helicopter pilot. In his own words, the coolest and most completely useless thing he’s ever done.
It’s funny to think that someone so spontaneous is behind the meticulous Neville Parker in BBC’s Death in Paradise‘s latest season. Alas, that’s the beauty of a good actor, of course. We delve into the intricacies of the character himself, which attest to Little’s deep understanding of the role he plays.
Often seen as a hypochondriac, Little makes a case to describe Neville Parker otherwise. “The problems, they are real. He’s not making them up. He’s not imagining them like a hypochondriac would,” he tells me, “but what’s what happened with Neville is at some point in life, probably being slightly over cuddled by his parents when he was younger, he decided that it was not worth the risk to try things or try new things because if there was any sign he might be allergic to it… he just wouldn’t do it.”
And whilst it seems that the qualified helicopter pilot and paradise inspector couldn’t be further from similar, Little tells me they could probably bond over football. In an effort to not portray Parker as a two-dimensional nerd, Little and the producers spoke together about how the inspector wouldn’t have made a bad sportsman. “Neville would’ve been pretty good at football. He would’ve been a good player. It’s just that chances are, on this sort of second game with his mates as a kid, he might have been allergic to some of the pollen in the grass. And so he just stopped playing. He is different from just a sort of nerd who doesn’t do sports, you know?”.
Football is, of course, incredibly topical. I spoke to Ralf Little the day after the world cup final. Whilst I know very little about football myself, the match had been so incredibly intense that I’d (metaphorically) bitten my nails off, and the actor’s dabbling with the sport gave me an inkling that he had too.
I was right.
It soon becomes very apparent that football ticks the box for Little, who amidst a lot of excitement, declares himself a big Messi fan. Not only a fan, but the kind of enthusiast that watches Youtube videos about his career highlights and then sheds a tear or two out of emotion. “It’s so hard to explain, but I, I still haven’t quite passed it out. I think, I think I’m gonna have to talk to a therapist and go, why would I burst into tears?” he jokingly tells me when talking about the player’s recent win. His admiration for Messi feels relatable, and I get the impression that despite Little’s success, he remains incredibly grounded.
It sounds awfully cliché but people tend to forget that actors also get nervous. In Little’s case so much so, that when Death in Paradise first aired, he was unable to watch it. He put on Rick and Morty instead, up until his other half texted him ten minutes later that Twitter had deemed the show a hit. Funny how the pressure of being part of a production with such a cult-like following hadn’t really registered with him until the very moment it was airing.
It is when discussing success that Little tells me it took a year after the overnight popularity of the Royle Family for Ralf Little to get recognised in public – for people to put two and two together and realise that the man walking down the street was in fact the “gawky teenager” they had seen on the telly the night before. He tells me it happened in two stages. At first, “It was like, are you an Anthony from your Royle family? And then one day, once somebody went, are you Ralph Little? And knew my actual name. And that was astonishing.” he smiles. “I’d sort of almost never thought that would happen. Um, so, yeah, it was, it was kind of… well, you know, it was weird. And at the time when you’re kind of 19, or 20, it’s unbelievably exciting cuz I hadn’t even known I was gonna try and do it as a career.”
Here’s the thing, Little was faced with an undeniably difficult decision at the ripe age of 18. Having to chose between “the most capricious and unstable profession” (and by that he means acting), or the “traditionally stable” medical school path, the actor went for the route of uncertainty. Just four weeks after starting medical school, casting directors began ringing up his agent after seeing Little in the Royle Family, and the actor decided to take a leap of faith and quit.
Poetically, he says he did it so he wouldn’t die wondering.
If one thing remains clear, is that there’s nothing Ralf Little wouldn’t jump head first into. You can watch the risk taker take on his detective duties in Death in Paradise on the BBC, airing weekly.