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Shetland on DVD: A Chat With Douglas Henshall

21/04/2014 15:39 BST | Updated 21/06/2014 10:59 BST

Douglas Henshall has been a TV and movie regular for almost 25 years, starring in This Year's Love, and Primeval among many other projects.

With the release of his hit BBC TV detective drama Shetland on DVD, I spoke to the Scottish actor about the show... and thoughts on being an action figure.

When making a series based on novels, like Ann Cleeves' work, do you prefer to absorb the source material first or go in fresh?

I didn't know Ann's books, and I thought I'll have a look. I'm always slightly wary of doing that because sometimes there's a tendency with actors to read the books and then go back to them and say: "Well, hang on a minute, I really like that bit of the book, so why isn't that in the script?" and you say to the director: "Why isn't that in?", and you become a pain in the arse.

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Shetland The Complete Series 1 & 2 DVD Out now. ITV Studios Home Entertainment

Producers and writers spend a lot of time thinking, 'How can we get the best of the book into an hour script?' It's always difficult to condense 450 pages or whatever, so I had a look and there's maybe little things that I picked up on; little things that I thought might be handy, a sense of pace, which I think Ann captures incredibly well in the book, and then I left them alone and went to work with what I had to work with, which is always more constructive.

I didn't realise how far Shetland was from Aberdeen, so in a way it feels more Nordic than Scottish

Yes, that's true. I think its 140 miles off the coast of Aberdeen, so very much. It's still a fair distance from Norway. It's of itself I think Shetland, and that's what you have to try and start to get a handle on. It's not really one thing or the other. It's of itself.

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Shetland The Complete Series 1 & 2 DVD Out now. ITV Studios Home Entertainment

Have you been inundated with offers from the Shetland tourist board?

No, and I don't think they need it either. The one thing we picked up on was a sense of: "If we get any more tourists coming here... Shetland's very good, but we've got nowhere to put them", because this new gas pipeline that's being laid at the present moment has brought somewhere in the region of another 3,000 men. They're full. Trying to get anywhere to stay in Shetland throughout the island is quite difficult because they're full all the year round, because the oil companies book out places in case they need them.

I'm fascinated by the fact Shetland has three hours of darkness in summer. Did you start feeling like Al Pacino in Insomnia?

It's funny, the first time we went smack in the middle of summer-mid summer, when we shot the pilot, but when we finished work, I went home; it was in a little room with a very good curtains, so I just shut them and went to bed and went to sleep, I never noticed.

I have to get sleep, because we work long hours. I can't really go, "It's still light outside," I don't really bother about that. I guess if you lived there, and that was your life, you know you spend half the year with an abundance of light and the other half with an abundance of darkness... It's like two different kinds of madness I imagine. For us visiting it didn't really bother me that much at all.

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Shetland The Complete Series 1 & 2 DVD Out now. ITV Studios Home Entertainment

As Shetland is relatively small, there are only so many places killers can can run - the airport or the coast. Do you think Jimmy Perez has an easier job than some TV detectives?

Well, yes and no. As Jimmy says in the pilot, "There is nobody coming over the horizon." So when you have a very small force, which is equivalent to the populace really, then I suppose problems are just as much as they were if you were in a huge force with a huge population, because you've got so many more resources.

No, I take your point (laughs). I always thought, "How long we could we keep going with this one?", because if you're not careful everything ends up being Midsomer Murders. No disrespect to that particular show.

You know, it does become 'village of the damned' after a while (laughs). You'd think, "Well everybody would move out wouldn't they?" (Laughs). So you want to try to keep people's believability of a thing going. That notion might change in the next series.

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Shetland The Complete Series 1 & 2 DVD Out now. ITV Studios Home Entertainment

How was it working with writer David Kane again after This Year's Love?... a marvellous film

Ah, I'm glad you like that. I really like working with David, I like the way he writes. I like the characters he writes. I like the dynamic he writes, mainly between men and women. He gets the 'not straightforward nature' of that relationship, and he points out the differences between men and women really well, and I really like that. I am a big fan of David's, and I've worked with him four times I think over the course of 20-25 years. I'm hoping that's something we keep doing for a long time.

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Shetland The Complete Series 1 & 2 DVD Out now. ITV Studios Home Entertainment

Final question: what was it like being modelled in plastic as an action figure (for Primeval)?

(Laughs) That's never going to be a bad thing, never ever. A little mini you. It's always going to be a compliment in some way, shape or form.

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Shetland The Complete Series 1 & 2 DVD Out now. ITV Studios Home Entertainment