Al Gordon meets multi-talented comedian Ben Miller, and discovers that his recent book covers unexpected – but familiar – ground
Most aspiring actors would be happy simply to pay the gas bill and put food on the table rather than climbing the A-list ladder. Ben Miller has found himself somewhere in middle, veering ever so slightly towards a hedonistic lifestyle, given that he spends six months of the year filming on the exotic isle of Guadeloupe, a perk of the job when it comes to BBC series Death in Paradise.
“I honestly cannot imagine I’ll ever have a better acting job,” he muses. “I work out in the Caribbean for half the year, playing a detective who’s really into science. It’s a dream come true! And I love the stories – a great mix of serious and silly. Sometimes the story is quietly moving; sometimes it’s not. It’s a quality drama.
You never know, Ben explains, whether a programme will be picked up again after its first series. “There was the fear that I’d lose this fantastic job, but thankfully it’s been well received all around the world... which is a new experience for me in my career! It’s on in Mexico, Australia, Holland, Kazakhstan. The response for it on Twitter has been phenomenal. I’m blessed with luck right now and I’m going to enjoy it.”
The only downside of the exotic travel is the time separated from partner Jessica and one year old son Harrison. “My family comes out to the Caribbean but it’s tough to be away from them. We only get to see each other every two-and-a-half to three weeks. Either I fly home or they come out, but it’s usually me doing most of the flying because our boy is quite small.” Routine is important for a child, he observes. “He’s only just started sleeping well; we don’t need to disturb him in a big way like that.”
A former stand-up comedian who hit the big time with close pal Alexander Armstrong in BBC sketch series The Armstrong and Miller Show, Ben is hoping to collaborate with his former partner after the success of their one-off special comedy, Felix and Murdo, which aired on Channel 4 last Christmas, but schedules – and inspiration – are a big issue, as you would expect.
“We’d love to do a new show, but it’s just looking for the right material. We’re constantly swapping ideas back and forth, but with his commitments and Death in Paradise for me, it’s not going to happen anytime soon.”
What about a return to the now defunct fantasy drama, Primeval, which, after being dropped by ITV, is now being brought back to life by a Canadian network, using the same cast. “Primeval? Unfortunately it couldn’t work with my schedule with Paradise, but if I could pop up in that again, it would be amazing. But right now, it doesn’t work.”
What seemingly did work with Miller’s schedule was the completion of his first book, It’s Not Rocket Science, which sees the comedian explain the wonder of science in a readable, easy-to-relate-to way. And after dropping out of a PhD in Quantum Physics in Cambridge, he sees the achievement as a cathartic experience to help rid him of guilt for quitting. “I wanted to do something about my favourite bits of science, explain them for people who haven’t studied the subject," he says enthusiastically. "That’s one reason I wrote the book – but maybe the bigger truth is that I regret never finishing my PhD. I feel like I’ve now repaid some form of karmic debt.
He continues: “I wanted to make It’s Not Rocket Science an easy read, which often makes you think more. There wouldn’t have been any point not writing this in layman’s terms, which is actually more difficult.”
Ben chose to use real life connections to get the information across. “I was thinking, ‘How would I relate the stratosphere and the troposphere?’. Well, people know it from their international airplane flights. So that’s how I did that subject... brought it back to air travel. And the rest of the book follows that same pattern.” He’s firmly of the opinion that there has to be a hook for people to grab hold of, otherwise it’s all a bit too difficult, but that people often know things that they think they don’t know…
“It’s about bridging the gap between everyday language with academic language – in the book, I am an interpreter. There’s an intimidation to science but you can enjoy it; you can enjoy the mystery.”
The book also has all the makings of a leap onto the small screen. Any talk on that?
"None whatsoever, but wouldn’t it be marvellous. Alongside working in the Caribbean, I think that would be my ‘other’ dream job!”