THERE is nothing in Ben Miller’s background to suggest that this son of academic parents would decide to make his living as an actor and comedian.
One half of the comedy duo Armstrong and Miller (with Alexander Armstrong) and the star of three series of the sunkissed whodunits Death In Paradise, he admits that when he went to Cambridge University to read natural sciences he really did study.
“Science is, and remains, a big passion of mine,” says Ben. “For those three years, I was totally focused on the subject. I had to get the sciences out of my system and, besides, I was very interested in what was happening in physics at the time.
“I don’t feel in any way divided between comedy and science. For me, they are two sides of the same coin. Without wishing to sound pretentious or pseudy, I honestly believe that both comedy and science share a sceptical attitude to the world.
“They both want to find out what is real and they both want to cut things down to size.
“You want to find some kind of truth and both science and comedy are concerned with what is true. These days, however, science is more of a hobby of mine, just like Rod Stewart with his train-set.”
But Ben has pursued his career as a performer with the same diligence which he brought to his university work. After the obligatory time spent with the Footlights, he teamed up with his comedy partner, Armstrong, for several sketch-show series.
He then moved seamlessly into comedy drama and drama in ITV’s Primeval, BBC1’s Worst Week and, of course, Death In Paradise set in the Caribbean.
The third series hits the screen IN the new year but Ben departs the programme, half-way through the season.
He’s keeping tight-lipped about the fate of his Scotland Yard detective but why would he want to give up playing the lead in a popular series shot under immaculately blue skies while back home in Blighty we’re shivering through another British winter?
“Had I been a single man with no responsibilities, I’d have probably been doing series 12 by now,” he laughs. “But I was feeling really miserable so far away from my family. My elder son had started school and his brother was too young to join me on location.
“I’d have a very enjoyable time working during the day and then I’d go back to my hotel room and feel utterly depressed without the family. I couldn’t see myself doing another series and so I just decided to go. I couldn’t face doing it again.”
He has two feature films awaiting release – Molly Moon and What We Did on Our Holiday with Billy Connolly and David Tennant – but in the meantime he’s heading for the Surrey stage, starring in The Duck House at Guildford’s Yvonne Arnaud Theatre.
As the title suggests, the play takes us back to the MPs’ expenses scandal of 2009. He plays Robert Houston, ostensibly a Labour MP who, fearful of being turfed out by the voters at the impending general election, has opted to defect to the Conservatives. The Tory high command has therefore decided to send one of the party grandees to see if Robert is “squeaky clean”.
“I suppose that Robert is a bit of a champagne socialist, on the right wing of Labour, on the left wing of the Conservatives, floating somewhere around the Lib Dems,” says Ben.
“I’m not sure if he has any principles but he’s a completely political animal. He’s joining the Tories because he wants to stay in power. He’s not a bad person – a loveable rogue would be an accurate description of him – and you do feel a certain amount of empathy for him.
“From his point of view, the system of expenses has simply been part of the culture of Westminster and he has followed the rules, just like everybody else, although he has fully exploited them and now he has to get rid of the evidence.”
The Duck House runs at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford, from next Thursday (October 24) until Saturday, November 2, prior to a West End transfer.