NEW INTERVIEW: David Tennant Talks To The Big Issue On Society, Help For The Poorest And The Dark Shadow Of A Serial Killer

David has been talking to the latest issue of The Big Issue about his forthcoming role as serial killer Dennis Nilsen in the new true crime drama, Des.

The new three part drama, which David also executively produces, is based on Killing For Company, the biography of Nilsen written by Brian Masters which includes conversations with the killer who would go by the name of 'Des'.

David explains how he wants the series to be a memorial for the victims of Nilsen and not something that would glamourise the killer. 

“It was something we talked about every day on set. You don’t want to give him control of the narrative and you don’t want to be celebrating the horror - you want to be memorialising the victims. That’s the important difference. This is about people who lost their lives, and this is about the failure of society.”

No murders are shown. The story starts on the day the police first talks to Nilsen. This decision was made to avoid telling the story based only on Nilsen’s recollections.

“It would be disingenuous to believe everything he told us, because he’s an unreliable witness at best, but you try to understand Nilsen because it’s important that we understand the darkest corners of a human being can be. It seems unknowable to us yet we’re all slightly wondering how far away any of us are from it. We may all have peeked in to the abyss now and again. All these questions that in your darkest moments you wonder about - what are you capable of? And what happened to Nilsen that he didn’t have that filter, that he stepped in to the abyss? I don’t think we should shy away from these stories. 
It’s important to understand that he was one if us. We are all the same animal that Dennis Nilsen was. So therefore it’s not a sort of horror movie where Freddy Kruger is something from another dark dimension. Nilsen walked amongst us and therefore we as a society are responsible for him.”

Told from both the police and Masters’ point of view, Des will explore how a man like Nilsen was able to prey on the young and vulnerable in 1980s Britain.  The series will not only highlight the police investigation and trial but also the effect of the media coverage on public perceptions of the victims at the time, raising questions of just how far have we really come since then?

“Des is about a London that was riven with homelessness and poverty and joblessness, and people falling trough the cracks in society, which feels increasingly like the society we’re back in. This took place under Thatcher, who said there was no such thing as society, didn’t she? And that’s the problem. As long as there’s no such thing as society, then we don’t have a collective responsibility for each other. I’m not saying we will be able to protect everyone but there have to be safety nets. There have to be.
Nilsen shouldn’t have been able to get away with it for as long as he did. And we have to wonder why that happened. And that’s got something to do with the fact that he was praying on people that society had, to a greater or lesser extent, turned its back on. And I don’t know that we offer any solutions but we do perhaps offer a warning.”

The current Coronavirus crisis and how it has effected the UK has also given David pause for thought.
 “If we’re about to plunge into this recession, the likes of which we have never known, then that will expose all the flaws in our society.
“And I don’t feel comforted by the fact that we’ve got, just like in 1979, a rather alarming right-wing government again. The echoes are pretty worrying.
The world through which Dennis Nilsen walked and wreaked his havoc – I think we’re closer to it now than we have been for a long time.
“We’ve got to be alert to that as a society. We’ve got to be very aware that there are dangers and that there are people who are going to be more vulnerable than they should be in the coming months….
“As a society, we have to find ways of providing resources for helping people.”
The full interview is in the Big Issue magazine, which is sold by vendors and also available as an app or online.