NEW INTERVIEW: David Tennant On Dennis Nilsen "I'd Have Been Interested In Meeting Him"

A new on set interview with David about his upcoming true crime drama Des, is in the new issues of TV Times and TV and Satellite Week.

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'.
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?

Do you remember the Nilsen case?
I was about 12 when he was arrested and he was like a bogeyman. When I moved to North London myself, I remember hearing the details and that's when I read Killing For Company. It was like local legend. What's extraordinary is the gulf between his apparent normality and what he did. How close are any of us to falling down that wormhole? What happened to him that flicked that switch?

How did you approach playing him?
People had said, 'He looks a bit like you.' But trying to unpick what went on in his mind was horrifying and fascinating. I continue to change my mind about what his motivation was - he remains an enigma. It was challenging trying to decide what's real and what isn't. Nilsen lived in his own fantasy world. There's no consistency to him, only his narcissim and sense of his own righteousness. When he was caught, he didn't stop talking - he confessed to everything. And he became obsessed with the reputation he'd leave behind. 

Many of Nilsen's victims were vulnerable and homeless. Was it important to you that the drama focuses on them? 
Yes, the drama is not sensationalist - it's memoralising the victims. I'd have had reservations if we were presenting a gothic horror piece, but this is cool and responsible. It's not Silence Of the Lambs. You want to tell it with sensitivity. There are still many victims unidentified because Nilsen didn't give a lot of names. The police's work was about tracking people down. Many of them had gone missing and people weren't sure if they were dead or had just gone away. It's difficult to know whether that was something cunningly plotted by Nilsen so that he would get away with it for longer. 

What research did you do?
There's footage of Nilsen and a lot has been written about him. I also met people involved in the case and people who knew him. You don't want to do an impression, but I spent a lot of time studying him and listening to his voice, trying to think myself into that space.

Nilsen died two years ago. Would you have been tempted to meet him if you could?
There's a relief he's gone because I'd have felt uncomfortable serving his narcissim. He'd have been delighted, and appalled by the drama. I'd have been interested in meeting him, though - not to allow him to have input, but to use it as a resource.

Was it hard to switch off at the end of the filming day?
I wasn't aware of taking anything home, but my off camera self was more alienated. I was more dour, less larky and more contained. You have to be respectful and carry a responsibility and duty of care because there are still people alive who are devastated by what he did.

Des starts on Monday 14th September at 9pm on ITV
TV & Satellite Week and TV Times are out now.