NEW INTERVIEW: David Tennant On His New True Crime Drama Des “I’m As Fascinated By This Stuff As Anyone”

David Tennant has been talking to the latest issue of Heat 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'.

“I thought it might be a good part for me and then eventually the project just kind of evolved into being. 
This isn’t a thriller. It’s not about a serial killer in the way that Silence Of The Lambs is, as great a film as that is. This is about what actually happened with these people, so you have to respect that and be as honest as possible.”

Told through the prism of three men – Dennis Nilsen, Detective Chief Inspector Peter Jay played by Daniel Mays (Line of Duty, Temple) and biographer Brian 
Masters played by Jason Watkins (The Crown, The Lost Honour of Christopher 
Jefferies) – the series will explore the personal and professional consequences of coming into contact with a man like Nilsen.

David spent a long time researching Nilsen for the role. 

“I read the book Killing For Company, I watched every documentary I could find and I met various people who knew him. “

He admits it was probably for the best that he couldn’t meet Nilsen himself, who died in 2018. 

“Because from what I know about him, his narcissism would have been fed hungrily by this project, and I don’t know how healthy or morally justifiable that would have been.”

Nilsen murdered boys and young men in his flat from 1978 to 1983. He was undetected for five years, and it was only when DCI Peter Jay was called to 23 Cranley Gardens on 9 February, 1983, to investigate human fragments of flesh and bone clogging the drains, that the police realised they had a serial killer on their hands.  

“There’s a blankness to him. What is defining about him is his mundanity and that is what is so surprising about him. He was a bloke who nobody suspected of anything. He was liked at the job centre where he worked and he was a trade unionist who helped people out. That’s hard to reconcile with the man who 
strangled strangers with the very tie he wore to work.”

Dennis Nilsen was arrested and convicted at the Old Bailey of six counts of murder and two of attempted murder. He was sentenced to life imprisonment, which was replaced by a whole life tariff in 1994. 

“I’m as fascinated by this stuff as anyone. It’s that sense of ‘There but for the grace of God go us’. We all have secret lives and hidden thoughts. We’re all a little bit nervous about how far any one of us might go. What if you acted on the dark thoughts you have? We want to understand what’s different from this human being from ourselves.”

Des airs on ITV from 14th September