CELESTE HEADLEE, HOST:
This is WEEKEND EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Celeste Headlee.
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HEADLEE: You may know Scottish actor David Tennant best for his role as the Time Lord on the long-running British TV show "Doctor Who."
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UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (As character) And who the hell are you anyway?
DAVID TENNANT: (As Dr. Who) I'm the doctor. I'm a Time Lord. I'm from the planet Gallifrey, in the constellation of Kasterborus. I'm 903 years old, and I'm the man who's going save your life and all 6 billion people on the planet Belite.
HEADLEE: David Tennant's also starred in "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire," the TV series "Spies of Warsaw"; and he played "Hamlet" on the London stage. He's now starting in a new drama on BBC America called "Broadchurch." David Tennant plays a broody detective named Alec Hardy, sent to the town of Broadchurch to solve the murder of a young boy...
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TENNANT: (As Alec Hardy) Anybody is capable of this murder, given the right circumstance. Your killer behaves normally over time...
UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS #1: (As character) Where were you last night?
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) I told you. I was on a job.
TENNANT: (As Alec Hardy) There was no caller...
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) I, I meant me.
TENNANT: (As Alec Hardy) What's your mate's name?
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) I can't remember.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As character) Sorry?
UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS #2: (As character) I thought he was killed here. Will's found another set of prints by the sink. It belongs to Mark Latimar.
HEADLEE: "Broadchurch" was a hit in the U.K. earlier this year. We spoke with David Tennant, and asked him about the appeal of this modern murder mystery.
TENNANT: It's a whodunit. It's got a kind of victims who also look like they might be perpetrators. It's got red herrings. It's got twists and turns and everybody has got secrets. These are sort of, you know, these are the motifs of crime drama, and they have been down the years. They're all very recognizable to us. They're all quite well-worn. But I think what Chris Chibnall, who wrote "Broadchurch," so exceptionally manages to do is - five minutes into the show you're not thinking that anymore.
You're just in this beautifully crafted world, I think. and you're drawn into it. And it all feels fresh-minted and the idea that any of the things which in lesser hands might be labeled cliche, I think it manages to actually go beyond all of that.
HEADLEE: And "Broadchurch" itself is eight parts.
TENNANT: It is, yeah.
HEADLEE: And as opposed to say, you know, "Law and Order" and many of the crime dramas that we know on American TV, this is the same crime over the entire series.
TENNANT: It is. Yes, one story.
HEADLEE: What does that change, as opposed to if you did a short series where you had a series of crimes, and the detective was sort of the focus of it?
TENNANT: It allows you to invest in character. It is the story of who killed Danny, and the uncovering of that mystery. But it's also the story of all the people around that, and it's the story of this community. And it's as much about the emotional impact of that as it is on solving the crime. And, of course, it means that the ultimate impact of that final episode is so much more powerful than if the whole thing was wrapped up in 45 minutes.
I think that's the way television is sort of headed. I mean, the rise of the box set is something that's changed the way we expect television to be, I think, in that audiences now have an appetite for longer forms. They want to spend time with characters, and get to know characters. And they want stories to take their time and to involve them on a whole deeper emotional level. But we're exploiting the fact that television audiences have a patience now that perhaps they didn't have before.
I'm sure that's to do with the fact we can consume television in so many different ways. If we miss an episode, because we weren't in on a Wednesday night at 10 o'clock, it's not the end of the world now because we can catch up. We can buy it in itunes; we can get a box set. There are whole, different ways of experiencing that. And I think we've all enjoyed the reward of investing in something over several weeks, and living and walking in the shoes of these different characters. So I think it's probably not a drama that would have been made five years ago.
HEADLEE: You've come a long way since your first film appearance - as drunk undergrad on "Jude."
TENNANT: Wow, you've...
TENNANT: ...IMDB'd me, clearly.
HEADLEE: You did that first film, and Christopher Eccleston was the star, who is the...
TENNANT: He was, yes.
HEADLEE: ...of course, Dr. Who No. 9
TENNANT: He was.
HEADLEE: In this, you've got somebody that you performed with in the "Harry Potter" series and, of course, the guy who played Rory appears in "Broadchurch" as well.
HEADLEE: What is this like when you're creating new characters with people that you've worked in other films?
TENNANT: Well, I'd never met Arthur Darvill - who played, as you say, played Rory in "Dr. Who," but after my time. So we met at the read-through for "Broadchurch." But it happens quite a lot. You often come up against the same actors again. And I'm feeling that, I think that's a boon to creativity. You have a sure hand. You don't worry about dancing around each other's egos. You just kind of - if you know someone and you've, hopefully, worked well with them in the past, I like the idea of working with a sort of extended ensemble of actors over many years. I think there's something rather appealing about that.
HEADLEE: I'm not going to get you to tell me which actors are the ones where you go: Oh gosh, not him again.
TENNANT: Well, there are a few, but mercifully rare. I think actors often have a reputation for being ludicrous divas, and for being very self-important. And, you know, if you break it down, it's quite a silly thing to do. You stand in a field with some cameras pointing at you, pretend to be someone else and recite words that somebody wrote in their room several months before. If you look at it objectively, it can feel a bit daft. It only works if you're all buying into the perfection equally. Because we sort of take this ludicrous leap of faith together, I think we tend to be quite a trusting bunch.
HEADLEE: You talked about the patience of audiences in terms of watching, but there's a certain impatience as well, and I wonder how worried you are that people are going to go to Wikipedia and look up who the murderer is.
TENNANT: When this first broadcast in Britain, of course, nobody knew, and it did generate quite a storm actually. It took us all a bit by surprise. And it was broken down in all the newspapers, it was talked about on the radio. It became a bit of a national moment. But the fact is, of course, that 100 people who worked on the show did now. The truth was out there. And people, I don't think, wanted to find out. I think people didn't want to have their Christmas present spoiled, if you like. Of course, it has broadcast somewhere in the world, and these days that means that the facts are out there. And if somebody really wants to go and find out whodunit before they get to episode eight, that's their lookout. But I suspect the audience won't. I think people will want to go on the journey. But even if you do know whodunit, I don't think that's the whole story. And actually there's an emotional story as well, which really you're only going to experience by watching the show.
HEADLEE: Well, Americans can live and walk in the footsteps of those characters when they watch David Tennant in "Broadchurch." It's Wednesday nights on BBC America. David Tennant, thank you so much.
TENNANT: It's a great pleasure. Thank you for having me.