We never used to associate Graham Norton with crime writing, or writing at all, until his novel Holding became something of a literary sensation.
It was thrilling, biting, very Irish and surprised many by being really, really good.
Now the almost inevitable telly adaptation is here, and Game of Thrones star Conleth Hill is playing protagonist PJ Collins.
He talks finally getting a leading role in his 50s, and Graham’s lucky trip to the set.
You’ve described Sgt PJ Collins as the best part you’ve ever been presented with. How come?
I suppose it’s the anti-hero aspect of him. He’s not your conventional detective/policeman lead in a whodunit. He’s flawed and real. He’s an outsider. There are so many beautiful things about him. He’s got empathy. He’s not the best policeman in the world but he’s a very good human being.
Were you already a fan of Graham Norton’s novel?
I read the book and loved the character but then years went by and I assumed some big star would be playing it if it ever went to TV or film. So the parallel between PJ getting his first murder case in his mid-50s and me getting my first number one on screen at the age of 57 is not lost on me.
The scripts are so excellent and when I heard that Kathy Burke was going to be directing, I just felt that it was too good to be true in a way.
Did Graham come and visit when you were filming in West Cork or was he busy interviewing Hollywood stars?
Graham was busy doing all his many jobs brilliantly. He visited one day on set. It happened to be the day the ice cream truck was there. I think it was intentional, I don’t know.
But he was lovely. He let them get on with it. I think he would have advised about storylines and different things but once we started shooting he was very hands-off. He trusted them.
Where is PJ in his life when we first meet him?
I think he’s in the midst of his mundanity and his everyday existence. He’s being asked to intervene in non-police matters and things that he shouldn’t be bothered with. He seems to spend most of his time trying to catch speeders – cars going through the village.
He’s kind of just getting on with it and then suddenly these bones are discovered and it changes his life. I love his excitement when he realises, ‘Oh my god, this is a real case’ not just trying to mediate between neighbours. And I love little touches like his ringtone is The Sweeney. You know just from that that police work matters to him.
Did you get involved with the swimming at the end of each day’s shooting with the rest of the cast?
I participated in the swimming a few times but I wasn’t as hardy as the girls. They were just amazing. We were all outside in Lough Hyne, which is a seawater lake, believe it or not. Oh, it was just stunning. Go to West Cork.
But no, I was quite mindful. I went out about three times the whole of the 13-week shoot because I didn’t want to get sick unintentionally.
In the past you’ve enjoyed not being recognised in the street even as Lord Varys at the height of Game of Thrones. How will you cope if viewers take PJ to their hearts?
I do like my work talking for me rather than me. I’m very lucky because everything I’m in is quite different. My Magpie Murders character is so different to PJ, as was Dublin Murders, as was Varys.
But if anyone is positive it doesn’t take 30 seconds to say thanks. It’s not going to change my life I don’t think. And I have a very good f-off and leave me alone face.
Holding is on ITV every Monday at 9pm. Catch-up on the ITV Hub.