8:00 PM December 12, 2021
Tahj Miles found himself filming a TV Christmas special in August – but since it was the Boxing Day episode of Death in Paradise, it didn’t matter that the sun was shining.
And the Hackney actor, who joined the cast of the Caribbean-set detective series last year, will be watching it at home in East London with his aunts, mum and nan.
“All that talk about Christmas was really strange when it was really hot in the middle of summer,” he says. “I spent last Christmas in Jamaica, but for me it has to be cold. It’s my favourite time of year and I want all the things I associate with it, hot chocolate not a glass of water. This year it’s London. We’ll pick someone’s house and bring all the food there.”
Set on idyllic ‘Saint Marie’ the show is one part escapism, two parts murder mystery. Miles plays wayward teenager Marlon, a petty thief turning over a new leaf by joining the island’s police force. In the feature length festive episode Juliet Stevenson guest stars as the ex wife of a businessman who is shot at his own party. She falls under suspicion, alongside his business partner, wife, and daughter.
– Credit: Denis Guyenon
With Jamaican, St Lucian and Dominican heritage, Miles hasn’t found Marlon’s accent too testing.
“My mum is first generation so I’ve been hearing it all my life at home. Sometimes I do the accent just to be funny or take the mick.”
He adds: “People love the show as an escape. I recently met some people from Manchester who wanted to come out here to visit St Marie. They love the culture, sunshine, shorts and open shirts.”
But he has little in common with Marlon: “He’s a cheeky chappy who knew the path he was going down wasn’t the best thing. He was trying to get a bit of money to look after his family but now he’s seen the bigger picture and knows being a police office will keep him out of trouble.”
– Credit: Denis Guyenon
Miles’ own early years were very different. Attending Betty Layward Primary in Stoke Newington he performed in Oliver, The Lion King, and Bugsy Malone in the West End, before studying at the BRIT school attended by the likes of Adele and Amy Winehouse.
“It almost was that stereotype of kids singing and dancing in the corridors, especially when I was doing musical theatre,” he says.
“At that age it was just fun. I didn’t take it too seriously. Then I realised I didn’t really like singing and dancing and wanted to do acting seriously.”
After CBBC’s sketch comedy Class Dismissed, he was delighted to land the role in Death in Paradise, working alongside screen and stage veterans like Don Warrington (Police Commissioner Patterson) whose roles range from playing King Lear to 70s sitcom Rising Damp.
“Don is one of those unsung pioneers who opened very early doors and kept them open,” enthuses Miles. “He’s like my brother, uncle and grandad all rolled into one. We talk about anything, life in London, life as an actor. Working with him you remember how much experience this man has in the industry. For someone like me, a TV and film rookie, to have someone like Don, who has done it all, in your corner is really helpful.”
Miles’ “greatest experience” was acting alongside Letitia Wright in Mangrove, part of Steve McQueen’s landmark Small Axe films.
“I had less than 10 lines but to be with that group of people involved in telling that story, I was just happy to be part of it,” he says.
And he praises the Oscar winning director. “I was intimidated to be even in the room with him, but he was quite straightforward and really relaxed. He gave you time and freedom to work on a scene. In one scene I was beaten up by Police and Letitia Wright and Michelle Greenidge playing my mum, came to the station. There was meant to be lots of dialogue but he said ‘I don’t care if you don’t say it do whatever you feel is right’. He just wanted to get the best reaction or emotion.”
Miles, who has a podcast and writes scripts, is optimistic about increased opportunities for creatives from diverse backgrounds.
“Every day you see shows with a black writer or director, every day there are more doors opening. With my writing I have gone from ‘I don’t think this would be put on,’ to there being more of a chance of getting one of my stories commissioned. People are open to hearing those stories and to hear what we have to say.”
One thing’s for sure, he isn’t leaving Hackney: “My mum is always saying how this Hackney compares to hers when she was 20, but I loved my time growing up here. East London is in my heart. I know it like the back of my hand, the good spots to eat. I love it.”
Death in Paradise Christmas special airs on BBC One on Boxing Day at 7.30pm, followed by series 11 in January 2022