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ASHLEY JENSEN’S VERSATILITY AT WORK AS SHE JOINS THE HIT SERIES SHETLAND.

Scottish stage and screen actor Ashley Jensen is known as a gifted comedienne, starring in the American series Ugly Betty and then as the fun-loving London hotshot who moves to rural England and becomes, a detective, in the comedy series Agatha Raisin. Jensen’s changed her tune and location joining Season 8 of BritBox’ hit detective series Shetland, set on the rocky, barren, treeless island off Scotland’s northwest coast. That smile? All but gone as DI Ruth Calder investigates a particularly brutal murder. Jensen spoke from Scotland with What She Said’ Anne Brodie about her unfunny part in the haunting series.



I’m always searching for the truth of a line and the physical comedy of the line and the pratfalls and quips and takes, so this is from the ridiculous to the sublime!

That smile of yours is part of that comic persona. You only smile once in the series.

For the fans in love with the show for 7 years, comforted by the land and DI Perez, there were lots of reasons for me to come on. People think, gosh, she’s a comedy actress. When I was starting out, I did lots of theatre, new writing, serious, Shakespeare, the Royal Court in London and Edinburgh and Glasgow. I have done my fair share of drama.



You mentioned Shetland the series being comforting. Why? It’s dark, but I agree.


I think the landscape is so powerful, so expansive, and yet the town of Lerwick is claustrophobic, big and small, massive and restricting, and very much a character of the show. The landscape is more than the characters. I think that’s what the BBC decided, that the island of Shetland is loved and bigger than the actors.


There’s a reference made about there being no trees in Shetland because they can’t survive the wind. One of the women you interview in the series has a painting of tall pine trees in her living room.


She must have been thinking of Mainland Scotland. When I got off that plane there for the first time it was so awe-inspiring. I’d never been to a landscape like that. I’d been to America and was in Nevada Death Valley, Joshua Tree National Park. This environment felt mythical. Like Shetland, and old and ancient customs. It evokes a whole lot of feelings.


I find the landscape a bit frightening, and Ellen’s walking on her own, at night but I guess these are brave people who know how to be in it.


Same for me! It does give you a certain steeliness if you’re battling that environment every day like in Canada, the weather is very much a character. Although we did get a heat wave for the first time, Anne. The time we went up there it was June and I’m weak, I’d been away from Scotland way too long and I’m saying I’m going to need silk underwear, long johns, a cashmere hat, and give me a long scarf, and give me all the cashmere! But we got there in June and it’s like 80 degrees and everyone’s got fans out and I can’t keep the scarf on for continuity. I wasn’t complaining about the heat in Scotland! Even though the poor people couldn’t stand it.




Same for me! It does give you a certain steeliness if you’re battling that environment every day like in Canada, the weather is very much a character. Although we did get a heat wave for the first time, Anne. The time we went up there it was June and I’m weak, I’d been away from Scotland way too long and I’m saying I’m going to need silk underwear, long johns, a cashmere hat, and give me a long scarf, and give me all the cashmere! But we got there in June and it’s like 80 degrees and everyone’s got fans out and I can’t keep the scarf on for continuity. I wasn’t complaining about the heat in Scotland! Even though the poor people couldn’t stand it.


I don’t know much about that but obviously, these are pagan rituals. My character was brought up as a Christian and her father was a minister and if you reject it or not, it’s still her baseline, Christianity, in a place like that. What’s going on here, and is it witchcraft? slaughtering sheep and making sacrifices. It’s a bit odd.




The Shetlanders we meet tend to be tribalistic in terms of families, having their properties, community, and fiercely family-centred.


The Bains, this big family, they’re almost like the clans and land and land grabbing. I love Phyllis Logan playing the matriarch like The Godfather only she’s The Godmother.


She’s a Downton Abbey favourite; we don’t expect to see her angry and hissing through her teeth.


It was all about family, a baseline of family, Ruth Calder and her messed up situation and the Bain family protecting one another thinking they were doing the right thing. No one is inherently a bad person, I just think Scots are like that, a sweeping generalisation. But we have a saying “Don’t treat everyone like your long-lost Auntie”. Don’t give too much of yourself away. So the cottage people are quite withheld. And slightly repressed in part because of the church.




Ruth has issues, she left Shetland at 18 and she’s back from London on orders to take over the investigation. Will she stay and if she does, will we find out more about her issues, or will she leave it all behind?


In the six episodes, certain stuff is revealed accounting for who she is. We don’t really get to know her here. she doesn’t care about making friends, a loner. She’s incredibly good at her job but she’s been hurt in the past and repression of the Scottish, her family makes her the way she is, always facing ghosts from the past. And people.


Thank you. I hope we get to talk again for Season 9!

Shetland Season 8 is streaming on BritBox now.


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