Actor and comedian Ben Miller first visited France as a child and loves the country and its culture. He tells Carolyn Boyd about his six months spent in Guadeloupe and his love of the French Alps…
You’ve been in the French Caribbean filming the BBC television series Death in Paradise recently, how did you like Guadeloupe?
I loved Guadeloupe; I was very surprised to find it was in France! There is a fantastic mix of cultures there, it was an amazing experience. The island is basically a butterfly shape so there is Grande-Terre (pictured below) and Basse-Terre. Grande-Terre is the more developed side, and that’s where the capital is. I was in Basse-Terre which is the rainforest, volcano part. It’s a place of extraordinary natural beauty. It’s basically a rainforest with a beach around it. It’s amazing.
Did you learn French while you were there?
I did learn French, in fact my French improved enormously while I was there. Part of the joy of learning French is that most people aren’t necessarily that pleased to speak to you in French, and so it took me a while to break through the English barrier. What happens is that you start speaking French, then the person replies to you in English. I really enjoyed the act of learning, despite that.
What was your knowledge of French before that? Had you learnt it at school?
I did a French exchange in Brittany when I was 14. I stayed in a little hamlet in a lovely area of France. The daughter came to stay with our family in Cheshire; she rather got the short end of the straw, as when my turn came to go to France, I got to go on their family holiday to the Alps. She came to Crewe, I went to Chamonix. Bad luck!
Did you often go to France on holiday as a child?
We used to go to Brittany and we spent a summer in Lyon, as we had some family friends who lived there. We also went to the French Alps skiing every year. These days, I visit Paris quite regularly and, a year ago, we spent Christmas time in a big house in Burgundy.
Where would you say your favourite place is?
I absolutely love the French Alps – I tend to go to a little place called Vaujany. In return for letting the French government build a hydroelectric reservoir there, the resort got a huge cable car built that goes right to the top of the French Alps, which I love, it’s fantastic.
There’s a sketch in The Armstrong & Miller Show featuring ‘Simpkins’, an English expat in France who can’t remember how to speak English properly. What inspired this character?
It was inspired by people I know, especially an expat I met who had moved to Paris. Although, after spending six months speaking French on Guadeloupe, the joke has rather turned on me! One of my close friends is French and he helped with the colloquial French in the sketch. He is a restaurateur in London and he gave me all of the brilliantly vernacular bits that the French characters speak in the sketch.
Which area of Paris do you like best?
I know it’s terribly touristy but I am a huge fan of Saint-Germain. I stayed in a brilliant hotel there called L’H�tel which was where Oscar Wilde stayed. In fact I think he might have died there. You’ve got all of that tourist stuff in that area, but I still love it.
Have you come across any French comedians in your work?
Very few, but French comedy has had a huge influence on me over the years. I love French comedy – I love how it is played in a very straight way – I’m a huge admirer of that style of play. It was really fun to work with some French actors in Death in Paradise: Sara Martins [his French co-star] is a brilliant comic actor. She plays it very straight; I think she is very, very funny.
Would you like to work in France?
I would love to act in French, if my French were ever good enough. If I had the opportunity to work in France, that would be amazing. The chance to experience French culture is a huge incentive to me in this job.