Daniel Mays interview: The 'Des' star on playing detective Peter Jay

Detective Chief Inspector Peter Jay (Daniel Mays) with Dennis Nilsen (David Tennant) in ITV's "Des."
Detective Chief Inspector Peter Jay (Daniel Mays) with Dennis Nilsen (David Tennant) in ITV's "Des." (Image credit: ITV)

Daniel Mays, 42, will star as the London detective Peter Jay who investigated the notorious serial killer Dennis Nilsen, played by David Tennant. Daniel has already starred in the hit Netflix thriller White Lines earlier this year, playing a lovable (if tragically flawed) drug dealer on Spanish island of Ibiza. Now his character is on the right side of the law in the three-part ITV drama Des.

Detective Chief Inspector (DCI) Peter Jay was the man whose perseverance helped bring British serial killer Dennis Nilsen to justice after he worked on the gruesome case from 1983.

Here’s Daniel’s take on playing Peter Jay.

Des on ITV: Daniel Mays on his research for the role

Sadly, the real Peter Jay passed away in 2018, but Daniel did get to meet up with his family.

"I had lunch with his widow, Linda, and his son, Simon, so I felt I got to know Peter better," Daniel says. "I also read Peter's unpublished memoirs, which were a great source of information. He was diligent and hard-working and it was all about getting closure for the families."

Des on ITV: Daniel Mays on Peter Jay’s impact on the Nilsen case

Daniel reveals that Peter Jay’s approach was unusual for policing in the 1980s.

"Peter had to treat Nilsen with kid gloves," he says. "It was such a difficult case to work on with the eyes of the media on him and his team. He’d never encountered anything on this scale or encountered evil like that. Two years after the case, he left the police force. He was bruised."

Des on ITV: Daniel Mays reveals what it was like on the set of Des

DCI Peter Jay is shown arriving at 23 Cranley Gardens, in North London, in February 1983, following the discovery of human remains in a drain. There, its resident 37-year-old Dennis Nilsen, know to his friends as "Des," calmly confessed to having killed "15 or 16" people, starting in 1978.

"A replica of Nilsen’s flat was created for the drama for us to film in," explains Daniel. "It was terrifying and eerie. You feel the magnitude of it. I used to live in north London and I would often cut through Cranley Gardens on my way somewhere. I’d often wonder which house it was — it was very strange."

Nilsen (David Tennant) on trial in ITV's Des

David Tennant playing Dennis Nilsen, standing trial for murder. (Image credit: ITV)

When and where will Des starring Daniel Mays be shown?

Des is showing in Britain on three consecutive nights from September 14 to 16 on ITV at 9 p.m. It also stars David Tennant as serial killer Dennis Nilsen and The Crown star Jason Watkins as Nilsen's biographer Brian Masters.

Des should be available worldwide later in the year on streaming service Britbox. 

Nicholas Cannon
TV Content Director on TV Times, What's On TV and TV & Satellite Week

I'm a huge fan of television so I really have found the perfect job, as I've been writing about TV shows, films and interviewing major television, film and sports stars for over 25 years. I'm currently TV Content Director on What's On TV, TV Times, TV and Satellite Week magazines plus Whattowatch.com. I previously worked on Woman and Woman's Own in the 1990s. Outside of work I swim every morning, support Charlton Athletic football club and get nostalgic about TV shows Cagney & Lacey, I Claudius, Dallas and Tenko. I'm totally on top of everything good coming up too.