She will be heading up the cast in the eighth series of the murder mystery show after Douglas Henshall and his Jimmy Perez character bowed out at the end of the most recent run of episodes in September.
Jensen will join forces with Shetland favourite Alison O’Donnell, who plays DS Alison ‘Tosh’ McIntosh, to take on the new role of Detective Inspector Ruth Calder. She will play a native Shetlander who returns after 20 years working for the Met in London.
Shetland regulars Steven Robertson (Sandy), Lewis Howden (Billy) and Anne Kidd (Cora) will also be returning in the new series, which will start filming in the spring.
Henshall had played Perez on screen since a two-part pilot series of Shetland aired in 2013. When his departure at the end of the seventh series was announced in July, Henshall said he had agreed with lead writer David Kane after Shetland’s fifth season that he would do another two to wrap up Perez’s story “to a satisfactory ending”.
However, it was confirmed at the the time that Shetland would be returning for an eighth series, which will see Paul Logue take over as lead writer.
Jensen has been cast in Shetland ahead of her coming appearance in Mayflies, the BBC’s adaptation of Andrew O’Hagan’s novel. She said: “I’m absolutely thrilled to be joining Shetland.
"It’s such a hugely successful show and I’m aware I have very big boots to fill since the departure of DI Perez, who was very much loved by fans of the show.
“There will be a different dynamic with Ruth amongst the regular characters and a few more new interesting characters to enjoy. However the integrity of the show and the world that has been created will remain very much in the same tone as the last seven seasons. It's a real privilege to be asked to lead this show into a new chapter. I can’t wait to be working in Scotland again. I have missed it.”
Jensen made her TV debut nearly 30 years ago starring alongside Billy Connolly in the BBC drama Down Among The Big Boys. Other roles followed in EastEnders, May to December, Roughnecks, Clocking Off and Dangerfield.
However, she did not find fame until Ricky Gervais cast her alongside him in the sitcom Extras, which launched in 2005, and she won a role in the US comedy-drama Ugly Betty the following year.
Recent roles have included Channel 4 comedy series Catastrophe, BBC dramas Trust Me and Love, Lies & Records and After Life, Gervais’s hit Netflix comedy-drama.
Gaynor Holmes, commissioning editor for the BBC, said: “Ashley is an immensely accomplished and well-loved actress who is known internationally. We can’t wait to welcome her into the Shetland family when filming begins in the spring.”
Kate Bartlett, executive producer for Silverprint Pictures, which makes Shetland for the BBC, said: “We're so thrilled that Ashley is going to be leading this new series of Shetland, alongside Alison O'Donnell. They will be an exciting duo in Paul Logue's compelling new version. It’s wonderful to have the opportunity to make another series with such incredible Scottish talent.”