Bill Nighy, master of misdirection (2023)

British actor Bill Nighy tried to describe how he was preparing for his role in new drama Living. He plays Mr Williams, a tight-lipped, almost catatonic reticent bureaucrat in post-war London who, upon learning he is dying, finally decides to live.

“Anything I say from now on, please treat it with a degree of suspicion or take it with a pinch of salt,” Nighy said. He was speaking from a car en route from Los Angeles to Palm Springs, California, where he was due to accept the International Star Award at the Palm Springs International Film Festival. He listened to Aretha Franklins That’s how I feel about ‘Chafrom his playlist.

Bill Nighy, master of misdirection (1)

Another photo of Bill Nighy in Los Angeles. ARIEL FISHER/The New York Times

“I never know how to talk about it,” he continued, speaking of his profession. “When people talk about the mechanics of acting, I’m cautious. Not because it’s anything fancy or mysterious or complicated or ethereal. It’s all practical stuff. Acting is…” Here he trailed off. The humor in his voice could be heard 3,000 miles away. “I started a sentence with ‘acting is,’ and that’s a bad sign,” he said.

Nighy, who is 73 and has appeared in more than 70 films, is something of a stealth weapon as an actor, as his performances are exquisitely calibrated and always memorable, if rarely flashy.

Whether you’re playing a flushed pop star bending over to record a Christmas carol love actuallyor the baroque hypochondriacal father of the title character in the 2020 version of Emmaor an aging spy in the BBC film page eightor a widower visiting his much younger ex-lover, played by Carey Mulligan, in the West End and Broadway revival by David Hare skylightor even (in a small but graphic part) an art historian speaking lyrically about Vincent Van Gogh in an episode of Doctor WhoNighy fully embodies his characters while staying true to himself.

He’s a popular figure with audiences, with Londoners who often see him around the city – one of his favorite things to do is sit alone in cafes and read a book – and, judging by the enthusiastic response, whenever his name is mentioned will , to virtually everyone he’s ever worked with.

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“He’s always kind and friendly,” said director Richard Curtis, who hired Nighy love actually and has worked with him regularly ever since. “One of the happiest moments in life is when you find a really good classical actor who has all that emotional depth and acting ability and who’s also very funny.”

life was written specifically for Nighty. It’s a remake by Akira Kurosawa ikiruabout a bureaucratic bureaucrat in post-war Japan who awoke from his crippling inertia in the final months of his life.

Novelist and Nobel laureate Kazuo Ishiguro, whose family moved to England from Nagasaki as a boy, loved the film for a long time and recognized the parallels between post-war Japan and post-war Britain – both struggling to rebuild after the ravages of war to rebuild people impacted by cultural oppression and societal expectations in straitjackets – and the potential for a remake of the film, set to be set in 1950s London.

Bill Nighy, master of misdirection (2)

Another photo of Bill Nighy in Los Angeles. ARIEL FISHER/The New York Times

One night Ishiguro and his wife Lorna MacDougall were having dinner in London with producer Stephen Woolley and Mr Woolley’s wife, Elizabeth Karlsen. Nighty arrived late. But then Ishiguro mentioned the idea of ​​a remake – saying it would be a perfect movie for Nighy.

“It’s pretty easy for actors to portray these stereotypes of the English gentleman,” Ishiguro said in an interview. “But to play this Englishman and add something deeply, hauntingly human to him that’s not just English but universal – that’s very special. So I thought it had to be Bill Nighy. I couldn’t think of anyone else.”

Mr. Woolley agreed and persuaded Ishiguro to write the screenplay even though the writer was writing Clare and the sun and said he was bad at scripts and reluctant to do anything else. Ishiguro named the main character Mr Williams in homage to Nighy’s first name.

Dialogue — at least initially, before Mr. Williams has a quiet but seismic epiphany about how to live out his now dramatically shortened life — is sparse and bare, filled with scenes of people struggling and unable to express themselves. (Nighy’s character receives his terminal cancer diagnosis from a doctor, who notes how uncomfortable the conversation is. “That’s right,” Nighy says, almost melting into the furniture.)

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“Bill has an innate understanding of minimalism when it comes to cinema,” said Mr. Woolley. He contrasted the actor’s approach with the more operatic, emotional performance of Takashi Shimura, star of ikiru. Nighy “has an amazing way of communicating, doing very little, just a small gesture or a smile. He can absolutely blow your mind with a raised eyebrow.”

Bill Nighy, master of misdirection (3)

Another photo of Bill Nighy in Los Angeles. ARIEL FISHER/The New York Times

Mr Woolley added: “He’s just a fantastic actor and a wonderful human being and it’s rare to find that in the same person.”

But trying to get Nighy to talk about his approach, his success, or even his career hits a charming wall of beguiling deception and veiled self-mockery. Noting that he’s been giving a lot of interviews lately, he said, “I’ll try to think of things I haven’t said before.”

Why did Ishiguro – whom Nighy refers to as Mr. Ishiguro despite, he says, being invited to address him by his nickname Ish – want him in the film?

“There’s this kind of depressive, repressed strict compulsion that we insist on living under,” Nighy said of traditional Englishmen. “After Mr. Ishiguro met me, he suddenly thought I could be the link. I do not know why. I don’t read about myself and don’t get around much anymore, but I’m aware that I’m seen as a certain kind of Englishman. It must be the result of certain roles I’ve played, I suppose.

But he was thrilled, he said. “I thought, this is like Christmas, you know, someone as distinguished and outstanding and brilliant as Ishiguro-san should look at me like that.”

Nighy didn’t want to be an actor. Born in Caterham, Surrey, he grew up alongside the petrol station and garage his father ran. When his early, amorphous plan to become a journalist fizzled out, he enrolled at the Guildford School of Acting.

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“I went to drama school because someone suggested I go to drama school, and the idea of ​​going to school was very appealing,” he said. “I thought I’d do it for a while. I didn’t have any really serious thoughts about acting.” Still, he said, “I got one gig and another, and I kept going.”

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Bill Nighy attends a special screening of Living at the Crosby Hotel in New York City. Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images via AFP

At first he earned so little money that he was exempt from income tax. He supplemented his earnings with other jobs. “I drove a minicab for a while,” he said. “That was a really bad idea. I used to pump gasoline for obvious reasons. What else have I done? I was a garbage man – a garbage collector. I used to work in a plastics factory at Surrey Street Market in Croydon.”

Unlike most classically trained British actors, he is not a Shakespeare fan, at least not to himself.

“I’m aware that he’s the greatest poet who ever lived, but I’ll leave the performance to other people,” he said. “I have no interest in the challenges of iambic pentameter.” Once, he said, he played Edgar in a production of King Lear, directed by Hare and starring Anthony Hopkins in the title role. “I used to jump out of the hut half-naked every night and scream impenetrable, crazy words from Shakespeare,” he said.

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Bill Nighty in Los Angeles. ARIEL FISHER//The New York Times

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He appeared in numerous films throughout the 1990s, but it wasn’t until 2003 that Richard Curtis cast him as Billy Mack, the scene-stealing pop star in love actuallythat he had his breakthrough.

“The film was about three quarters cast and we read it through thoroughly,” recalls Curtis. “I asked the casting director to find me someone who I definitely wouldn’t give the role to. I’d seen Nighy on stage and thought he was smart and posh and left-wing and completely wrong for the role.” But five minutes after reading it, he cast Nighy on the spot and has put him in almost everything he’s done since .

Not that Nighy has seen any of those films, or any film in which he appears.

“Well, would you like to sit down and watch yourself for a few hours?” he asked. “I tried it when I was younger and less complicated to look at and there’s nothing in it for me. I’m not the audience for my work. If I look at it, the whole thing gets stolen from me.”

In his spare time, Nighy says he enjoys reading, taking long walks around London and checking out his favorite bookshops. If he needs to go somewhere else, he takes a taxi or the subway to the train station. (“I don’t own a car because it’s pointless,” he said. “And I’m not a natural driver. I have a hard time paying attention.”)

His personal life has been a mystery since splitting from his longtime partner, actress Diana Quick. Tall, slim, and often dressed in beautifully tailored suits, he exudes a kind of old-fashioned, urban elegance. Unfortunately for his single fans, he is occasionally spotted at dinners and events with Vogue editor Anna Wintour, who hosted a screening of life last month in New York.

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Another photo of Bill Nighy in Los Angeles. ARIEL FISHER/The New York Times

He prefers not to talk about their relationship when he does. When asked, he has a stock response, last used in The Daily Telegraph. “I’d like to answer that,” he said. “But if I did, I would involve the readers in something very close to gossip, and I know they would never forgive me for that.” Nighy took the film’s message to heart: that one lives every day Should live like it’s the last?

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“A lot of the way you think about your age and mortality is either mythic or marketing,” he said. “Somehow you’re persuaded to think that certain things are outside your age or that you should be attracted to things because of your age. But I don’t want to fall into one of those traps of expecting this or that. I’m a lucky guy. I just want to keep it alive.


Did Bill Nighy sing in living? ›

There are a couple moments in the film, especially near the end, where Nighy sings the beautiful Scottish folk song “The Rowan Tree,” and let me just tell you that for me the tears came as a flood.

Does Bill Nighy have arthritis? ›

He has Dupuytren's contracture, which he inherited from his mother. The condition which can, depending on the condition's severity, cause contractures of the fingers, most commonly the ring and little fingers. Nighy is a supporter of Crystal Palace F.C.

How old is Bill Nighy? ›

Does Bill Nighy voice Davy Jones? ›

Davy Jones is a fictional character in the Pirates of the Caribbean film series, portrayed by Bill Nighy.

Did Bill Nighy sing Rowan Tree in Living? ›

The song that should have won this year wasn't nominated. I guess the Academy has a problem with songs that break off before reaching the end. When Bill Nighy gets swamped with emotion singing “The Rowan Tree” in the fine and quiet film Living, he puts his head down and surrenders.

Why are Bill Nighy's fingers curled? ›

The star also suffers from a genetic condition called Dupuytren's Contracture. A condition that causes some of his fingers to bend inwards towards the palm, which creates some difficulties for the actor.

What is the Viking grip disease? ›

Dupuytren's contracture, or palmar fibromatosis, is a condition of the hand, which results in the fingers becoming fixed in a bent position. The layer of tissue under the skin of the palm (the palmar fascia) develops small, hard nodules, which progressively thicken.

What is the rarest arthritis? ›

Palindromic rheumatism is a rare condition where symptoms like those of rheumatoid arthritis – joint inflammation, pain and swelling – come on suddenly and then disappear just as quickly. Palindromic rheumatism (PR) is a rare type of inflammatory arthritis.

How did Bill Nighy play Davy Jones? ›

Davy Jones is a fictional character in the Pirates of the Caribbean film series based upon the legendary character of the same name. He is portrayed through motion capture by Bill Nighy and voiced by Nighy and Robin Atkin Downes. His body parts are partially these of a squid and a crab.

What is Bill Nighy's real name? ›

He was born William Francis Nighy on December 12, 1949 in Caterham, Surrey, England, to Catherine Josephine (Whittaker), a psychiatric nurse from Glasgow, and Alfred Martin Nighy, who was English-born and managed a garage in Croydon.

How many times has Bill Nighy been married? ›

As for Nighy, the actor has never been married, though he was previously in a long-term relationship with British actress Diana Quick from 1982 to 2008. (The former couple has a daughter, Mary Nighy, who's also an actress and filmmaker).

Is Bill Nighy knighted? ›

Celebs who rejected British royal honors. Prolific actor Bill Nighy, who gained recognition for his role as Billy Mack in the Christmas favorite 'Love Actually,' turned down an OBE (Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) at some point during his career.

Are Anna Wintour and Bill Nighy an item? ›

A representative for Bill told "Bill and Anna have simply been great friends for two decades. They are not in a relationship."

How old was Davy Jones when he died? ›

He was 66. The apparent cause was a heart attack, his publicist, Helen Kensick, said. Created in 1966, the Monkees comprised Mr.

Was Davy Jones a real pirate? ›

David Jones was a pirate on the Indian Ocean in the 1630s, but most scholars agree that he was not famous enough to gain such lasting global fame.

What is Jack Sparrow accent? ›

“It's well-known Depp based his Jack Sparrow accent on Keith Richards and the result is pretty impressive. The British accent is almost meant to be slurred, and Depp pulls it off admirably in four films.”

What does a Rowan tree symbolize? ›

Since ancient times people have been planting a Rowan beside their home as in Celtic mythology it's known as the Tree of Life and symbolises courage, wisdom and protection.

What does the song The Rowan Tree mean? ›

This beautiful Scottish Ballad commemorates The Rowan Tree, also called the Traveler's Tree because it is said to protect those on journeys.

Who has Bill Nighy voice? ›

Bill Nighy is a voice actor known for voicing Davy Jones, Rattlesnake Jake, and Grand-Santa. Take a visual walk through their career and see 17 images of the characters they've voiced and listen to 6 clips that showcase their performances.

Is Dupuytren's cancerous? ›

Dupuytren's disease (also known as Dupuytren's contracture) is a benign condition of the skin characterized by the overgrowth of myofibroblasts.

Is Viking disease hereditary? ›

Dupuytren's disease is thought to be a hereditary disorder, running in families; however, the exact cause is unknown. There are a number of other risk factors that are believed to contribute to developing Dupuytren's disease. These include: Gender: Men are 8x more likely to develop the condition than women.

What is Dupont's disease of the hands? ›

Dupuytren's contracture is an abnormal thickening of tissues in the palm of the hand. The thickened tissues may develop into a hard lump. Over time it can cause 1 or more fingers to curl (contract) or pull in toward the palm. You may not be able to use your hand for certain things.

How do you know you have Viking blood? ›

Through DNA testing, it is possible to effectively trace your potential inner Viking and discover whether it forms part of your genetic makeup or not. However, it's not 100% definitive. There's no exact Nordic or Viking gene that is passed down through the generations.

What is the average age for Dupuytren's? ›

In 10% of the cases with bilateral disease, it started simultaneously in both hands. One woman and two men noticed the first symptom before 10 years of age. In about 50% of the men, the disease started between 40-59 years of age (women 40-69 years).

What ethnicity is Dupuytren's? ›

Dupuytren contracture occurs in about 5 percent of people in the United States. The condition is 3 to 10 times more common in people of European descent than in those of non-European descent.

Which arthritis has no cure? ›

There's no cure for rheumatoid arthritis (RA), but early treatment with medications, known as disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs), may be effective in pushing RA symptoms into remission. There are a variety of medications used to treat RA symptoms.

Has anyone ever recovered from arthritis? ›

There is no cure for arthritis, but doctors can treat symptoms of the condition to make it more manageable. Symptoms can range from mild to severe and may come and go over time. They may also become progressively worse and significantly affect daily life.

What is the number 1 arthritis? ›

Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common form of arthritis. Some people call it degenerative joint disease or “wear and tear” arthritis.

Why does Davy Jones look so good? ›

The tentacled face of Davy Jones is wet and slimy to the point where it is always glistening. Having a digital render that comes off as shiny perfectly compliments that sea creature look. The effects artists also nail how different kinds of light would bounce off that slippery skin, be it sunlight or fire.

What nationality is Davy Jones pirate? ›

Davy Jones was a Scottish pirate whose mortal life is mysterious and less known. According to myths, he was a courageous sailor who fell in love with the harsh and untamable sea goddess, Calypso.

What was Davy Jones real name? ›

David Thomas Jones, popularly known as Davy Jones, was born on December 30, 1945, and was a singer, actor, and businessman from England.

Why don t the British pronounce the H in Anthony? ›

The British pronunciation was the original. The name is derived from the Latin Antoinius, and the slightly Latinate pronunciation of “Antony” was historically the standard pronunciation.

Who did Bill Nighy play in Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone? ›

Bill Nighy (born 12 December, 1949) is an English actor who portrayed Rufus Scrimgeour in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1. Nighy is also well known for his work as Davy Jones in the Pirates of the Caribbean films, as well as the vampire king Viktor in the Underworld series.

Who is Billy Mack based on? ›

Love Actually star Bill Nighy says that his rock star character Billy Mack is not based on an actual musician. Directed by Richard Curtis, the classic 2003 Christmas film Love Actually features an impressive ensemble including Alan Rickman, Emma Thompson, Liam Neeson, and Hugh Grant.

Who plays the octopus face in Pirates of the Caribbean? ›

Bill Nighy played Davy Jones, Pirates of the Caribbean's main antagonist for two movies, but although the villain's appearance is based on him, his more aquatic features were completely computer-generated.

Who sings in Living? ›

Bill Nighy opens up about singing in new movie 'Living'

Who sings Rowan Tree in film Living? ›

Lisa Knapp records 'The Rowan Tree' for the soundtrack to the major motion picture, LIVING, starring Bill Nighy.

Did they sing live in the sound of music? ›

So everything you see on screen is lip-synched. They pre-recorded all of it. Julie Andrews is impeccable in her lip-syncing on this film.

Did the actors in Rock of Ages really sing? ›

All of the actors sing their own parts in the film. Cruise said that he had always wanted to appear in a musical but he found the idea frightening because he was uncertain whether he could actually pull it off.

What song was Bill Nighy singing in Living? ›

bill nighy singing 'the rowan tree' in 'living' (2022) had me in tears. he has such a beautiful voice.

Who sang as Zac Efron? ›

Zac Efron's singing voice was that of Drew Seeley, who tested for the role of Troy.

Who sings moonshine in live by night? ›

Northern Irish singer-songwriter Foy Vance enlisted country singer Kacey Musgraves for his latest tune, “Moonshine.” The new song appears on the official soundtrack for Live By Night, a drama-film starring Ben Affleck.

What is The Rowan Tree in mythology? ›

The rowan features in Norse mythology and legend has it that it saved the life of the god Thor by bending over a fast flowing river in the Underworld in which he was being swept away. Thor managed to grab the tree and get back to the shore.

What classical music is used in the film Living? ›

Atlantic Screen Music/Filmtrax will release the official soundtrack album for the British drama Living. The album features the film's original music composed by Emilie Levienaise-Farrouch (Censor, The Forgotten Battle). Also included is the song The Rowan Tree performed by Lisa Knapp.

How much of The Sound of Music is true? ›

The story is largely historically inaccurate.

The Broadway musical — which later inspired the 1965 film — was based on the memoir "The Story of the Trapp Family Singers" by Maria von Trapp (née Kutschera). But the plot didn't always stay true to the source material.

Did everyone do their own singing in Sound of Music? ›

Carr contended that all of the children who are in the film sing on the track, but four other children were added to most of the songs to give them a fuller sound; they did not replace them as singers. The voices of some of the adult actors had voice doubles, including those of Peggy Wood and Christopher Plummer.

Do Broadway singers always sing live? ›

Musicals and plays are not lip synched except in occasions where there is a practical reason or effect that requires a pre-recorded or off-stage voice.

Who taught Tom Cruise to sing in Rock of Ages? ›

To prepare for Rock of Ages, Cruise took lessons with Axl Rose's vocal coach. Although the three-time Oscar nominee had prior experience singing in a glee club at age 14, he needed a little refresher.

Did Tom Cruise actually sing? ›

Yes, Tom Cruise really can sing. That's the word from “Rock of Ages” director Adam Shankman, who admits that even he wondered whether the actor had the vocal chops for the lead role in New Line's musical.

Did Tom Cruise really play guitar in Rock of Ages? ›

"He was playing the solo, and I was playing all the chords and stuff." Check out everything we've got on "Rock of Ages." For breaking news, celebrity columns, humor and more -- updated around the clock -- visit


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