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Tuesday October 15, 2013 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Tuesday October 15, 2013 MYT 8:45:00 AM
by tan shzr ee
As tentacle-faced Davy Jones in Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End.
Bill Nighy has played diverse roles from zombie to demon, but is also content playing a regular guy like himself.
SOMEWHERE, 20 years down the road, veteran English actor Bill Nighy hopes he will be playing “very wise men, sitting around a lot, saying clever things” – and wearing exquisite clothes.
The unsung face of hit movies you will always remember without quite name-checking was at London’s Mandarin Hotel to share choice stories about his latest appearance on film. In Richard Curtis’ declared swansong, About Time, he is a gently sardonic and time-travelling father to Domhnall Gleeson’s boy- growing-into-man.
“I’ve been a zombie, a vampire, a demon and I’ve done a squid. The squid was pretty good,” the 64-year-old says of his previous appearances as villains in the Underworld movies (2003, 2006 and 2009), Pirates Of The Caribbean sequels (2006 and 2007) and the soon-to-be-released I, Frankenstein.
But now, he’s happy just to “be there” in a regular, contemporary drama; a version of his own personality.
“I like working off myself in a naturalistic way,” he explains, citing his favourite actors as those who are “able to just exist on camera and don’t have to sell you anything”.
It is the beautifully tailored trousers and shirts which have been a hallmark of said immaculate “naturalistic” style. These, Nighy has sported since his early days as the messenger boy, the “mod” son of a horse dealer and a nurse.
Dropping out of school with two O-level credits, he retrained as an actor, finding decent but intermittent work on the floorboards over the years – all while still wearing his trademark blue suits.
“I don’t like appearing in public without my jacket on. What I try with costumes is to have as few as possible,” he says.
“So you don’t have to worry. It’s like lying. You wear three things and those three things you like.”
It is ironic, then, that most people outside of Britain know Nighy best as CGI-tentacled arch-villain Davy Jones from Pirates Of The Caribbean. Otherwise, he is the 1970s-shirted ageing rocker Billy Mack in Curtis’ big hit of 2003, Love Actually.
“Love Actually changed the way I worked,” Nighy recalls of his big break into Hollywood a decade ago after “combining nine jobs a time”.
“More people saw me in it than everything I’d ever done in my whole career before, in one hit, and most importantly in America. It made me more cast-able, more useful.”
As for Davy Jones, he recounts being gaped at by kids in America: “They say I look like the President, but I sound like Austin Powers.”
In person, Nighy is the epitome of lean in a dark suit cut straight onto a wiry frame, in turn folded, stick-insect-like, into another perfect shirt. A thin tie and silvery hair, just over-reaching the limits of a clean, short haircut, complete the look.
Like the precision-cut clothes he wears, the actor is relaxed but exact and precious about everything.
He takes pride in the slightly incongruous activity of lying down – “often in my suit” – in parks and squares in London, to gaze at foliage and then take photos of them on his iPhone, which he shows everyone around the table.
“I love plane trees. Now you know. I suppose it’s what I do instead of meditation. Or drugs. It just gives you some proportion.”
He talks about polishing up his ping pong skills to play opposite Irish actor Gleeson in bittersweet father-and-son vignettes: “You might have noticed, I’m a world-class player.”
In About Time, he admits to faltering initially over a role which was inspired by good friend Curtis’ own relationship with his father.
“I invent pressure just to give myself a hard time, really. Either I’ve got to be a bit like Richard’s dad or a really, really good dad,” he says. “I’m not the greatest father myself - you can ask my daughter. But I do know what it’s like to be crazy and to love.”
Today, the London-based Nighy is separated from his actress ex-wife Diana Quick, 66, with whom he has a daughter, Mary, 29.
His latest silver-screen incarnation marks a coming of age on his own terms, career-wise. Nighy began as a struggling stage and TV actor before sweeping his way through Hollywood archetypes, and is now often cast as sanguine, wise, even tender, middle-aged men more like his own self.
“I try to rethink life, the small things … be more cheerful,” he offers. It is not quite the ambitious thing to say for most thespians, who would relish biting into colourful, complex roles as dramatically different from each other – though Nighy is also quick to add that the villains were a blast.
But he is talking not just about one movie, but also the laid-back, august years of a lifetime, as well as the solidarity and friendship he shares with long-time collaborator Curtis.
“The basic philosophic suggestion is – it’s not rocket science – simply that you try and pay full attention to the one you’re in, rather than having it qualified by the one you’ve just come out of or endangered by the one up ahead,” he says of his film roles.
“I’ve been more conscious of all this lately – maybe because I’m getting old,” he says. “I take in the tender things, the nice things.”
Would the actor live his life again differently?
Nighy will first let you know that he is not yet willing to spend all his time looking back and he certainly is not ready to retire yet: “I won’t stop working, God, no.”
But “there are a few pairs of trousers I regret”, he adds, eyebrow raised.
“And a few hairstyles.” – Straits Times/Asia News Network
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Lifestyle, Entertainment, Bill Nighly, Actor, British, Pirates Of The Caribbean
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