BILLY NIGHY

Be­spec­ta­cled Brit wit Bill Nighy is spread­ing joy this Christ­mas as a de­light­fully can­tan­ker­ous Grand­santa, writes Lucy Carne

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - Front Page -

Go­ing crack­ers for Christ­mas.

NEVER trust a man in pat­terned socks, Bill Nighy tells me.

The be­suited states­man of Bri­tish cinema is de­scrib­ing ex­actly what he wants for Christ­mas: socks.

No pat­terns, noth­ing psy­che­delic, no lime green, he con­tin­ues, paus­ing to dra­mat­i­cally roll his eyes.

‘‘ I like dark blue, mid- calf. I used to go full- length but that’s too ec­cen­tric, and I’m over that now.’’

Nighy de­scribes his love of socks like an ex­cited child glee­fully rip­ping open a present on Christ­mas morn.

‘‘ I al­ways am thrilled when you crack open a new pair of socks. It’s quite deca­dent,’’ the 61- year- old ac­tor says.

‘‘ I some­times buy six at a time and I’ll have six days of new socks. You just go ‘‘ Crack!’’ each morn­ing and get the tis­sue pa­per out. It’s a thrill.’’

Christ­mas is Nighy’s time. With his el­e­gant suits, groovy strut and rogu­ish smile, he be­longs on a snowy Lon­don street, spread­ing fes­tive cheer.

He stole the show in the Christ­mas clas­sic Love Ac­tu­ally, play­ing the washed- up rock star Billy Mack, who re­dis­cov­ers fame ( and wins Nighy a le­gion of mid­dle- aged ad­mir­ers).

Now he is star­ring as a can­tan­ker­ous re­tired Santa in Arthur Christ­mas.

The first dig­i­tal 3D of­fer­ing from Aard­man An­i­ma­tion ( mak­ers of Wal­lace and Gromit ), Arthur Christ­mas is set at the North Pole, where the role of Santa has been passed from fa­ther to eldest son for cen­turies.

Christ­mas HQ is an iced Pen­tagon with in­ter­na­tional elves run­ning a hi- tech de­liv­ery op­er­a­tion that drops two bil­lion parcels across the world in one night.

In his rock­ing chair, watch­ing the Christ­mas en­ter­prise un­fold, is tooth­less Grand­santa ( Nighy), who comes out with crack­ing one- lin­ers like ‘‘ Oh, my baubles’’.

In­cum­bent Santa ( Jim Broad­bent) is due to re­tire. His slick, pow­er­hun­gry eldest son Steve ( House star Hugh Lau­rie) is ready to take con­trol.

The youngest son Arthur ( James Mcavoy) is madly de­voted to Christ­mas but, be­cause of his clum­si­ness, has been con­signed to the Let­ters Depart­ment to an­swer chil­dren’s re­quests.

But when one child ac­ci­den­tally misses out on a gift, it’s up to Arthur, Grand­santa and an elf called Bry­ony ( Ex­tras star Ash­ley Jensen) to de­liver it.

On first read­ing di­rec­tor Sarah Smith’s script, which she co- wrote with Bruno and

Bo­rat ’ s Peter Bayn­ham, Nighy des­per­ately wanted a part.

‘‘ I was very, very ner­vous go­ing up for this job,’’ he said. ‘‘ I wanted to be in it re­ally quite badly.’’ He said the script was per­fect – a rar­ity in an­i­ma­tion and live- ac­tion film.

‘‘ I thought if they do this cor­rectly, it will linger. It could be a peren­nial.’’

When he first au­di­tioned, Nighy thought he was go­ing for the role of Fa­ther Christ­mas.

‘‘ But they said ‘ No, you’re this guy with no teeth and no hair’,’’ he said.

He was, he ad­mit­ted, ter­ri­fied of hu­mil­i­a­tion dur­ing the au­di­tion.

De­spite roles in Pi­rates of the Caribbean, Harry Pot­ter, The Boat That Rocked, En­dur­ing Love, Notes on a Scan­dal and The

Con­stant Gar­dener , Nighy has squea­mish per­sonal prob­lems, leav­ing him un­able to watch him­self on the screen.

‘‘ I have enough dif­fi­culty go­ing to work, let alone sur­viv­ing see­ing my­self,’’ he says. ‘‘ It’s not about be­ing vain, be­cause I am. It’s not even the sound of me.

‘‘ It’s the fact that the act­ing is never go­ing to be as good as I had in mind.’’

Nighy is equally un­com­fort­able in front of a mi­cro­phone. He spent a ner­vous few days at Abbey Road Stu­dios record­ing the Christ­mas sin­gle Make Some­one Happy, which ap­pears in Arthur Christ­mas and raises money for the Starlight Chil­dren’s Foun­da­tion.

‘‘ My ac­tual pro­fes­sional ex­pe­ri­ence is lim­ited,’’ Nighy says of his rock- star per­sona. ‘‘ I’ve spent a cou­ple of weeks in the stu­dio for Still Crazy and a cou­ple of days for Love Ac­tu­ally.

‘‘ Other than that, I’ve sung in the bath. I still don’t know when to come in at the right time.’’

Hav­ing flunked high school in Sur­rey, south of Lon­don, Nighy told his lo­cal youth em­ploy­ment cen­tre he wanted to be an author.

At 15, in­spired by Bob Dy­lan, he ran away from home to head for Per­sia, be­cause he liked the sound of it. He made it to the south of France but, hun­gry and broke, he found the near­est Bri­tish con­sulate and asked to be sent home.

‘‘ I just wanted to be in a good trench coat and hat with a girl in the rain in Yu­goslavia,’’ Nighy says of his teenage as­pi­ra­tions.

In­stead, he be­came a mes­sen­ger boy for a hunt­ing, shoot­ing and fish­ing mag­a­zine. He later fell into act­ing.

De­spite the an­guish and per­sonal tur­moil, act­ing some­times brings Nighy joy. ‘‘ There are mo­ments when you think you’ve done some­thing which be­longs to you,’’ he says.

If Nighy isn’t tear­ing open pack­ets of socks while watch­ing his favourite ac­tor Will Fer­rell in Elf on Christ­mas Day, he says he has just one wish.

‘‘ What I’d re­ally like is to be taken blind­folded to a spot where a band had been as­sem­bled,’’ he says.

Char­lie Watts is on drums, Bill Wy­man on bass, Keith Richards on rhythm gui­tar, Eric Clap­ton and Pete Town­shend also on gui­tar and there are two singers – Van Mor­ri­son and Aretha Franklin.

‘‘ I’d like them all to say ‘ Hi Bill, sit down and en­joy your­self. Happy Christ­mas!’ And then play 2 ½ hours of solid R’N’B.’’

ARTHUR CHRIST­MAS

Now show­ing Vil­lage Cine­mas ( 2D & 3D)

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