What keeps Bill Nighy up at night…

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e re­calls his early hu­mil­i­a­tions. In 1978 he played a gay man in Mike Stott’s Com­ings and Go­ings at the Hamp­stead The­atre Club and had to walk on nude three times. “On my third en­trance one night one woman said, ‘Oh no, not again!’ be­cause she just couldn’t take any more.” Then 13 years later he played a phi­lan­der­ing pro­fes­sor in a BBC se­rial, The Men’s Room, and be­came – in­stantly – fa­mous and a lit­tle bit in­fa­mous. “I think I had to sim­u­late pas­sion seven times with four dif­fer­ent women.”

View­ers might see it as a perk of the job. “Oh God, it’s the least erotic thing of all – un­less your idea of eroti­cism is stand­ing in a room with 12 elec­tri­cians and, you know, seven other peo­ple and hav­ing your bum made up in be­tween takes.”

In re­cent years his fic­tional love in­ter­ests have ma­tured. In The Best Ex­otic Marigold Ho­tel he was paired with Judi Dench – glam­orous, but, for once, 15 years his se­nior. This year in Their Finest he played a louche ac­tor paired with He­len Mccrory, who is nearly 20 years younger, but was aged up for the part.

“When I was younger… I didn’t have any trou­ble with women, but I wasn’t be­sieged by them. Not that I am now. No­body ever re­ferred to me in those terms. In fact, if any­thing I wouldn’t get those roles be­cause I wasn’t good-look­ing enough.” Does he re­ally think that? “I don’t know. I prob­a­bly looked all right. I mean, I think it was a form of dys­mor­phia, but it was sin­cerely felt and sin­cerely lived. It’s not a pose or any­thing. I could never take my­self se­ri­ously in that area.”

From his ear­li­est days out of drama school in Guild­ford, Nighy has al­ways worked, at first on stage – by 1977 he had al­ready ap­peared at the Na­tional – then also on tele­vi­sion and film. He is about to film the BBC’S Christ­mas Agatha Christie adap­ta­tion and has another movie, The Book­shop, based on a Pene­lope Fitzger­ald novel, out later in the year. He is cer­tainly not lazy, although suc­cess has come in waves, the great­est of which was prob­a­bly in 2003 when, as he puts it, Richard Cur­tis changed his life by cast­ing him as the age­ing rock star Billy Mack in Love Ac­tu­ally. This beck­oned a golden patch – State of Play, Pi­rates of the Caribbean, Gideon’s Daugh­ter.

Didn’t his re­la­tion­ship with Quick end around then? “No. Not at all. Those things were not con­cur­rent. I think I was fine. I’d been around long enough, it was fine. I’d al­ways done OK.”

He gave up drink­ing on May 17, 1992, but will not dis­cuss his al­co­holism with the press. All he will say – and he chases me out of the ho­tel room to add this to the in­ter­view – is: “I used to drink and it was ter­ri­ble. I don’t drink now and it is fab­u­lous.”

Is he where he wants to be? “I’m fine. As Ray­mond Carver once put it, it’s all gravy. You know, my head is quiet most of the time.”

And death? He re­cently said that he thought about it 12 times a day. Does it scare him? “Yes. I never like the sound of it. Usu­ally in the morn­ing. The morn­ing’s not good.”

What does he do about it? “Put the ket­tle on. A bit of caf­feine, and it al­ready looks bet­ter.”

The more we talk, the more I find that although I would not, af­ter all, want to be Nighy, I like him. He has charisma rather than charm, and charisma is a nat­u­rally oc­cur­ring thing, whereas charm al­ways con­tains an el­e­ment of con. His ac­cent, for ex­am­ple, is not some­thing con­cocted at drama school, but a fam­ily tim­bre – his mother could not tell him apart from his brother on the phone.

Talk­ing of which, his ec­cen­tric phone grip on & Caicos was not ac­torly busi­ness. A mus­cu­lar con­di­tion called Dupuytren’s con­trac­ture has per­ma­nently bent some of his fin­gers. Us­ing the re­main­ing dig­its straight­ened is the only way that he can keep a mo­bile propped to his ear. Like Nighy him­self, the gesture looks cool, but you wouldn’t want to be fussed with the bur­den of it your­self.

For Nighy, a ro­man­tic scene is “a ter­ri­ble day at the of­fice”.

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