‘I don’t watch any­thing I’m in. I tried that when I was young and it was aw­ful. I wanted to re­tire ... I’m not even kid­ding’

Ahead of his turn in a BBC1 adap­ta­tion of Agatha Christie’s Or­deal by In­no­cence, Bill Nighy talks to Ger­ard Gil­bert about fame, Crys­tal Palace and not watch­ing him­self on TV

Belfast Telegraph - Weekend - - INTERVIEW -

Bill Nighy strides into the Lon­don ho­tel room dressed ex­actly as you’d ex­pect, the fa­mously dap­per 68-year-old ac­tor in a sharp navy-blue suit, a crisply ironed sky­blue shirt open at the col­lar and his face adorned with Michael Caine specs (“I’ve never worn T-shirts,” he once con­fided. “I’m the wrong shape to do a T-shirt jus­tice”).

He is pro­mot­ing his lat­est role, in BBC1’s lat­est Agatha Christie adap­ta­tion. Or­deal by In­no­cence was sup­posed to have been broad­cast at Christ­mas, but (stren­u­ously de­nied) al­le­ga­tions of sex­ual as­sault against one of its cast, Ed West­wick, meant that it was pulled from the sched­ules and — echo­ing Ri­d­ley Scott’s re­moval of the dis­graced Kevin Spacey from his film All the Money in the World and re­plac­ing him with Christo­pher Plum­mer — scenes in­volv­ing West­wick were re­filmed with Chris­tian Cooke in the role.

Now, af­ter a tech­ni­cally chal­leng­ing 12-day reshoot on the same lo­ca­tions in Scot­land, the drama is ready to be shown.

Set in the 1950s, the decade Christie wrote her orig­i­nal story, Nighy por­trays the head of the aris­to­cratic Ar­gyll fam­ily, which is shaken when it be­comes ap­par­ent that one of their num­ber is a mur­derer.

“I play Leo Ar­gyle, and he and his wife have adopted five chil­dren, four of whom have what you might call very shaky pasts,” he ex­plains. “Ev­ery­one looks very shifty, and hope­fully the au­di­ence will bounce around try­ing to work out who’s the cul­prit.”

Even Leo him­self might be in the frame, it seems. “He’s an am­a­teur Egyp­tol­o­gist who hasn’t got much money, but his wife has, which is the one thing that would prob­a­bly make him look shifty,” says Nighy.

“She [Christie] is very good at mak­ing a scene where you’re com­pletely con­vinced it must be him or her.”

Although he has ap­peared in TV de­tec­tive shows from Berg­erac to Boon and Wy­cliffe to The In­spec­tor Lyn­ley Mys­ter­ies, Nighy is un­usual for a once-job­bing Bri­tish ac­tor of his vin­tage in that he’s never pre­vi­ously been cast in any of the count­less Poirot and Miss Marple adap­ta­tions. He has, how­ever, read all of her books.

“I dis­cov­ered the books when I was young,” he says. “I gave them to my daugh­ter when she was about 12 or 13, and she read them all. It was very sat­is­fy­ing to see.”

Did he re­mem­ber read­ing Or­deal by In­no­cence, one of Christie’s bet­ter later who­dun­nits and one of her own favourites? “I barely re­mem­ber my name,” quips Nighy. “I’ve ac­tu­ally got to point where I buy books, get to chap­ter three and think, ‘Oh no, I’ve done it again — I read this in 1995’, so no, I don’t re­mem­ber. “I didn’t go back to the book ei­ther. I’ve done a lot of adap­ta­tions of nov­els lately, and I don’t read them while mak­ing the film be­cause you don’t need all the in­for­ma­tion that may or may not have sur­vived in the script.” The re­cent adap­ta­tions he is re­fer­ring to in­clude The Book­shop (co-star­ring Emily Mor­timer, and based on the novel by Pene­lope Fitzger­ald), The Lime­house Golem (based on Peter Ack­royd’s 1994 mur­der mys­tery) and Their Finest (with Gemma Arter­ton, based on a novel by Lissa Evans). They are the sorts of roles in the sorts of pro­duc­tions that Nighy could per­haps only have dreamed about in his thir­ties and for­ties. The big uptick in his for­tunes came in 2003, when Richard Cur­tis cast him as age­ing rocker Billy Mack in Love Ac­tu­ally, Nighy steal­ing the lime­light from the likes of Hugh Grant and Emma Thomp­son and be­com­ing one part sil­ver-fox sex sym­bol and three parts na­tional trea­sure. “Love Ac­tu­ally, who knew?” he says. “I thought it would be a suc­cess­ful film, but to have en­tered the lan­guage in that way.” It’s also a movie that Nighy finds hard to ig­nore be­cause it’s on tele­vi­sion so much. Oth­er­wise, he says, he goes out of the way not to see him­self on screen. “I don’t watch any­thing I’m in,” Nighy ad­mits. “I tried that when I was young and it was aw­ful.”

That “aw­ful” ex­pe­ri­ence was as a young ac­tor in Liver­pool in the 1970s, when his first TV job, in the po­lice se­ries Softly Softly, was shown on BBC1. “I was stay­ing in digs and I said to ev­ery­body in the house, ‘Hey, I’m on TV’ and they all crowded in the front room to watch,” he re­calls. “I was just com­pletely crushed be­cause it was so ter­ri­ble. I hardly had any­thing to do. I was the third bank rob­ber from the left.”

“I went on Richard and Judy once and they said, ‘We’ve got a bit of a sur­prise for you’, and they had a TV brought in and they showed Softly Softly. If you fed it into a com­puter to find the per­fect way to wind me up, this was it.”

Nighy’s de­liv­ery is so in­sou­ciant and dead­pan it’s hard at times to know how se­ri­ous he’s be­ing, but he in­sists that his ha­tred of look­ing at him­self is gen­uine. “I wanted to re­tire — I’m not kid­ding,” he says of his first see­ing him­self on TV. “I don’t know why I didn’t. I guess I didn’t have any­thing else. I flunked school — not that pre­vents you from do­ing any­thing in life — but I didn’t have any other idea.”

He left gram­mar school in Sur­rey with only two O-lev­els, his roots be­ing hum­bler that his screen per­sona might sug­gest. His mum, Cather­ine, was a nurse from Scot­land while his dad ran a fam­ily chim­ney-sweep­ing busi­ness be­fore open­ing a small garage.

Af­ter drama school, Nighy slowly be­gan get­ting stage parts, even­tu­ally be­com­ing a reg­u­lar at the Na­tional The­atre. But since his suc­cess in Love Ac­tu­ally, he hasn’t stopped work­ing in the movies, in­clud­ing the two Best Ex­otic Marigold Ho­tel films about Bri­tish re­tirees to In­dia — rid­ing around Jaipur on a mo­tor­bike with Dame Judi Dench on the back. “I’m still hope­less on a mo­tor­bike,” he says. “I don’t know why they didn’t use a stunt rider in long shot.”

In 2008, Nighy fin­ished a 27-year re­la­tion­ship with ac­tress Diana Quick, the mother of their 33-year-old daugh­ter, Mary, who now

You get sat­is­fac­tion from act­ing when it’s over, but it’s also hard work

WHO­DUN­NIT: Bill Nighy (also in­set left) as Leo Ar­gyle with Belfast actor An­thony Boyle in Or­deal by In­no­cence

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