While he’s known for his Shakespearean pedigree and accomplished film and theater work, veteran British actor Bill Nighy has become a big screen badass in the last few years. The roles that have earned him that reputation include the vicious vampire overlord Viktor in the Underworld trilogy, the sinister Davy Jones in two of the Pirates of the Caribbean films and the condescending stepfather-turned-zombie Phillip in Shaun of The Dead. Those cinematic alter egos appear incongruous to his seemingly mild-mannered presence in real-life, but they prove just how good of an actor he is.
Although all of those parts required prosthetics or effects to alter his physical appearance, Nighy does not need layers of make-up to be effective. He was magnetic and vulnerable as the aging, desperate art-rock frontman in the indie music dramedy Still Crazy. But ultimately it’s the big budget fare that gets him noticed by the masses. Next year we’ll be seeing the 59 year-old thespian portraying Minister of Magic Rufus Scrimgeour in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, another blockbuster role likely to draw him more attention and acclaim.
I recently caught up with Nighy for a few minutes at the G-Force junket in NYC and fired off a few questions, which he was more than willing to answer.
You’re known for many dramatic and comedic roles . But lately you’ve become this badass on screen. How did that happen? Have you enjoyed exploring that side of yourself and exploiting it for G-Force?
I don’t know how that happened. Whenever they need somebody damaged they think of me. This [movie] was a nice opportunity. It’s good to have a secret, and there is a very satisfying twist at the end.
Your G-Force co-star Zach Galifianakis joked that he used his lonely childhood games of talking to imaginary friends as unintended practice for talking to invisible CG guinea pigs. What about you?
I was a lonely guy, too. Imagining there were guinea pigs, it was like when you were a kid and nobody came over to the house. You would be playing games in the backyard and had to pretend all the other guys were there. So guinea pigs are pretty much the same. I’ve been a vampire, a zombie and a squid, so I don’t mind if it gets weird. Bring ‘em on.
Which villainous role have you relished the most?
I’m very happy being a vampire in the Underworld series, but I figure that Davy Jones was the one that was the most enjoyable. It was a long period [of time], it was a massive project and the creature was one of the most successful creatures in cinema history. It has nothing to do with me, and I am so grateful to those guys. The films themselves were amongst the most successful ever made, and it was good fun to try and freak out Johnny Depp. I was so lucky that the geniuses from Industrial Light & Magic made that creature because it was a legendary animation. I guess that’s closet to my heart.
Did you freak out Johnny Depp?
No, you can never freak out Johnny Depp. He just grins at you.
Is there any role in your repertoire that you think is underrated?
I don’t think underrated, but I suppose my favorite in my repertoire is The Girl In The Café. It was a film for HBO written by Richard Curtis and directed by David Yates, who now does the Harry Potter films. That was a part that was unusual for me in as much as I didn’t have to scare anybody or be loud or brash, and it was refreshing to play somebody who was isolated by self-consciousness and was kind of reserved, but at the same time hopefully funny.