Bill Nighy is dancing on a table the first time we meet. Arriving early for our interview, I open the door to a penthouse in the Corinthia Hotel London and Purple Rain almost knocks me over as it blares out down the corridor. Encountering scenes that wouldn’t have been out of place in a Soho studio during the Swinging Sixties, Nighy is doing his best faux-tap number while a photographer shouts: ‘You’re so handsome, Bill, you sexy, sexy man!’ As introductions go, this one lives up to the hype.
Bill Nighy is one of the legendary actors of his generation, thanks to starring roles in franchises like Pirates of the Caribbean and Harry Potter. But it’s Nighy’s turn as ageing rockstar Billy Mack in 2003’s Love, Actually that elevated him into the pantheon of British acting royalty. ‘I do lots of other work,’ Nighy points out, ‘but if you’ve done one thing that has entered the language – and Love, Actually has entered the language planet-wide – then people will come up to you all the time.’
When I ask if he minds still being recognised for a role so many years after the film was released, he has a straight answer. ‘Not in the least. I walk everywhere, so I get approached at least 20 times a day and 15 of them want to talk about that film. That’s fine with me. If that kind of thing happens to you, you should just continually thank your lucky stars.’
Nighy is the actor everybody thinks they know. He has been on our screens for more than 40 years and the stage for longer still. The British public have warmed to him like perhaps no other male actor. Everyone you meet tells you: ‘Bill Nighy is a seriously cool dude.’ One friend actually said to me: ‘It’s universal, like gravity.’ Having spent time with him, it’s impossible to disagree. But he’s also one of the most humble people I have ever met. At points, he might even be verging on self-deprecating. In spite of his laid-back image, Nighy is the first to say that he ‘doesn’t particularly fancy [him]self’.
‘I tend to overdress because I can say to myself: “Well, at least you’ve got the suit,”’ he reveals. ‘It may have me in it, but there we go.’
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