SDCC EXCL: Bill Nighy Returns to Underworld

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Viktor’s return!

For many years, Comic-Con International has been very good to the Underworld franchise, with both the previous movies having debuted footage there. Screen Gems was back this year with the long-discussed prequel Underworld: Rise of the Lycans and this year, it was showing up against some heavy vampiric competition with an anticipated book adaptation and a new HBO series having preceded it.

Even so, the key to the prequel is that they got back two of the fine classically-trained British actors from the first movie, Bill Nighy and Michael Sheen, reprising their roles as Viktor and Lucian, leaders of the vampires and werewolf-like Lycans respectively. They’re joined by Rhona Mitra, who most recently starred in Neil Marshall’s Doomsday, as well as the very different werewolf movie Skinwalkers.

As great a baddie as Nighy’s Viktor was in the first Underworld, he only really showed up about half-way through the movie, but for the prequel, we should be seeing a lot more of him as it goes back in time to the earlier days in the never-ending battle between the vampires and the Lycans. (You can read Ryan Rotten’s description of the footage shown at Comic-Con this year here.)

ShockTillYouDrop.com had a chance to sit down with Nighy before his Comic-Con panel, but before we got into what Viktor was up to this time around, we had to tell the veteran actor about the amazing costumed Davy Jones we’d seen wandering around the halls of the San Diego Convention Center, which he found amusing.

Bill Nighy: They did a thing at the Japanese premiere of I think “(Pirates) 3”, they had a very famous Japanese pop star inside a Davy Jones costume and people had to guess who was inside the costume. How they were supposed to know, I don’t know, but if you guessed, you got all kinds of money and prizes, but this poor man had to go around wearing this thing all day long. It was scary.

ShockTillYouDrop.com: Must have been, so this marks your return to the “Underworld.” I’m curious how they approached you to return as Viktor? Did they just come to you with a good script?

Nighy: Yeah, I’ve always been very keen on the “Underworld” series. I was very proud to be in the first one. I like vampires, I like the whole thing, and I loved the fact that Len Wiseman and Danny McBride and the other guys were…well, for a start, they were first-time filmmakers, but also they were believers. They wanted to make a vampire movie; they didn’t come upon it by accident. They’re absolute enthusiasts for the genre, as am I, and I thought that if you want a vampire-werewolf script, look no further than “Underworld 1.” It was just a cracker, and I always was very pleased to be in it, even though they did medieval, terrible things to me in terms of prosthetics. If I’d had any idea what they were going to do to me, I don’t think I would have taken the gig, because it took six hours to put that stuff on, and two hours to take it off, so even when they wrapped you, you had nothing to look forward to. For a relatively small movie to go straight in at #1 in America and be a big success, and for these guys, who I like enormously apart from anything else, was very satisfying, and then for “2” to do the same thing, and to get to “3.” Who knew? So it’s great.

Shock: I thought after the first movie, we’d never see Viktor again. We saw a little of him in 2 in flashback, and I understand this whole movie is in that kind of vein. What was it like changing the leather of the modern Underworld to the armor?

Nighy: I wear knight’s armor. I wear a battle skirt, which is interesting, and it was good fun. Michael Sheen and I and Rhona Mitra, our new leading lady who has been tremendous, we take the large responsibility for delivering the story, and it’s been great. It was really cool, the story is great. They’re very clever writers, and I’m hoping long may it run.

Shock: That first movie was very much like the Shakespeare of werewolf and vampire movies, if there ever could be one, just from the writing…

Nighy: Yes.

Shock: …but you didn’t really have a lot of scenes, if any, with Michael Sheen in the first movie, if I remember correctly.

Nighy: No, in fact I don’t think we ever met actually.

Shock: So what was it like to be able to work together in this one?

Nighy: It was great. I’ve known Michael all my life. We’ve never worked together…oh, we have worked together once before on British radio when we were younger, but not in a substantial way. We did have whole scenes without dialogue, which consisted entirely of Michael and I hissing at one another, which you can only do for so long without laughing. He is one of our finest actors. It was very funny to see if I could hiss louder and longer than he could, but it was a gas. It’s a marvelous thing to have someone like Michael in a movie like this. He gives it so much power and wit, so it was cool.

Shock: Did you have less prosthetics and make-up to deal with this time?

Nighy: I had none. Zero. Thank God. No honestly, the great thing about Davy Jones was that it was computer-generated, and please God, this is the future because I’m never going back to that prosthetics truck where those nice men do medieval things to you, because it’s just…you know. I thought there’d be a zip up the back and you’d step into it. I had no idea that they stuck it to your body with industrial adhesive, and then nobody would have lunch with you anymore. I do enjoy the whole genre thing. It’s something that came late in my career and unexpectedly, but I embrace it.

Shock: What about Patrick Tatopoulos as a director? He’s an amazing visionary as an artist but how is he on set working with you and the other actors?

Nighy: Brilliant. Completely brilliant. Completely marvelous. I would work with Patrick the rest of my life. If Patrick was the only director left in the world, I’d be happy. He was marvelous. He’s courteous as anything, he’s sharp as a tack, he keeps it simple so I can understand it. He’s absolutely dead-on with the story. He’s very sharp at tuning the performance, which largely consists of him saying, “For God’s Sake, take it down, Bill” or something like that. He’s courageous enough to say what’s needed to be said anytime, and…exemplary. I was very pleased to work with him and would love to work with him again.

Shock: I’m assuming we’ll get to see Viktor kill a lot more people this time around, so is it more about the fangs or the sword? What’s his M. O.?

Nighy: There’s a bit of both actually. There’s quite a lot of swords this time, there’s quite a lot of fighting. There is quite a lot of blood drunk, a lot of dribbling of blood.

Shock: Well, if you like vampires, this is the perfect role to do that kind of stuff.

Nighy: Well, exactly. You can’t get away from it. They drink blood, so there’s quite a lot of blood spurts and quite a lot of good old-fashioned biting, actually, which we didn’t have a lot of before, and the werewolves of course are just incorrigible and there’s all kinds of slaughter. It is gory, so look forward to buckets of blood, but there’s also some epic sword fights.

Shock: Are there any big battle scenes with hundreds of extras?

Nighy: Yeah, there is one biggish battle where my castle is attacked by the werewolves and they do kind of overrun us. That’s a pretty major battle scene, and there are some individual very beautifully-styled fights between the individuals, between myself and Michael and Rhona and I. There’s some good stuff.

Shock: It’s really exciting to think of you and Michael being on-screen together.

Nighy: Well, thank you. I hope you like it.

Underworld: Rise of the Lycans is scheduled to open on January 23, 2009. Look for interviews with director Patrick Tatopoulos and actress Rhona Mitra very soon.

Source: Edward Douglas