The Humans of G-Force : Bill Nighy

ON has spoken quite a few times to British actor Bill Nighy, mainly for his genre franchise flicks like “Pirates of the Caribbean” and the “Underworld” movies but also for some of his smaller independent dramas.

His role as corporate mogul Leonard Saber in the new Jerry Bruckheimer family action-comedy G-Force might not be put in any time capsules as a role or movie he needs to be remembered for, but as always, Nighy brings his A-game to a role that has him as the target of the government’s secret organization of highly-trained guinea pig spies. (Oh, give him a break… it’s first and foremost a movie for kids!)

Regardless of whether or not the Academy might be viewing this as a possible contender, was more than happy to get on the phone with Mr. Nighy last week for a quick-paced interview where we covered a lot of ground. It’s nice talking to you again. I wish I was down there in New York, but I had to leave town for a few days. How’s the weather down there today?
Bill Nighy: Beautiful, exquisite. One of the nicest mornings you can imagine.

CS: Well, I’m sorry you’re stuck in a hotel doing interviews.
Nighy: Well, that’s okay.

CS: You’re used to it by now, I guess.
Nighy: Yeah, I’ve had worse days.

CS: Obviously, we know you have a connection with Jerry from “Pirates.” You must have filmed this some time ago because they needed time to do the animation. How did he approach you about doing another bad guy in one of his movies?
Nighy: Through the usual channels, and my agent called and really I’m just delighted to work with Jerry Bruckheimer because working with him on “Pirates” was such a satisfying and successful enterprise that I didn’t have to know too much about it, just say “yes.” Then the script came and the script was, not only is it the very first guinea pig movie the world has ever known, but it’s also a very successful script. It was all beautifully-built and funny where it was supposed to be and gripping. There aren’t many entirely successful scripts that when you put them down you think, “Everything in there works,” so it’s as you’d expect from Jerry Bruckheimer and I was pleased to come on board.

CS: You’re basically playing a villain again, but at least we see your face this time.
Nighy: Yeah, quite. I mean it’s a good part, a good script, a good story. I like to mix it up, I like genre hopping like most actors now. I like being in kids movies and I like being in family movies. Everything suited the bill, fit the bill rather.

CS: No pun intended of course. It seems like this would only be a couple of weeks of shooting, too, and you don’t really have that much interaction with the guinea pigs.
Nighy: No, quite. It was one of the nicest jobs I’ve ever had. It was a relatively short engagement, they squeezed it together. I like pretending to be rich for a while. They bought me some very nice suits and put me in this fabulous house just outside Los Angeles. There’s a great team working on Jerry Bruckheimer movies and I knew a great deal of them from the “Pirates” experience. Will Arnett and Zach Galifianakis were incredibly good company, just made me laugh all the time, and you have Kelli Garner, charming, and we had a really good time. Everyone’s happy to be there ’cause they know that it’s gonna finally be a really good movie.

CS: I know it’s hard to answer a question like this, but how’s Hoyt as a director?
Nighy: Really cool, really great. I’m quite experienced in working with first-time directors and very successfully. I’ve been very lucky. The “Underworld” movies were Len Wiseman’s first. “A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” there were some others as well. I’ve done several first time directors. Hoyt was great. I think it’s official he’s a genius in technological terms, in terms of the camera, just prior to shooting, which apparently takes seven days of the process of integrating the computer-generated creatures into a live action movie which I won’t even pretend to understand. You know that from the special effects point of view you’re in tremendous shape because his CV (translation: resume) is endless and distinguished. As a director, he turned out to be exemplary. He could really help which is not always the case and he could schedule your performance, in my case, working with a kind of secret, he’s very good at scheduling about how we give you the information through the performance at different parts of the movie, and generally good at the style and the tone and what fit in with his idea of the film.

CS: Was there anything you wanted to bring different to Mr. Saber? It’s a role we know you can play: he’s British, he’s a very high-powered type man. Was there something you wanted to bring to the role when you went into this?
Nighy: Did you say he’s British? No, he’s Australian. That’s my Australian.

CS: Oh, I apologize then, I’m sorry.
Nighy: (Laughs) That’s okay. That is an Australian accent, but it’s difficult for the American ear to tell the difference.

CS: Yeah, they must’ve just said he was Australian in there also.
Nighy: No, nobody says I’m Australian. Yeah, but don’t worry. What was the question? Did I want to bring anything different?

CS: Yeah, besides an Australian accent.
Nighy: I didn’t consciously. I simply try to tell the story and do whatever the script suggests and just hope that it tells the story as best as it can be.

CS: We’ve talked a few times and you always seem like such a nice, pleasant person. Why do you think people always cast you as a villain? I’m wondering if it’s something Hollywood has about British accents being bad or something.
Nighy: (Laughs) I don’t know. Well, there is a tradition of British or European actors playing the bad guy. I’m very happy to sort of tag along on that in that context. I don’t know really, I guess you play one and you play it reasonably successfully and then people tend to think of you when they require one. I don’t really know. I’ve played some other things, too, so I like to mix it up.

CS: Well, hopefully, that’s the case with “The Boat That Rocked” though that got delayed now until November, so we’re going to have to wait a bit longer to see your reunion with Richard Curtis.
Nighy: That was good fun. I like working with Richard Curtis. It’s my third time and I like him enormously and we had a great time. We floated on a boat off the coast of Dorset, west of England, in the summertime with huge speakers on the boat so we could play all that music really loud. It’s the story of a pirate radio show on a boat in 1967, which is not a bad year for records, for music. You had The Stones and The Who and The Kinks and Jimi Hendrix, all those guys. So the soundtrack is incredible and we have some heavyweight young comic assassins in the form of Nick Frost whom I’ve worked with before on “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz” and Rhys Darby who is from “Flight of the Conchords” which I think is an HBO series over here which you get, and some very funny guys. So, it was very, very cordial.

CS: The last time I talked to you was probably about a year ago for Comic-Con. What have you been doing since then? I know you have a couple of other movies.
Nighy: Well, since then, I’m can’t remember the chronology ’cause I’m not very good at it, but I did “The Boat That Rocked” and then I did a movie with Emily Blunt called “Wild Target” in which I play a sad middle-aged assassin, a hit man who’s never had a girlfriend or any feelings of that kind and everything is proceeding reasonably efficiently with him killing people successfully until he’s required to kill Emily Blunt and pull the trigger. He doesn’t understand why because he’s never had feelings in that area, but the audience of course–we know why–it’s because she’s too darned cute. (Laughs) It takes the whole of the movie to work that out. Rupert Grint from “Harry Potter” is also in it. It’s not exactly a road movie, but the three of us, we go on a little trip. It’s a sweet movie and I hope that people will like it. On top of that stuff, I did a movie with Stephen Poliakoff with whom I’ve worked. Again, this is my third time with him. He’s a brilliant man. It’s a film called “Glorious 39” which is set in 1939. It’s a conspiracy thriller set against a background of obviously pre-War Britain. Romola Garai, whom you will know from “Atonement” as well as a lot of movies plays the principle role. Juno Temple, a very young, gifted young actress, Eddie Redmayne, Julie Christie, Jenny Aguter and myself, we deliver this story. I haven’t seen it yet, but everybody seems very excited about it, and apparently, “Glorious 39” has just been slotted into the Toronto Film Festival.

CS: It sounds like you have some nice looking young female costars in these movies, which I imagine must have been nicer than guinea pigs.
Nighy: Yeah, I’ll take them over guinea pigs any day, but they generally play my daughter which is fine too. Juno Temple, who was my daughter in “Notes on a Scandal,” that was when she was much smaller and younger, and she’s now my daughter in “Glorious 39.” She’s a wonderful young actress and she’s delightful and I’m always pleased she’s doing so well.

CS: It’s always nice when you get to work with people you’ve worked with before. I just actually met David Yates for the first time, a very nice guy, and I’ve been a fan of “State of Play” and “The Girl in the Café.” I’m glad he finally got you involved in those movies.
Nighy: I know. I was with him when he got the job years ago and I said, “Oh, well maybe now I won’t be the only English actor who’s not in ‘Harry Potter.'”

CS: I think you mentioned that last time we spoke, too
Nighy: That was like, five years ago. Anyway, I finally made it under the wire. We may have talked about it before, but he’s one of the most gifted directors I’ve worked with. He’s a quiet genius, is David Yates. Obviously, I’m pleased to be in “Harry Potter,” but I’m doubly pleased because it’s David.

CS: The character you’re playing was in the sixth book but they cut him from the movie. Have you actually started shooting or is that something that’s going to be later on?
Nighy: I shoot when I get back from this trip in fact, at the end of the month. I start then. They’re already five months in and they shoot I think until something like February of next year.

CS: Right, they’re doing two movies at once.
Nighy: They’re doing two movies, so it’s an 18 month shoot and an 18 month edit.

CS: It’s a fairly small part I guess, but are you looking forward to going back to that kind of fantasy world like in “Pirates?”
Nighy: Yeah, it’s great. I’m very, very happy. They’re historic movies. It’s a wonderful thing to be involved in those kinds of movies that are among the most successful movies ever made. The “Pirates” movies particularly are and the “Harry’s” are kind of beloved, so it’s more than good to be associated with them.

CS: One sad thing about the “Pirates” movies is that we never get to see your face unfortunately…
Nighy: I know, I know, but you know, maybe that’s a good thing. I know… the squid. Well, I’m proud ’cause those boys, they were so brilliant. They always said they were going to put whatever I did on the set was going to transform me into a creature. I always knew they meant well, but I never thought it was technologically possible. When I first saw the creature I was very touched. I was very moved that these people had really taken the time and the incredible trouble to put everything I did on the set into this. Not only had been faithful to the performance, but they also created this world beater of a creature.

CS: Earlier, I spoke to Zach Galifianakis, who just had this big, successful movie, and at this point in your career, I’d imagine that you don’t really have to audition and do that whole process. People know your work and they come to you.
Nighy: One of the great things about any kind of heightening of your profile is that hopefully you never have to audition again
cause I was never any good at it. Ask any actor, one of the worst things about being an actor is auditioning. If you’re ever lucky enough to be released from that, it’s inexpressibly okay.

CS: Worse than doing press? Are you sure about that?
Nighy: (laughs) It’s infinitely worse than doing press. I never mind doing press, it’s never bothered me. I generally do things I’m proud to be in and generally I’m in things people like. So it’s not like you have to strain or anything and you just talk. I’ve had worse days than that.

CS: Later this year, you’ll be hitting a big milestone in your life (Nighy turns 60 in December). Have you started looking ahead to see what you want to do? You stay very busy which to me is really amazing for any actor, but do you look ahead to a time when you can do one movie a year or do a movie that’s close to your heart?
Nighy: Well, I would like to find something very special to my heart, everybody’s looking for that. I do think that maybe–every time I say this I always fail–I’ll try to be more proactive I think is the expression they use and maybe just look at some movies and find directors and writers that I take to and volunteer, just try and get some things together and try and work with people that I admire. But no, I never had a plan and I improvise my life generally speaking as well as professionally, so I’m an old dog and it’s hard to change habits of a lifetime. I generally wait to see what happens.

CS: Do you have any more stage plans after doing the “Harry Potter” movie? How long is that going to be for you personally?
Nighy: It’s not a long engagement, it’s just a few weeks. After that I do have some plans not to do any theater, but to do a couple of independent movies which I have yet to get them money, but I’m hoping that things work out. I also know that there is no version of my life where I don’t do a play now and again. I always want to do a play now and again. The only reason I say “now and again” is I’ve been spoiled in the theater and I generally do new plays. I generally do contemporary plays, or alternating new plays and contemporary, but with contemporary concerns. I find it extremely hard doing plays, so everything has to perfect and there are very few of those around in terms of the plays themselves and the kind of people that might be associated. So, I’m ready to rock, but it’s a question of what turns up. The last time I did a play was in New York a couple of years ago with Julianne Moore and it was one of the best things that ever happened to me. It was a fabulous experience to be in New York for an Englishman and to have a really smart, contemporary play to deliver with some good, world class jokes. I don’t do plays without jokes anymore. I’ve retired from those plays. I think it’s bad manners to invite people to sit in the dark for two and a half hours and not tell them the joke. I leave the jokeless plays to younger men.

CS: Have you ever had any talks about moving your stage roles to the screen?
Nighy: Yeah, and that’s a very good idea actually. Nobody’s come up with that idea. There might be a possibility. I work with David Hare a great deal, who is the writer I admire as much if not more than anyone else writing today. I’ve done I think six of his plays and there is one in particular that might lend itself to a cinema interpretation. That has drifted across my mind. That’s a very good idea.

CS: Which one is that? Can you tell me?
Nighy: Yeah, it’s a play called “Skylight” which I did in London some years ago. It’s one of the greatest plays written in my lifetime and I will give you my house that it will be performed one hundred years from now. Like Tom Stoppard’s “Arcadia,” that was also a play that I also did the premiere of in London years ago. When you’re in a play like that you’re aware that this is what they call a major play. This is something that will be performed long after we’re all dead and gone. It’s a good idea.

Interview with Zach Galifianakis

G-Force opens everywhere on July 24, 2009