Award-winning actor Bill Nighy grew up in a modest working-class home
Despite his Hollywood fame, growing up in the aftermath of World War II continues to provide veteran actor Bill Nighy with some of his most enduring and powerful memories. And as she gets older, like many of us, the star admits to coming to a better understanding of the emotional fallout in her own family and life.
“The Second World War was the greatest thing to happen to England for a thousand years,” he says.
“Anyone my age and generation has had a family member who has been on it. My dad was in the RAF and my mum worked on the buses during the blackouts and bombings.
“It comes to mind that I grew up living with two people who had survived something very brutal and terrifying where you didn’t really know who was going to wake up the next morning. Any day could very well be your last, and you didn’t even know what part of town would still be standing tomorrow.
“And that had been for five years and there were only a few years left of that. The atmosphere in our house, I realize now, was of people recovering. Britain had taken a beating during the war – just like Germany, like Japan did.
“I didn’t realize it at the time, but where I grew up was a melancholy place and in many ways we were quite isolated.”
This austerity-ridden era serves as the backdrop for Nighy’s new film, Living. In 1953, he plays an aging civil servant, Mr. Williams, emotionally repressed and tense, who has just received a terminal medical prognosis before his retirement.
The stuffy bureaucrat in the sad post-war London County Council’s planning department decides that the grim diagnosis – stomach cancer, with 12 months to live – marks a new start for his life and, for the first time , authorizes itself to fully commit to it.
“I am fascinated by what is English”
Faced with his mortality, he realizes that he could still accomplish one thing: force the officials to build the modest children’s playground that the mothers demanded, and that he and his colleagues banned with bureaucratic inertia.
Add an infatuation with a flirtatious young colleague, Margaret, played by 27-year-old Aimée Lou Wood, and the film, scripted by Booker Prize-winning novelist Kazuo Ishiguro, is already enjoying rave reviews.
“I see him as a heroic figure,” Nighy says of his character.
“I know if you went to see a psychiatrist today they would say it’s a complete and utter repressed mess. But I’m drawn to it – probably like a repressed mess myself!
“But I also think there’s a kind of heroism there too. And that’s especially interesting if you put it in the context of society, where the things he exhibits – stoicism, decency , the determination to behave well and without too much fanfare – these are qualities that are so rarely expressed in our leadership, the men who get elected, or win a million dollars, or run the world. these are not the men who rise to the top.
“But there are millions of people like that, who have a simple life and try to behave decently. And for me, it was a rich choice to play a simple man, by option.”
He adds that Mr Williams is what can only be described as a uniquely English character.
“I am fascinated by what is called Anglicism – this kind of reserve, this modesty of behavior, this reticence.
“I’m sure other cultures have the equivalent, but for me it’s often associated with Anglicism. My dad was that kind of character. And obviously I’m English myself.”
Bill rose to fame as rocker Billy Mack in the 2003 film Love Actually
In fact, over the years Nighy has made a specialty of playing the quintessential upper-class Englishman, a fact he admits has amused him since childhood – born in Caterham, south London, child of Alfred Martin Nighy, a mechanic and the scion of a long line of chimney sweeps, and his wife Catherine, born in County Cork and brought up in Glasgow, a psychiatric nurse – was the very opposite of privileged.
“I haven’t received any training,” he remarks softly of his upper-class tone.
“I don’t think there’s any training available! As for my own voice, I just don’t know. My mother was from Glasgow and spoke with a Scottish accent, and my father was English, and I don’t don’t know how I got there I guess that’s just what happened.
Curiously, it wasn’t one of his “nobby toff” characters that brought him worldwide fame, but Billy Mack, the dissolute rocker from Love Actually. In real life, however, he is no more dissolute than chic.
Separated for 14 years from his longtime companion, actress Diana Quick, he lives quietly alone. Having given up alcohol and tobacco many years ago, he says his worst vice these days is an ordinary cup of tea, the stronger the better.
“I’m addicted to Yorkshire Tea,” he admits. “I used to have two tea bags in a cup, but now I only have one, even though I always leave the bag in there is no way to get it out or anything.
“My grandmother used to say that with a good cup of tea you could hold the spoon in it and it wouldn’t wobble. She called it Connemara tea, and if you weren’t there not used to it, you’d be really wired because it’s like a double espresso.
“No other tea suits me, and I take it with me everywhere I go – even to India, even though it’s crazy to bring tea to India. But I do – this and Marmite. You gotta just have it.”
At 72, Nighy says he is no longer looking for romance.
“When I was a 20-year-old boy, I was abysmal at this. I was a spectacular failure – pretty useless. In fact, I had pain in my legs because I had so much trouble speaking. to girls. I did very hard work being young, and I found it almost impossible to think of myself in positive terms that way.
“It was nerve-wracking – as I think it is for a lot of young men. But these days I don’t go out much and there’s nobody there, so it’s a lot easier .”
He remains close to his daughter, actress-director Mary Nighy, whose film, Alice, Darling, premiered at the Toronto Film Festival a few weeks ago. “It’s a great honor to be involved in raising a young woman,” he once told me.
“It’s the most serious responsibility you’ve ever been given and it’s also the thing that threatens you the most because you fear they’ll hurt you. It’s the thing that can hurt you the most. evil and which can also bring you the most pleasure. It is a great privilege for a man to be part of it, and it is what brings him the most dignity.”
After Living, he has several projects in the bag for the future – the next few months alone will bring a football movie, The Beautiful Game, to Netflix and a new film adaptation of Johanna Spyri’s beloved classic children’s book, Heidi, in which he plays the role of Heidi. grandfather. Nevertheless, he insists that he is at heart an idle man.
“I speak as someone who procrastinates at the Olympic level and gets a toxic reverse kick from not getting it right,” he smiles.
“In my generation, I come from a culture of doing nothing. When I was young, we prided ourselves on doing nothing and wasting as much time as possible, and that becomes a terrible appetite.”
On the other hand, he admits, the theme of Living could only provide a kind of awakening.
“It certainly got my attention a lot. I’ve decided that my final resolution is not to waste a minute. I have good days and bad days about this…but my new resolution is not to wait until ‘have 10 minutes to live before you start making waves.
Looks like it started a while ago…