From writer/director Richard Curtis (Love Actually), About Time is charming, endearing, heart-warming and, at times, a real tear-jerker. The story follows Tim Lake (Domhnall Gleeson), whose father (Bill Nighy) tells him, at the age of 21, that the men in their family have always had the ability to travel through time. He can’t change history, but he can make his world, and the life that he shares with his beautiful girlfriend Mary (Rachel McAdams), a better place.
At the film’s press day, actor Bill Nighy spoke to Collider in both a 1-on-1 and a roundtable about the appeal of this script and character, how he might have reacted, if he’d been told at 21 that he could travel through time, what he thought of working with Domhnall Gleeson and Rachel McAdams, and the unspoken connection he’s developed with director Richard Curtis. He also talked about which roles in his career he gets approached about most often, what it’s like to have been a part of Shaun of the Dead, how much he enjoyed voicing The Network for The World’s End, shooting the final two films in The Worricker Trilogy, playing a bad guy in I, Frankenstein, and returning to India to shoot The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel 2. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
BILL NIGHY: Yeah. I have to be grown up and pretend to read the script. No, I do read the script. But, when he calls up, I could actually just say, “Yes, wherever you want me to be, I’ll be there,” ‘cause he’s never let me down. I know it’s gonna be interesting. I love what he does. With this one, I was in a hotel room in Melbourne. I was playing a very dark character in a scary movie, and then I got this script, which was a nice balance to that. I loved this script. I loved my part. It was refreshing to play a regular, nice guy who was a decent man. I just wanted to play it nice and simple and natural, and just be there with no fireworks. It was daunting because you figure that you’re supposed to be everybody’s idea of what a father should be. But then, you realize you can’t do that, and you just have to do what you can do. So, I did my best.
Were you even more nervous about the fact that it was a semi-autobiographical and a bit like his own father?
NIGHY: Yeah, exactly. I didn’t talk about that too much because that was too scary. But he cast me, and he knows what he’s doing, so you trust that he’s not made some terrible mistake. I’m not an actor who consciously accesses bits of my life, in order to play parts. Obviously, you don’t need to have been a father to play one, otherwise everyone who’s been a father would be able to act. But in retrospect, this particularly father and the way that he performed fatherhood was not unlike my father. Therefore, it turned out to be a tribute to him. Not that anybody needs to know that, but he was a very decent man and I was very, very close to him.
NIGHY: Yeah, I did. It’s probably a very good thing that I couldn’t because I would have used it badly. Who knows. It would have been a very cool thing. It’s a great test of character. It’s one of those things where, if it fell into the wrong hands or you used it for the wrong purposes, it could be really terrible. You could presumably, if you had all of the other faculties, end up running the world, or running IBM, or it could be used for bad purposes.
Is there anything you’d like to change or relive, in your own life?
NIGHY: I would like to change everything, but obviously not everything. I’ve been incredibly fortunate. I guess everybody would do this, but I’d go back to my younger self and say, “Lighten up. Take it easy. Relax. Don’t be so anxious about everything. Try to be in the day. Try to not have today stolen from you by anxiety about yesterday or tomorrow.” It’s exactly what the film suggests, in fact, but it’s easier said than done, as my mother would say. I would certainly go back to the guy that offered me a cigarette and say, “Are you out of your mind?!” I would certainly say that, there’s no question about that. That would have made my life a lot easier.
I’d also use it shamelessly as a living jukebox. I’d go back to 1962, to the Apollo Theater to see James Brown and The Famous Flames perform that now legendary concert. I’d go see B.B. King, and maybe some early Bob Dylan. I’d go see all that stuff I missed ‘cause I was just too young, at the time. To be serious, the things you really want to relive are things like bedtime with your daughter when she becomes incredibly entertaining ‘cause she doesn’t want to go to sleep. They’re at their most enchanting ‘cause they just want to put it off, so they do a cabaret for you. You sit there thinking, “Please don’t let this end.” You don’t want them to go to sleep either because it’s just too good. The movie makes everybody, including me, think, “I’ve really got to make the most of tomorrow. I’m really going to try to get the biggest bang out of everything.”
NIGHY: Honestly – and I know they all say this, but it’s not PR – he was completely dreamy to do business with. He’s a lovely young man, and he’s a great actor. Some of those scenes are quite high-powered, but he operates without fuss. There was very little discussion about it. We just went into them and seemed to do pretty good together. I was very, very seriously impressed by him. He’s a lovely actor, and he’s a very nice guy. He’s a very cool guy to hang out with. And Punch Drunk Love is his favorite film, which is also one of my favorite films. I figured he was a regular guy.
What did you think of Rachel McAdams?
NIGHY: I think she’s absolutely incredible. I know everyone says that, but she’s just incredible. She does 360-degree acting. You can’t see around the back, but there is no back. It’s just entire. She’s touched, as they say in the cliche, by genius. She’s fantastic. I think she could do anything. She’s breathtaking. Do I make myself clear?
Since Love Actually, people seem to hold all other romantic movies to that one. Does that make it daunting to do another Richard Curtis romantic movie?
NIGHY: I can honestly and truthfully say that it never crossed my mind. Now that I’m promoting the film, that has crossed my mind. You think that other people might make that comparison, but I’m happy if they do. I like all of Richard’s film, and I’m in most of them. That doesn’t mean that I have to like them, but I do, in fact, like them. But, I think this is my favorite. I actually watched it. I don’t normally watch films I’m in because I’m squeamish about that. They wanted me to speak over the DVD, and I wanted to do it because it was Richard, but he said, “You haven’t seen the movie. You better watch it before you speak over it.” So, I did, and I was very proud to be in it. I really was. I thought he’d done exactly what he set out to achieve.
Apart from being funny, romantic and entertaining, it really hits the spot. He’s nailed it. People do leave the cinema and they call their dad. More dads must have gotten more phone calls because of this film. There’s also the whole basic philosophical question of how to not have your time stolen from you by all of the unnecessary static in your head, either to do with regrets for what’s past or fear of what’s to come, or making today conditional.
Basically, this film suggests that the celebrations can already begin. You don’t have to wait. It’s not conditional. There is beauty all around you, and most of the time, I’ve missed it. You get to my age and you look at the clock and think, “I don’t want to miss anymore.” So, I have actively been trying to pay attention, to a greater degree and in a positive way, about the good things and the beautiful things, and they’re everywhere. It’s something that I’d been actively trying to do before this film came along, so it was timely and there was symmetry in it, that I should get to play this part.
Does working with Richard Curtis now feel exactly the same as when you first worked with him?
NIGHY: Well, yeah. To some degree, yes. I suppose that I’m supposed to be more self-assured, but it doesn’t quite happen like that, unfortunately. My head won’t leave me alone, but I try. Particularly on this film, he says that he didn’t have to say very much, and I suppose he didn’t. He’s always cast me very well, in very good parts, and I’ve felt as comfortable as I ever get, playing those parts. I suppose there’s a greater trust, not that I’ve ever mistrusted him, because I never have. If you meet Richard Curtis, you know immediately that he’s a man you can trust. And as a director, he can really help. There is more of an unspoken connection.
You’ve done a lot of roles in your career that people love. What do you get approached about, most often?
NIGHY: It depends on how old they are, where they come from, and sometimes what sex they are. The most frequent ones are Love Actually, the Underworld series, and weirdly Davy Jones from Pirates of the Caribbean, which I always think, “How do you know it’s me?” They all seem to know it’s me. It also happens with Still Crazy, a film I made years and years ago, that’s another rock ‘n’ roll comedy.
When you did Shaun of the Dead, did you have any idea it would become the huge success, around the world, that it’s become?
NIGHY: I didn’t know it was going to be so successful, but I kind of knew. It was such a good script. I was so mad about it. I thought they were geniuses. They kept saying, “Really?!,” and I was like, “Yeah!” I did say, “This will travel. This will go great in America.” They had just been heads down and so immersed in it. I knew it was going to be a success. It couldn’t not be a successful film, unless they put the camera out of focus, or something. I thought the jokes were so hip and so cool, and they were a new kind of joke. They were in a long tradition of such things, but it was a progression. They are real originals. Nick Frost, Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg are brilliant men. And I am proud to say that I am one of only four or five people who is in every single one of the Cornetto trilogy, as it’s called.
Did you feel any extra pressure or need to prepare a bit more for your role as the voice of The Network in The World’s End?
NIGHY: The voice of The Network was actually quite tricky. I was supposed to be like God, or something. But, it was fine. I was very impressed when I saw Pierce Brosnan speaking with my voice, and Martin Freeman speaking with my voice, and Eddie Marsan speaking with my voice, and [Michael] Smiley speaking with my voice. It was very cool.
What’s next for you?
NIGHY: I’ve just made two films with David Hare, who is the other great thing in my life, apart from Richard Curtis. We’ve made a trilogy of films for television, and they’re collectively called The Worricker Trilogy. I’m a spy, and I’ve waited a long time for that. In the second one (Turks & Caicos) and the third one (Salting the Battlefield), I got to work with one of my great acting heroes, Christopher Walken. I always figured he would be, but he’s officially the funniest man I’ve ever met, in my whole life. It’s like being punched in the stomach. He’s just hilarious. And Winona Ryder was absolutely sensational. I go on the run in Europe with Helena Bonham Carter, which is tough.
I’m also in a movie coming up called I, Frankenstein, made by the same people who made the Underworld series. Aaron Eckhart plays Frankenstein’s creature, and I am not a very nice piece of work. That should be cool. It’s a 3D movie, and it comes out in January.
Apart from that, I’m currently shooting a film called Pride. Unless we make a real mess of it, I think that’s going to be a really, really cool movie. It’s about the miner’s strike in 1984, in England. Don’t panic, it’s a comedy. It’s written by a friend of mine, called Steve Beresford, who was an actor. He’s a brilliant writer, and he’s made it so funny. It’s about a bunch of gay guys in England, who saw that miners had been invented by the then-government as enemies of the state, and were being spat at in the street and beaten up by policemen. They thought, “That looks familiar,” because it was tough being gay in 1984 in England. And they decided to raise some money for them, which many people did, to try to counter the shameful way the government was treating them, during that period. They became the second biggest fundraisers, and it’s hilarious. They had a ball at the Camden Palace, in which the openly gay bands at the time – Bronski Beat and Erasure – played and raised thousands. It’s the sweetest, funniest thing, and it’s all true. It’s a little bit of the truth, which you don’t always get about that period. And it’s got Dominic West, from The Wire, Imelda Staunton, Paddy Considine, and 29 other young, very cool, adorable men and women.
Could you have ever imagined you’d be doing The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel 2?
NIGHY: No. I go in January to India. I think they start in Spain, a little earlier than that. Everyone is back, apart from Tom Wilkinson, whose character unfortunately died, in the first one. May he live forever, in real life. I will miss him. It was very nice spending time with him. But no, I don’t know if anybody knew. I certainly didn’t think it was going to do what it did. It took hundreds of millions of dollars, and it’s a beautiful thing. The sequel script is very, very good. It’s not some sequel. It’s a really cool script. Ol Parker, who writes them, is a brilliant man, and John Madden is going to direct again. He’s a wonderful, brilliant director. It’s a fantastic thing. I’m really pleased. There have been a few movies since then, of similar age range, which it’s inspired. It will be great. It will be nice to go back to Rajasthan. The first time is such a shock, so it will be quite nice to go back a second time. It will be great.
About Time is now playing in limited released, and opens nationwide on November 8th.