Hey everyone. Capone in Chicago here with my second to last Comic-Con interview. The final one is a long one, but it's a glorious one, and it's going to take some extra special attention on my part to get it just right (I even make reference to it in this interview).
In the mean time, here is my talk with one of my favorite human beings on the planet. When I first interviewed the legendary Bill Nighy, it was under slightly unconventional circumstances. First off, it was on the phone, which isn't that unconventional, granted. But it was the reason and timing for the call that was unusual. Originally, the interview was meant to take place just before the wide release of NOTES ON A SCANDAL, but when that day came and went, I figured the interview wasn't happening. But then I got notice that if I still wanted to do it, Nighy was available. At the time he was in New York city doing a play with Julianne Moore, and apparently he had quite a bit of free time during the day. Lucky me, since this meant that Nighy was able to give me a full hour to really go through his career top to bottom. The resulting piece is one of my favorite interviews and I think one of the most detailed accounts of any actor we've done on this site. Nighy is beloved by millions for just being game for anything and being bad in almost nothing. He's played a zombie (SHAUN OF THE DEAD), a pirate sea creature (Davy Jones in the second and third PIRATES OF THE CARRIBEAN films), a Nazi in the upcoming VALKYRIE, and a vampire in the UNDERWORLD movies, which is reason we met up in San Diego.
UNDERWORLD: RISE OF THE LYCANS is a prequel to the first two UNDERWORLD offerings, and we get to see the 12th century version of his character Viktor, the leader of the Death Dealers (vampires); and let's face it, Nighy is a fabulous vampire. The film puts Viktor and his Lycan (werewolf) counterpart, Lucian (Michael Sheen), in the forefront of this story about a woman named Sonja (Rhona Mitra), who comes between them. Any film with Nighy at the forefront has got my attention. He's not only a consummate actor, but he's a truly nice man with a dry, wicked sense of humor. This time around, I knew exactly how much time we had together--10 minutes (which I managed to stretch out to 11; yay me!). Enjoy…
Capone: Since we've never met face to face before, I'm guessing you don't remember that we've spoken before, last February when you were in New York doing the play with Julianne Moore. It was right after the Academy Award nominations were announced.
Bill Nighy: Ah yes. I do remember that because I remember walking around my apartment while we were talking. That was a very good talk.
Capone: Well thanks. With this new UNDERWORLD film, you've been elevated to something of a lead role from what I've heard. Are you playing a relatively younger version of your character? I guess that's relative.
BN: It's definitely relative. When you're 10,000 years old, what's a thousand years here or there. But strictly speaking, I am several centuries younger. And, yes, it is more of a leading role. We've gone back in time, so strictly speaking, it's a prequel. So it's before Kate Beckinsale's character has been born even. Therefore, Michael Sheen and I do take on the brunt of the story. We have the largest responsibility, along with Rhona Mitra, who is not replacing Kate, but is the new female lead. So it's cool; I'm very happy. I was really pleased to be in the first one. I like vampires. I thought with UNDERWORLD 1, if you want a vampire-werewolf movie, look no further, because it's kind of great and the script was great. And they were very nice guys--[director] Len Wiseman and Danny McBride, who wrote it, and Richard Wright, the producer. They weren't some guys making a vampire movie; they are believers. They're enthusiasts. They chose to make a vampire movie; that's the kind of movies they wanted to make. Len Wiseman went on to make DIE HARD 4. He actually made a DIE HARD movie in his back yard when he was 15. So the fact that this relatively small movie became so successful, and now we're on the number three, is one of the more satisfying things that's happened to me.
Capone: And you weren't unfamiliar with Patrick Tatopoulos's work, albeit on the visual effects front for these films and other films. Do you think as a first-time director, did he know how to work with actors?
BN: He was absolutely brilliant with me. I would work with Patrick for the rest of my days. If Patrick were the only director left in the world, I'd be perfectly happy to go to work. He was absolutely wonderful, and he had no trouble making the transition. He made it look easy; it probably was. Getting one's start on a movie like this is a measure of one's character, I guess, to some degree. But he was seamless in effect, and very good with the story, brilliant on the characters, and the whole world and language of it. And very simple in terms of his direction, so that you understood it, it wasn't elaborate. And he could just point you in the right direction, and he was very good, largely with me, saying "Take it down, for God's sake."
Capone: When we spoke before, we talked about how you always manage to inject humor or something extra quirky into every character you play. Is that the kind of thing he was trying to dial back?
BN: There was a little bit of that, yeah. I never quite know whether I intend it or whether it's a tendency, but it does seem to pop up. And sometimes I am honestly unaware of it; it's only afterwards that I see it. You know what I mean? But on other occasions, I think, well maybe I shouldn't do it here. But I think with UNDERWORLD, I think it's best not to be funny, because funny vampires is a whole other thing. And it's a very difficult balance to strike, between comedy and horror. I was in SHAUN OF THE DEAD, which was the birth of a genre--the rom-zom-com, and there aren't many of those--and those boys--Simon Pegg, Edgar Wright, and Nick Front--they really hit the balance right between humor and horribleness. So it was an authentic zombie movie, but it was also funny. I don't think with UNDERWORLD that that's a good mix. So this is rather serious vampire stuff.
Capone: You know Simon and Nick are here, right?
BN: Yes, I did, and I'm hoping to see them.
Capone: I had lunch with them today.
BN: Oh, brilliant. I've just been working with Nick for three months on Richard Curtis's new movie, THE BOAT THAT ROCKED, about a pirate radio station in 1967, in which Nick plays Magnificent Dr. Dave, one of the deejays on my radio station.
Capone: I saw that title in your list of upcoming movie, but I didn't realize you were back with Richard Curtis [who also directed Nighy in LOVE ACTUALLY and wrote THE GIRL IN THE CAFE].
BN: Yeah, he's written it and directed it.
Capone: Always love it when you work with him. Speaking of things coming up, I guess the big film everyone has they eye on is VALKYRIE, which we're hearing so many things about the production and they keep pushing the date back [it has since been pushed forward to the end of 2008], but what I've seen of it look phenomenal. What can you tell me about who you play?
BN: I had a wonderful time. It was a particular pleasure to work with Tom Cruise, who was marvelous and exemplary to work with and to do business with generally. And Bryan Singer, who's a wonderful filmmaker. I haven't seen the movie yet, but I've got a very strong feeling they've done something quite remarkable. And people who have seen it are very enthusiastic about it. And we just shot some extra scenes, which I think, which is an indication of their confidence and everybody seems very bullish about the movie. It's a great story, a true story. I play Gen. Friedrich Olbricht, who was one of the original conspirators and it's suggested that he was conspiring against Adolf Hitler from as early as 1938, so he was a very early dissenter. They were extraordinarily brave men. It's one of Germany's greatest stories out of the Second World War. There aren't many good stories for Germany, obviously. They nearly pulled it off. And from what I hear from those who have seen it, it operates as a real edge-of-your-seat nail-biter. It's a proper thriller.
Capone: Have you ever been to Comic-Con before?
BN: No, this is first time.
Capone: If you get a chance to check it out, I've seen a few Davy Joneses walking around.
BN: I can't wait to go down.
Capone: When we spoke before, it was between the second and third PIRATES movies, and I get the sense that people were surprised and moved by how tragic Jones' storyline turns out to be--the broken-hearted monster.
BN: Yeah, I know. It was a very unusual idea really. And Gore Verbinski, the director and the writers were always keen that he should have more than one function, in that he shouldn't just be a straight-ahead bad guy. Like everything else in the movie, he should be richer, and people were moved, which is odd because he was a fucking octopus [laughs]. Yeah, people did get involved in the whole broken heart-love affair thing. And then in the third one, I actually got to play a kind of love scene. I would never have believed you if you'd told me that was going to happen.
Capone: And we finally got to see you without all the makeup and special effects. I know a lot of people didn't realize who was until that octopus head until that moment in the third film.
Capone: You've been focusing on so much genre work lately that you've become the Christopher Lee or Peter Cushing of our time. He didn't just do horror, but he played a substantial role in turning it into an art form.
NH: That's a very nice thing to say. And Christopher Lee is a very considerable actor, even still. If you'd ever told me I'd be mentioned in the same breath as either of those men. I suppose of the two, Peter Cushing and I are similar creatures, I think. But it's a good thing. I love the fact that I get to play a wide range of parts. It's not often that that happens to an actor. Normally you get placed in a certain line of parts, and you pretty much stay there. And I've been really fortunate and gotten all kinds of different things going on. Apart from the fact that it's healthy for my career, it's also good fun.
Capone: Do you get to wear a whole new line of insane outfits in this UNDERWORLD as you've done before?
BN: Yeah, I wear a battle skirt [laughs] and lots of mail and fangs and a lot of white makeup. It's very good, and I look more like Nosferatu than I have in the past.
Capone: Well, it was great to finally meet you. Thanks again for talking.
BN: Thank you very much indeed.