While the 59-year-old British actor is best known for being buried under pounds of makeup as Davy Jones in the 'Pirates of the Caribbean' sequels and as vampire patriarch Viktor in the 'Underworld' movies, he's also played middle-aged rock heroes in three films: 'Still Crazy' (as an addled rocker trying to reunite his old band), 'Love Actually' (as a blunt-speaking veteran rocker, who steals the movie from an ensemble of better-known British stars), and now in 'Pirate Radio.' Bill Nighy is not an aging rock star; he just looks like one.
While the 59-year-old British actor is best known for being buried under pounds of makeup as Davy Jones in the 'Pirates of the Caribbean' sequels and as vampire patriarch Viktor in the 'Underworld' movies, he's also played middle-aged rock heroes in three films: 'Still Crazy' (as an addled rocker trying to reunite his old band), 'Love Actually' (as a blunt-speaking veteran rocker, who steals the movie from an ensemble of better-known British stars), and now in 'Pirate Radio.'
In the Nov. 13 release, Nighy stars as Quentin, a dapper Englishman in the swinging '60s who circumvents Britain's de facto radio ban on rock 'n' roll at the height of the Beatles-Stones-Who era by broadcasting a 24/7 stream of rock songs from a ship anchored just outside British territorial waters. The film reunites him with writer/director Richard Curtis, who put Nighy on the map in 'Love Actually' and the TV movie 'The Girl in the Café.'
Nighy called us from London last month to chat about his own memories of the 'Pirate Radio' era, hanging out with real-life rock gods, why he frightens small children, and becoming a "pirate" again after Davy Jones.
You're one of the few actors in 'Pirate Radio' who was a teenager during the pirate radio era. Does the movie accurately depict what you remember it being like, as a listener?
It's much the same. The music takes me straight there. Certainly the trousers remind me of everything. There were some very dodgy clothes. But it was very important, pirate radio. It was the only game in town. You couldn't get any of the new music -- and there was an explosion of new music here and everywhere else in the world. You couldn't find it anywhere on your radio dial because the state radio didn't play it. It was only when the pirates came along that you could find it all. It was a big deal. It was critical ... You had all these new bands --- the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, the Who, the Faces -- and all the black American music that had originally inspired them, in the form of Stax Records, Atlantic Records, Tamla/Motown Records, Jimi Hendrix, Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin, all those great artists. It was a big deal for me.
How do you explain these older guys, like your character Quentin or the disc jockey Bob, who were in sync with this youth revolution?
Well, I remember those guys. The other thing that happened briefly in that period -- it didn't last -- is that we have a class system here of a particular kind, and it kind of got shook up. For a period, people were democratized by a common enthusiasm for music and the whole new style for everything. I remember meeting older guys who were strangely committed to rhythm & blues ... If you were my age [as Quentin] in 1967, you had almost certainly fought in the Second World War. In Quentin's case, it's suggested that he flew fighter planes. So he would have gone from being in uniform and fighting and listing to all that old-time music to wearing tight trousers and shirts and chiffon scarves and listening to Jimi Hendrix. So it's an interesting shift. And I remember that phenomenon of older guys who just never really recovered from hearing rock and roll.
Why do you suppose you keep getting cast in these rock-hero roles?
I don't know. People see me like that. I've always wanted to be in a band, when I was a kid, like everybody else, but I didn't get to do it. It's like what somebody said to me at the 'Pirates [of the Caribbean: At World's End]' premiere, when I had the privilege and the honor of being in the same movie as Keith Richards. One of the guys on the carpet said, "Is it true that you're a friend of Keith Richards?" And I said, "No, I just look like I'm a friend of Keith Richards." I think I have a slightly period sort of face. And Billy Connolly (just to drop a name) from 'Still Crazy,' he said I have rock 'n' roll legs.
What do you like about Richard Curtis as a writer?
I like the fact that it's smart. I like the fact that it's funny. There aren't that many people who can be funny on film. And his enthusiasms are pretty much mine. I like girls and I like music. In terms of 'The Girl in the Café,' which was an HBO film I did with him, which he didn't direct but he did write -- from an acting point of view, that's one of my favorite things of mine.
And from the point of view of being useful about the place, it was the film of the Make Poverty History campaign. Richard started Comic Relief here. He's raised hundreds of millions of dollars to stop people, largely children, from dying unnecessarily, preventably, from extreme poverty. He took 'American Idol' for one evening ['Idol Gives Back'] and raised $70 million in one evening. He goes about these things relatively quietly. Along with Bono and Bob Geldof and George Clooney and other people who are committed to trying to help, he's one of those people that I admire from that point of view as well as anything else.
Was it fun to be a pirate captain (of a sort) again in this movie?
Yeah, that was fun. I did feel slightly superior to the other guys because I'd just spent months on a boat with Johnny Depp and Orlando [Bloom] and everybody in 'Pirates.' So I was used to being deckbound. I'm not a pirate, I'm not a captain. I'm just a very cool guy.
Have the 'Underworld' movies or the 'Pirates of the Caribbean' films brought you new fan recognition, or are you too unrecognizable in them?
I'd have thought that, but somehow, it's got around. I always feel strange when somebody comes up to me in the street and says, "Davy Jones." I think, "How do you know that? If you recognize me from the movie, I'm in real trouble." But I did see a friend the other day, and her grandchildren were there. They were in the bedroom, and I was in the kitchen. They were about 7 and 9. She said to them, "Hey, kids, Davy Jones is in the kitchen." And they locked the bedroom door, quite sensibly. They weren't coming out. And I saw them later in the street, and their mother said, "Look, this is Davy Jones. You see, there's nothing to be frightened of." And afterwards, they finally said, "He looks like the president, and he talks like Austin Powers."
So I don't know. It seems to have gotten around.
Do you have a preference for comedy or drama?
I don't feel I'm better at one ... If you had a gun at my head, I'd probably side with comedy, only because it's a gas to make people laugh. But I'm very grateful that I get to play a reasonable range of parts. You do a couple of straight roles, and then you really want to do something funny. And you do a couple of funny ones, and you'd really like to do something straight. I get the opportunity to do that, and it's not that common, and I don't quite know how it came about.
Is there a role you'd like to play that you haven't yet?
Not really. I can't really complain because I've been given everything. If I'd have been in movies when I was younger -- if you've been doing genre things or character things -- you'd like to do something straight. So currently, I would like to play a contemporary film, a straight role. I wouldn't mind being the guy in a thriller, with a little bit of action, but it's probably too late for that. But I have no burning ... I don't burn because I've been blessed. But again, if you put a gun to my head, I'd like to do a contemporary film, a thriller, with some jokes. And I'd like to wear a decent lounge suit.