Fast chat with Pirate Radio' co-star Bill Nighy

Nov. 11, 2009 at 5:11 a.m.

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By Lewis Beale



Bill Nighy was a journeyman TV and theater actor when his flamboyantly entertaining performance as an aging rock star in the 2003 film "Love Actually" kicked his career to a new level. Since then, he's starred in the "Underworld" series, played Davy Jones in "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End," was a Nazi general in "Valkyrie," and will appear in the last two Harry Potter films as Minister for Magic Rufus Scrimgeour.

Beginning Friday, he can be seen in "Pirate Radio" as the boss of a 1960s British rock 'n' roll station broadcasting illegally from a boat in the middle of the North Sea. Lewis Beale caught up with the 59-year-old actor from Nighy's home base in London.

Q. "Pirate Radio" is based on a real station named Radio Caroline. And I'm betting, given your age, that you, like much of Britain at the time, were listening to it.

A. In England in those days, you couldn't get any of the new music. The BBC played only one hour a week, but they never played the real thing. I'm not nostalgic about that time, except that the music exploded then. In about two years, you had the Kinks, the Rolling Stones, the Small Faces, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin. It was a sort of revolution, mostly white English boys discovering the blues, and you couldn't get it anywhere. Then Radio Caroline came along, and it was radical.

Q. You say you're not nostalgic about that era. How come?

A. There's a phenomenon now, people of my age, because it entered the language as a swinging time, it was no more swinging than any other time. And I don't like the fact that people of my age are trying to sell that time to younger people, as if they missed out on something.

Q. You were doing just fine as a respected British character actor, then "Love Actually" came along. How has that affected your career?

A. When I got the role, I knew it was a very good one. People like an older rocker, there's a genuine affection for those characters, people who are still standing. More people saw me in that than have seen me in everything else I've ever done, up till that point. I knew if I did it half-decent, it would make a difference, and it changed the way I go to work. I no longer had to go cap in hand looking for work, people came to me, and it was a massive change, and people in America were aware of me for the first time.

Q. Did the fact that you'd been in the business for years affect the way you handled the recognition?

A. The experience has been entirely pleasant. In England, I was recognizable in the streets, but it went from 1 in 3 people to everybody. But because I've been around, it made it easier for me. I don't get out much. Other people experienced the change more than I did. What did get my attention was that I was offered lots of work in a way I didn't use to.

Q. So now you're a star in these huge franchise films.

A. I'm very lucky to be in "Pirates of the Caribbean." Those movies are loved, they're beyond popular. It was a really big deal. And also, you make some money. Like most actors, I spent a lot of time making ends meet, so when they give you bigger movies, you get bigger money, and it makes it possible to do smaller-budget movies.

Q. So what's the difference between small British films and pictures like "Pirates"?

A. It's different in terms of size and facilities, but the process is the same. If you make a British indie movie, you might be on a street corner with a cheese sandwich and an umbrella, waiting for your shot. But on a big-budget movie, nice trailer, nice car, the opportunity to do half a dozen takes. It's a thrill to be around.

Q. You played Gen. Friedrich Olbricht in last year's "Valkyrie." I've always wondered, what is it about British actors that they make such good Nazis?

A. There is a healthy tradition in American films of Europeans playing the villains, which is fine by me. I'm surprised I haven't played more Nazis. I am sort of central casting for that role. I am tall and blond and blue-eyed.


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