Capone With Bill Nighy Re: NOTES ON A SCANDAL, Davy Jones, HOT FUZZ, VERTICAL HOUR, The Choice Sleazebag Award, And More!!
Published at: Feb. 14, 2007, 8:51 a.m. CST by merrick
Hey, everyone. Capone in Chicago here with an interview I’ve been trying to get since mid-December.
Has Bill Nighy ever made a bad call or been less than exceptional in any film he’s been in? Okay, maybe that ALEX RYDER nonsense. But other than that, the guy’s track record is pretty remarkable. Originally, this interview was meant to take place and run in conjunction with the wider opening of NOTES ON A SCANDAL. But that date came and went, and my feeling was that if Bill still wanted to do the interview, I had a little more license to talk about his entire career, which is really what I’d wanted to do in the first place.
I knew Bill was in New York City for an extended stay because he’s in a play with Julianne Moore on Broadway until April, so I felt good that eventually he and I would find mutual holes in our schedule to do this. By sheer coincidence about two days before this interview, I caught Bill on Charlie Rose’s interview show, which was both good and bad, as you’ll see.
In the end Bill and I spoke for about an hour, far longer than I would have hoped for, and by doing so, he made feel like Charlie Rose (every boy’s dream). The last thing I should add is that I had no idea how much time I had with Bill when we began chatting.
Capone: I just happened to see you the other day on Charlie Rose’s show, so I had to throw away half my questions, so as not to repeat anything, although I think we have fairly different audiences. First of all, belated congratulations on your Golden Globe win [for “Gideon’s Daughter”]. That was wonderful news. Was that a surprise for you?
Bill Nighy: It was a surprise, really. You never really expect to win. In this particular case, I definitely didn’t expect to win. I don’t know why…largely because there was such a distinguished group, and I didn’t feel that I was a likely winner. So, it was a genuine shock, really. I walked literally speechless to the microphone. It was a wonderful thing, and I was very proud for the show, because it’s dear to my heart.
C: It was a wonderful show. Since NOTES ON A SCANDAL has been out for a while, and I do want to talk about it, but if it’s okay with you, I just want to jump around a bit, talk about some newer things and then a few older things that I think people still hold very dear.
BH: Whatever you’d like.
C: When looking over your stage and screen credits, one trend immediately jumps out, which is that there is no trend. You go from high drama to monster movies to comedies to animated films, sometimes in a single year. Is it your intention not to repeat yourself? Is that important to you?
BN: That is kind of important to me. I’m spoiled inasmuch as I am allowed and I’m invited to play a wide-ish range of parts, which is not always the case for actors. I’m extremely grateful for it, and I try and make the most of it. I enjoy doing all those things that you mentioned. The thing they have in common, I hope, is that they’re all very good material within their genre, you know, if you want a pirate movie, look no further. You want a vampire/werewolf movie, you can’t do much better than UNDERWORLD. And, if you want a…well, there is only one Rom/Zom/Com--Romantic Zombie Comedy--go to SHAUN OF THE DEAD. You don’t have to look any further there either. So, I hope they all have that in common, that they’re first-rate material.
C: I think the thing that you sort of bring to any part is that you’ve actually created a persona that you can adapt to any film. I heard you talking on Charlie Rose about how much you admire Christopher Walken, and I think you share a place with him in the respect that when someone sees your name attached to something now, they get excited about it. Even if it’s not a lead role, they still say, Well, he’s in it, so there must be something worth checking out.
BN: I’m extremely pleased to hear you say that. That’s one of the nicest things you could possibly say to an actor, because it means you compliment me on my taste. And, I’m lucky, you know, in the old days, you had to do whatever came along, because that was what was available and you had no choice, really, if you want to raise a family. Lately, I’ve had the luxury--which I never really expected to have, because it was a while coming--of picking and choosing to some degree. And, you try to pick stuff which will, broadly speaking, make life a little more amusing or easier or will in someway help, rather than the other kind of thing, you know, stuff that diminishes the world. So, you try to keep your nose clean.
C: Your character in NOTES ON A SCANDAL--and I don’t mean the performance, I mean the character--is positively average on the surface. But, as the film goes on, we discover things about him and his marriage that are actually quite uncomfortable at times, especially regarding their age difference. What led you to that role? Did the role find you, or did you find the role?
BN: The role found me. I was invited by [director] Richard Eyre, whom I’ve worked with before, to join this incredible cast in a fine script by Patrick Marber to be shot by Chris Menges. It was easy to spot as a pretty good gig. One of the reasons I was interested in it, I must say, apart from anything else--having just played quite recently, a zombie, a vampire, and a squid--it was quite nice to be invited to play a regular human being. And, not only that, somebody who had a family and had kids and somebody who people called ‘Dad,’ and who was married and had a house, you know, that was married to Cate Blanchett, which is not a bad place to be.
C: Please don’t take this the wrong way, but did you wonder if they had picked the wrong person when you found out who you were married to?
BN: I did, actually. I thought, Come on! Seriously. But they all had straight faces, so I figured it wasn’t April Fool’s. No, it was thrilling, because I admire her as much as I admire any actor working. And then, Judi Dench, who I’ve worked with…This is my third time working with her. I’ve worked with her on stage and on camera, and she is otherworldly in terms of talent, and she’s a wonderful person and extremely good company, as was Cate. We had a very grim tale to tell, and I think sometimes the equation is that the more scary the story, the more fun you have on the set. I mean, it’s not always the case, obviously, but I think in some cases, that’s the dynamic, and we did have a laugh.
C: It’s interesting that the character in a lot of ways almost falls into the background sometimes. But then, when you realize that the story’s being told from Barbara’s point of view, you understand that that’s what she’d like it to be. You have to remember that the film is being told from one particular perspective, and it might be skewed.
BN: There you have it.
C: We talked a bit earlier about your ability to find very good scripts, whether they be big-budget or no-budget productions. It’s almost uncanny. And the fact that you did go from SHAUN OF THE DEAD to UNDERWORLD to PIRATES. When you read a script, do you read it as a whole or do you focus on your part and what you can do with it?
BN: I do read it as a whole, but having said that, the role has to be substantial enough. If you started playing very small roles, then it would confuse everybody. So, you want the role to be substantial enough to warrant your involvement. Having gotten into the movies, as it were, somewhat late in the game, I don’t expect to get leading roles particularly, and I’m perfectly happy with that, but you want a role that gives you something to get your teeth into and something that gives you dignity. But, the script as a whole has to be of quality, and it has to be distinguished. So, you look for both of those elements. But, the major thing is, Is it something that you want your children to see? Do you know what I mean? Is it something that’s decent?
Sometimes, there are things that you don’t admire, but they attach a few zeros to your paycheck and then it gets quite easier to say yea…not that many zeros, but a few zeros, and it’s tough to turn them down. But, you just have to, and you get better at it.
You get better at saying, “No, thank you,” put the phone down, and then go beat your head against the wall because you need the money. I was very pleased, as I said earlier, to hear you say that if you see my name associated with something, you presume it might be of some value. That’s very, very important to me, because I am in business. Apart from that, someone knows what’s on offer if you hire me is my general sensibility, my taste. So, if you say that, then I’m getting it right to some degree.
C: You say you’re not typically the lead, which is true, but you have been. About two weeks ago, I was sifting through some old video tapes at home, and I came across a copy of THE GIRL IN THE CAFÉ, which I had never watched. When I realized that this interview might happen, I immediately watched it, and I loved it. I’m so glad I found it. How would you rate yourself as a romantic lead?
BN: That’s an unusual story in terms of a romantic lead, given the age difference, though it’s very close to my heart, THE GIRL IN THE CAFÉ. It’s one of my favorite jobs of all time.
I loved to work with Richard Curtis, because that was my second time. He wrote LOVE ACTUALLY, and I think it was a great achievement of his to integrate the information and social message [about world poverty] that he wished to deliver so successfully into a romantic comedy movie. And, to work with Kelly Macdonald was thrilling and wonderful, because she’s a rare and beautiful talent. She and I, we relished that film, playing that job. You felt that you were involved in something which might, even to the tiniest degree, help with a very serious situation.
Yeah, it was a gas. So, I mean, as a romantic hero, well, come on. Nobody laughed. I mean, probably my friends did. The guys I know probably went, Come on! And, especially some younger women I’m sure went, Are you serious? But, most people didn’t laugh. Hardly a day goes by when somebody doesn’t come up to me in the street and say, “You made such a lovely couple. Did you get things together at the end?” And, I’d say, “Well, I don’t know. I like to think so.” So, that was a great opportunity given to me by Richard, which I’m very grateful for.
C: You had worked with Richard Curtis him in LOVE ACTUALLY also. I have always wanted to ask this question, because you play an aging rock star in the film. I specifically remember the very first time I saw you on screen--well, I’m sure it wasn’t the first time I saw you on screen--but the first time I remembered your name after seeing you on screen was in STILL CRAZY, which is still one of my all-time favorite films to pull out and show people, in which you played an aging rock star as well. Did Richard write the aged rocker part for you in LOVE ACTUALLY based on your character in STILL CRAZY, which he had nothing to do with?
BN: No, he didn’t. And, I think, actually, early on in the discussion that was probably something not so much in my favor, that perhaps didn’t recommend me for the job, because I’d played a similar kind of character before. He had no plan to cast me. I’m sure we did an open reading of the screenplay. They sent me the script. They had these, you know, kind of readings to hear the script to see which bits work. And, they always say, This doesn’t mean to say you get the job. And, often the people who are in fact going to be in the film just aren’t available for the reading.
So, you just get a bunch of actors in the room, and you invite interested parties to come and listen. And, everybody has discussion to see which parts of the script work, you know, that kind of thing. I did one of those, and as a result of that, they gave me the gig. But, I think, it was only as a result of that. Had that not happened, I wouldn’t have got the gig. I know for a fact they had other plans. And, I think the fact of STILL CRAZY worked against me.
C: Obviously, that was the final film from [director] Brian Gibson before he died. It has a great cast and an exceptionally funny script. Now, when I look back on your career, I see that film as a turning point. You probably have a different choice in mind…
BN: No, not at all. In terms of being in the movies, that was the turning point, There’s no question about it. Brian Gibson put me in the movies, really. I’d played one other substantial part in a movie, which was FAIRY TALE, which wasn’t a huge part, but it was a movie with Harvey Keitel and Peter O’Toole about could fairies tell a true story? Charles Sturridge was the first person to give me a substantial role in a movie, but Brian Gibson was the first person to give me a principal role in a movie, and it did make all the difference, because although the film wasn’t commercially very successful--it was supposed to survive without any promotion at all, and it couldn’t do that--people who have seen it, liked it. And, at home, I got a couple of prizes for it. So, it set the precedent. In other words, I’d played a principal role in a movie, and it was successful, so I could play principal roles in movies.
So, that was the big turning point. I remember I did this lonely screen test for him in a disused tax office on the outskirts of London one morning at the crack of dawn in a pair of black velvet flared loon pants and a pair of green fake-crocodile 4-inch-heeled platforms, and my top was a sort of space-aged thing with swing-wing shoulders which didn’t meet my trousers, and I had hair extensions and dodgy makeup. They put me in front of a microphone with a karaoke machine, and they had me perform--there was just the cameraman, Brian Gibson, and me singing “Smoke on the Water” by Deep Purple. Can you imagine?
And, you know you have a choice. It was a big day actually, because my agent said to me for various reasons, “You don’t have to go, if you don’t want to.” There were technical reasons why I could have bowed out. And, in the old days, I might just have said, “Yeah, you know what--Forget it. I don’t want to go through it.” But, I actually turned up. And, there’s a point where you think: I could leave the building now. I could just walk out, go down the street, you know, get a sandwich, or else I can just humiliate myself as a middle-aged man in front of this camera with my midriff showing. And, I decided to humiliate myself.
But, in fact, the confusion in my mind was that I was supposed to be some kind of plausible rock god, but of course, I was supposed to be a rock idiot. I can do ‘rock idiot.’ I don’t stretch to rock god, but I got a couple of laughs, and I did a couple of ancient rock ‘n’ roll, middle-aged man jokes, and they laughed. It was a big day. That was a big turning point, you’re quite right.
C: Strange Fruit will always be the greatest band that never existed.
BN: We actually got invited…Jimmy Nail called me up some months after, and we got invited to do a tour of American colleges. It was quite a lot of money.
C: To perform or just show up and talk?
BN: Yeah, yeah. They wanted Strange Fruit to perform. He offered us quite a lot of money. Since it didn’t exist, it was a bit tricky. We even thought about it for 10 minutes, you know, maybe put a bunch of musicians together. But, we didn’t do it.
C: I’m not sure how much time we have, so I’m going to jump into some…
BN: I’m not in a rush, so…
[When he said this, I realized how glad I was that I’d over-prepared for the interview and that I could probably go as long as I needed.]
C: Okay, I’ve got loads of questions for you. Can you give us some clues--I realize there may be some sort of confidentiality agreement--a few clues about what Davy Jones gets into AT WORLDS END, and does he still have some surprises for us?
BN: Yeah, there’s big surprises with Davy. Big, big surprises. I am not at liberty to say, ’cause they would, I don’t know, kill my film career.
C: Here’s what I’m curious about: I know you shot the films concurrently, but I also know you did additional shooting after the second PIRATES film was released. Did seeing the finished Davy in the second film in any way alter your performance for the third film?
BN: Now that’s an interesting thing. Well, not really, no, because I’d already shot half of #3, but then we had to go back and shoot some more. And, yes, I think it probably did for the latter half of #3, because I was emboldened, apart from anything, by the fabulousness of the creature. I mean, the guys and girls who made the creature are just incredible, you know, and I’m a new boy to all that kind of stuff.
They always said they were going to inform the creature with my performance, and my performance would inspire everything. I didn’t think that they were misleading me, I figured they were well intended, but I didn’t think that technologically it was possible--not to the degree that they did it. And, when I saw it, it was tremendous to see that all the little facial things, all the physical things I did, all the little so-called idiosyncrasies that I threw in, God knows why, they actually, you know, somebody or several people sat in front of computers and translated it into creature form. I was actually very moved by it.
Flaming hell, they really did. It was very touching to me, because they always said they would, but these things go forward, and the technology sometimes gets ‘off the skin.’ Currently, this is state-of-the-art, so I was privileged to be a part of that. And, when I saw it, yeah, it did change a bit. Both Gore Verbinski and I were in uncharted waters, really. How do you pitch the performance, you know, you’re playing a Scottish pirate who’s been transformed into a squid--half squid, half crab--and how do you…you know, the first couple of times I do stuff and he’d say, “Well, Bill that’s a little big.” And, you think, well, then you have another look at the picture of this creature that’s supposed to be the most feared thing on the ocean waves. Well, you know, what’s big? So, therefore, I may have been emboldened to pitch it just slightly higher once I’d seen it.
C: Do you have any scenes with Chow Yun-Fat?
BN: I don’t, unfortunately, because that would have been a treat, because I admire him. But, no, I don’t. That was a whole other…I wasn’t around for that bit. I also don’t have any scenes with Keith Richards, which is another source of regret. He was a huge hit on the set, and everybody adored him, and he’s apparently fabulous in the movie.
I have no way of knowing how it will turn out, and I’m not trying to sell you anything, because I don’t have to, but I have a very strong feeling that the third one will be the best one yet, just in terms of script. And the other part of the appeal is all the stuff that was left hanging in the second one is all beautifully tied up and explained. And, this film goes to the end of the world, and you see stuff you’ll never have seen. It’ll be sensational.
C: Do you find it curious that the most successful film financially that you’ve ever been in is one where we really don’t get to see your face?
BN: [Laughs] I can’t really mind, honestly. I’m not complaining. I’m very pleased. I’m very proud of being a part of what ILM, Industrial Light & Magic has made me. I am honestly, I’m not just saying it, I’m very proud to be a part of it. I hope, as I think Gore said to the guys sometime ago, once he saw it, he said, “Just get your acceptance speech ready.” He may be wrong, but I don’t think there’s anyone going to do anything better than that, anytime soon. And, I don’t mind. I am in one of the biggest grossing movies the world has ever seen. And, it was a lot of hard work, and I’m in it, albeit in a strange form. I don’t mind. I’ll settle for that, that’s fine.
C: Speaking of awards, you’ve been nominated for many awards, and won a few along the way, but I’m going to guess that the Teen Choice Award that you won for “Choice Sleazebag” for PIRATES has got to be one of your crowning achievements.
BN: Absolutely, I mean, sleazebag is another level.
C: Were you there to accept?
BN: No, unfortunately, I couldn’t get there, because I was here in New York doing a play [THE VERTICAL HOUR], and it tied me up. So, I wasn’t able to do that, but I was honored by it.
C: Do you have an acceptance speech that you’d like to share with us?
BN: I think I could probably have thought of something. I would have given a big ‘up’ to all sleazebags, and I would have declared myself their new leader, very proudly.
C: Were there any reference points in terms of the physical nature of Davy Jones that you drew from, whether human or sea creature, that you tried to tap into?
BN: It was very funny, it was very odd. It’s a bit mysterious, and it’s always a bit worrying when I actually start talking about how I arrive at things, because you run the risk of treading into the world of pomposity.
C: Talking about your process?
BN: Well, I don’t really have a process, but there was something to do with the voice, doing the voice, which, obviously, because it was quite a violent Scottish accent, I did make quite idiosyncratic…
C: And, there’s nothing more evil than a Scottish accent, by the way.
BN: Right. We wanted something that had great authority and power and that would be different from everyone else in the movie. So, that was how we came up with that. And, because it was so extreme in certain ways, it did alter the way I moved my head, my mouth, obviously, and then my head and my neck, and the general sort of stance, which then bleeds into what you do with the rest of your body, which involved a kind of lean, a different arrangement of your limbs.
It just comes from the sound of your voice and from the angle of your head, and if you translate it into the rest of your body. That’s what happens. So, it really comes from, in this case--as is I think quite often the case--it comes from what you do with your mouth, in other words, vocally. You kind of reflect with your body what’s happening somehow, in a weird impressionistic sort of way, what’s happening vocally. That doesn’t help anyone, and it sounds terrible, but anyway…
C: It’s funny you say that--and I don’t want to get into a discussion of process necessarily--but you do endow your characters with a physicality that I’m really not used to seeing. Like in THE GIRL IN THE CAFÉ, the guy is rigid most of the time, but in some of your other roles, like in UNDERWORLD, you’re almost marionette-like in your movements. It seems like a very important thing for you to establish in your characters...
BN: Yeah, it is. I don’t know quite how, it just sort of happens. I know that’s not a very satisfactory answer, but it’s not part of any formal process, because I don’t have one. But, part of it is that I think that if it’s just me turning up, then everyone will go to sleep, so I think I have to do something in order to earn my keep, you know what I mean. In other words, it’s borne of a certain insecurity, I suppose, about my general physical presence, that it’s not substantial enough on its own, which I’m working on, maybe for other roles.
I mean, one of the things about GIDEON’S DAUGHTER was that Steven Poliakoff put a stop to all of that, you know, this is not going to be any of the stuff that you’ve done…forget all the stuff you’ve done before. I want you to be very still, and it was challenging. For the first couple of weeks, I kept having to go up to him after takes and say, Are you sure?, because it was just me standing there, trying to be still, trying to tell the story as best I could without dramatizing it physically. It was very unsettling for me, because it’s not what I naturally do.
What I naturally do is…I’ve always done it since I’ve been on stage…I do tend to use movement…it’s not necessarily a conscious decision at the beginning, it just happens when I’m in the fire. Opening plays is the scariest thing I’ve ever done, just about. Therefore, stuff happens. In me, it’s reflected in a sort of physicality. And, I then get to pick whether I want to hang on to those things or not, when I’m in sober reflection. Do you know what I mean, because with the theater you’re doing it over and over again. It seems to me to be a way of trying to suggest, as you would with your face before a camera, what’s happening to your character internally. So, you indicate with your body. You tell the story a touch more physically than perhaps other actors might.
I don’t know. And, sometimes, I don’t do that. Sometimes, there are roles where you think, Your job here is to not get in the way and just try to be as simple as possible.
C: You also seem never to shy away from finding the humor in even the most dramatic films or plays. Whether it was there or not on the written page, you seem to find ways to get it in regardless.
BN: Well, that again seems to come instinctively. And, I do think it’s usually a good thing. It’s usually useful. It’s not something that you should shy away from, as long as it’s--I mean, I use all those words again--as long as it’s authentic, as long as it’s legitimate, as long as it’s not, as they say in football, ‘off the ball,’ you know, not a yellow-card incident. It is in honor of whatever the story is you’re trying to tell.
And, quite often, it is unconscious, and I’ll only find out afterwards that it’s funny, sometimes only when the film is screened. Or, sometimes, when whomever I’m acting with laughs after somebody says, “Cut.” And then, they fall about laughing. I say, What? Why is it funny? It’s not me trying to be funny. Though sometimes it is, sometimes I’m aware of something funny, and I always think, That’s what people are like.
That’s when drama has the ring of truth--when unexpected stuff happens. And, one of those phenomena is that in very dramatic situations, people do comic things. And then, everybody knows that. When you’re most scared at school, somebody makes a joke, and everybody falls apart, or whatever it is. It’s the kind of stuff you wouldn’t write, unless you were a genius. They wouldn’t write down, “Then they laughed,” because it’s only in the action of it that it’s revealed to be potentially funny.
C: Speaking of funny or potentially funny, can you talk a little bit about your role in HOT FUZZ.
BN: I have a very small role, I have to tell you, in HOT FUZZ. It’s very small, and I’m very proud to be in HOT FUZZ, as I was to be in SHAUN OF THE DEAD. And, I’m very keen on Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright and Nick Frost, who are the major players in both of those movies. I haven’t seen HOT FUZZ yet, but I hear it’s a rocker. They’re brilliant men.
C: It’s looks like there a lot of recognizable British faces, maybe in small parts, in the film.
BN: Yeah, there’s all kinds of people in it. I don’t even know all of them, because my sequence, which is a short sequence, involves myself and Martin Freeman, who you may know from “The Office” and also from HITCHHIKER’S GUIDE. He’s a wonderful, marvelous, brilliant comic assassin, a marvelous actor…and now he owes me money. And, Steve Coogan. And, we have kind of an elaborate-ish joke to deliver, which is very satisfying, but it’s a short sequence, but I’m very pleased to have been involved. I’d be in anything that Edgar and Simon asked me to be in. Apart from anything, they’re such great guys and they make you laugh all the time. They’re just very, very funny.
C: Seeing you in SHAUN OF THE DEAD and the UNDERWORLD films, are the genre films more fun to do? Including PIRATES as well, of course?
BN: I do like it when it gets daft. I do quite like absurdity…I am reassured about my place in the world when I am required to do profoundly silly things. It’s like the opposite of invading anywhere. Do you know what I mean? I know this is not a very sophisticated equation, but it means I’m not being a nuisance in any other way. There’s something about it that is honorable, when you either appear as a squid or get your fangs in, a sort of special kind of calm comes over me. I just think, Yeah, this is honorable behavior, this is good, this is in the name of entertainment and not intimidating people and not worrying people, not being a problem in the world. This will help, in some small way, this will help. We’re not doing anything bad here. We’re doing something good. One day’s work, I did two animations. On the same day, I had to go and sing “Fernando” by ABBA as an albino ex-lab rat who had brain damage due to overexposure to hallucinogenic drugs. In the same week, I also had to sing “You Really Got Me” by The Kinks as a stoned-out rabbit in another film.
C: The rat was in FLUSHED AWAY. What’s the rabbit film?
BN: I think in this country it was called DOOGAL. You know, stuff like that. The problem with the vampire movie was that I had a six-hour makeup, which will never, ever happen to me again. So, that’s why I’m so keen on computers. They cover you in latex, and it’s medieval, and it’s cruel and wrong, and no one will be allowed to do that to me again, although they were very nice guys. I had six hours, and I used to play Stones records the whole time. They said, Do you have tunes that you like, ’cause you don’t know what the process is, to stand there for six hours. We went through the complete Stones catalog.
C: I’ve heard that Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones were your go-to guys, as it were.
BN: Bob particularly. Like everybody, I’d be kind of bereft without Bob Dylan.
C: Have you ever met him?
BN: No, I haven’t met him. And, I think that’s probably best. I don’t want to trouble him. I wouldn’t know what to say. He’d be fine with it. It would just be me that would be awkward. But, I have grown up with him.
C: Your fan base spans a vast age range. Doing research for this interview, I discovered you actually have quite a few fan web sites. I don’t know if you’re aware of that…
BN: I’m not really, because I don’t own a computer, but I do know I am on particular terms with two of them. One is official. Somebody wrote to me from Germany, a very nice lady and she had a site, which my sister alerted me to, called The Bill Nighy Experience. She corresponds with my sister, and she also asked if she could be the official web site. No one had ever asked me that before, and I was pleased to accept. So, that’s now the official web site.
There’s also another lady called Ingrid who runs a very admirable site. She has a very cool idea about THE GIRL IN THE CAFÉ. There’s a web site called ‘thegirlinthecafe.com’ where they pass it around. They send the DVD around to different people, and they kind of comment on it, and they have a kind of club, and they think of ways to try and help with the situation in Africa.
C: I guess you’ve made my point for me. You’re a man in your 50s, whose popularity has grown greatly over the past 10 years, and you have a youthful fan base.
BN: I know, it’s great. I love it. The very young kids like PIRATES. There was no plan, obviously. You just follow your nose and seek out decent material in whatever genre. I must say, I do have a particular fancy for vampires. I like a vampire. And I do like the whole shtick of it, the whole mythology of it. I love vampire lore. I love in UNDERWORLD that the werewolves who were at war with the vampires came up with bullets that were clear glass that contained harnessed daylight. Don’t you think that’s a cool idea? You’re actually shooting daylight into vampires. The bullets explode on impact and the daylight spreads through them. I think it’s a beautiful piece of vampyric lore.
C: They’re certainly the best dressed of all the monsters.
BN: And that’s the other thing: they look great. They are the coolest.
C: Is there a type of film or role that you’re still burning to play that you haven’t yet?
BN: Not really. I’ve been so lucky. If things continue as they are--and I’m not quite sure what that means--if I fumble along in the same way, then I don’t think I have anything to yearn for. I suppose what might remain is to play a leading role in a movie, a straight leading role, not necessarily a romantic lead. That would be a challenge to play a straight role which had to carry a movie in its entirety. But it’s not burning a hole in my heart. My progress has been very good. I’ve always had respectable gigs, worked with great writers, directors, and actors all my life.
C: And in many cases, you work with these people more than once, particularly writers. You’re in a play now written by David Hare, whose works you’ve been in on several occasions. How much longer is VERTICAL HOUR playing on Broadway?
BN: It’s playing until April 1 at the Music Box Theatre. It’s a funny show. People don’t seem to realize that. People keep coming into my dressing room and saying, “But it’s funny.” Julianne Moore is in it, who is sensational. Andrew Scott, a wonderful young Irish actor who is garlanded back home--he’s won Oliviers and other prizes--is tremendous in the show, and he plays my son.
C: I’m guessing most people don’t think it’s going to be as funny going in is because of the subject matters it addresses. Can you talk about that a bit?
BN: The subject matter is about everything you want to hear about. It’s about fathers and sons, it’s about American and England, it’s about doctors and how pompous they are, it’s about patriotism or the lack of it, it’s about who makes you proud of your country and who doesn’t, it’s about love, it’s about sex, it’s about should a father sleep with his son’s girlfriend, it’s about do you forgive your father for his sexual past, it’s about growing up in the ’60s and not having any sexual boundaries, it’s about bullshit in the ’60s and bullshit right now, it’s about Iraq. It’s all kinds of stuff. It’s just deadly smart and funny and gives you something to think about over dinner.
Nobody tells you how to live your life. It’s the opposite of didactic or polemical. But there seems to be a quiet campaign going on around David Hare to mislead people. You could possibly accuse Ibsen of being didactic or other playwrights. The one that you can’t is David Hare, because he’s so brilliant and he goes to great pains not to do anything that’s as vulgar or unsophisticated as telling someone how to lead their life. And he’s also professional and gracious enough that it’s vulgar and wrong to invite people to sit in the dark for two-and-a-half hours without entertaining them and inundate them with lots and lots of world-class jokes. But that never gets reported.
The fact that the audience falls apart every minutes and half--been carefully and strategically planned that they should do so--is never mentioned. It’s a very odd thing. You’d think that if it was your job to describe the evening that that would be a pretty important part of the evening to alert people to.
C: Well, here’s a case where your reputation preceding you might work to your advantage. I would assume that because you were in it, that there was a level of humor to the piece.
BN: That’s good. I’d glad.
C: We would be remiss if we didn’t mention that Sam Mendes is the play’s director. He’s certainly no stranger to the movie world.
C: The only other specific film I wanted to ask you about and I’m still trying to get people to see, both for your performance and as an example of how great an actor Daniel Craig is is ENDURING LOVE, a strange and disturbing work. What is your take on the film and your role in it?
BN: I love working with Roger Michell [CHANGING LANES; THE MOTHER). That’s my major link with that film and that’s why I was there. I’ve worked with him on stage on a play called BLUE/ORANGE at the National Theatre, written by Joe Penhall.
And I did ENDURING LOVE, and I’m very, very keen on him. I think he’s one of the greatest directors working, and I thought he made a beautiful film with ENDURING LOVE, and he’s also made another beautiful film with VENUS with Peter O’Toole. I’d only just found out Peter was nominated. I’m so pleased he’s nominated. He remains one of my heroes, and I think it’s a fabulous performance, well worthy of an Oscar. It is a mysterious film from Ian McEwan, who wrote the very, very popular book back home. I thought they did a beautiful job.
Another film that I don’t know if anyone’s seen, but I’d be very keen for people to see as an example of a British independent movie, which I think again is funny and touching and has some meaning, is LAWLESS HEART. If you alert the people the people to that, you’d be doing them a favor. It was very well received critically, and it was not unsuccessful in its small circuit, but not a lot of people know about it. And not just because I’m in it, but I think it’s one of the best British films of recent years.
C: Have you had a chance to congratulate any of your NOTES ON A SCANDAL co-stars?
BN: I haven’t because I’m in New York. Judi’s on stage as well in England, and Cate I haven’t seen because she’s gone back to Australia. But I will. I did have a chance to congratulate [screenplay nominee] Patrick Marber. He’s coming to New York soon with a play. I was thrilled for him.
C: Do you have any projects lined up for after the run of the play?
BN: I don’t, strictly speaking. There are a couple of independent films back in England that may or may not get financed, a couple of studio things that may or may not come to fruition. So there’s nothing I can really say. I’ll just finish this play and then almost immediately PIRATES 3: THE BANDWAGON will begin. I think my first responsibility will to be some PIRATE talking.
C: Thank you so much for being so generous with your time. You’ve given me a full hour, and you make me feel like Charlie Rose.
BN: You made it very easy. I’ll speak to you again I hope. And maybe then I can tell you more about PIRATES 3.