Bill Nighy

The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy

Interviewed by Alana Lee

“I was calling myself Bartifastblart. But somebody then pointed out that, actually, it was the other way around. ”

In more than two decades in entertainment, Bill Nighy has established himself as one of Britain's most versatile actors with a superlative list of starring roles in film, television and the theatre. His scene-stealing turn as aging rocker Billy Mack in Richard Curtis' Love Actually won him a BAFTA Award for Best Supporting Actor. He now plays planet-maker Sartibartfast in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

What's it like to be the architect of the universe?

It feels pretty good. If somebody's casting God, or the next best thing, and they think of you, I think you have to be grateful. And once I learnt how to pronounce may name, it was great. For the first two weeks I was quite confident. I was calling myself Bartifastblart, and I thought that was pretty good. But somebody then pointed out that, actually, it was the other way around.

What was it about the book that really leapt out when you read it?

It just makes you laugh. I bought it for my daughter when she was 15 or 16 and it was some of the best few pounds I ever spent. She actually fell off a chair at one point, laughing. But there are other things that you're grateful for, like what does he call flying? "Aiming for the ground and missing." I'm always grateful for anything that's funny and kind of helps in the world, rather than people who are describing different versions of how bad things can get. Very few things move me to patriotism, I'm always slightly suspicious of anyone carrying a flag, of any colour, but Hitchhikers does kind of make you proud it came from near where you came from.

Has laughter always been important in your life? You've mentioned it a few times and in your work you take chances that some other actors wouldn't. You don't seem easily embarrassed.

It's strange because I am embarrassed a lot of the time when I'm working. But yeah, if you are, as an actor, required to get laughs ever, I think it's an admirable thing to attempt. And if you bring it off, there are very few things that are as satisfying. It is endlessly fascinating to me what makes people laugh and how you can get it better. I think if I have a real obsession, that's one of them. I find it endlessly fascinating how other people get laughs. Like Martin, who is an incredibly witty performer, I admire. It is a particular concern of mine, professionally, and, God, we need a laugh, don't we?

If you really had a chance to remake the Earth, what changes would you make?

I think I would do away with the English Channel. I think we've had enough time out there on our own in the Atlantic and I don't think it improved our manners. I think we should just be dragged back and join everyone else. That'll be controversial. And I might make the weather in the Middle East a little cooler, I thought. Just take the temperature down a touch. What do you think? And more rain in California. They need a little more rain in Los Angeles. They just had rain in Los Angeles when I was there, and they just can't cope. They've had serious rain and there were houses sliding off the hills, because they don't do houses that do rain.

How did the Hitchhikers cast get on?

The only conflict was: are the Stones a better band than The Who? Martin knows everything in the world about popular music, Sam Rockwell is possessed by Rhythm and Blues, and if you want to know anything about American music of the last 50 years, ask Mos Def. There isn't anything he doesn't know. So if there was any conflict it was in that area.

You're a big fan of the Stones. Is Keith Richards going to be in the Pirates Of The Caribbean sequels, which you're currently filming?

Yeah, the Stones were the house band for my generation and the soundtrack to my youth. I've never really recovered from the way Richards played his guitar. And when Charley Watts kicks in, that makes me swing. I dig them profoundly. And I would like to make that public - as if it weren't already. I bet they're sick of hearing about me. They probably pick up a paper and go, "Oh God, it's that bloke again." But no, I am seriously possessed by the sound that they make. I saw them at Twickenham last year and they were staggering. They are another thing like Hitchhikers or Harold Pinter or David Hare that make you obscurely proud to be British. But the answer to your question is I believe he is going to play Johnny Depp's father in Pirates Of The Caribbean 2 and 3.

Will you be working with him?

I don't know yet. But I may be, because I haven't got script three yet. So nobody knows what happens.

And finally, what is the meaning of life?

I've always thought it was 23 and if Douglas ever made a mistake, it was this. I don't see how you can say 42, especially when there's 23 lying around, which is obviously the answer to the question. All the great anarchists died on the 23rd of any month. Look it up. Many great things happened on the 23rd, it's a very big number. If you add it together it comes up with five. We both know the mystical significance of the number five; I don't need to explain it to anybody. The only time I ever went to a casino was in Budapest [the location for Underworld], I put all of my money, about 20 bucks, on the number 23, and it romped it. I made hundreds of dollars and I took everyone out to dinner. So it is a magical number and it is the meaning of life.

The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy is released in UK cinemas on Thursday 28th April 2005.