BBC HomeExplore the BBC
This page has been archived and is no longer updated. Find out more about page archiving.

27 November 2014
Press Office
Search the BBC and Web
Search BBC Press Office

BBC Homepage

Contact Us


He Knew He Was Right
Bill Nighy as Colonel Osborne

He Knew He Was Right

Bill Nighy - Colonel Osborne

It's taken him over 30 years but at the age of 53 Bill Nighy is suddenly an 'overnight' star.

At least, that's according to Variety magazine, as the rest of the world wakes up to what we Brits have known for years - that Nighy is one of our finest acting talents.

But it seems that just lately you can't turn on the television or go to the cinema without coming across this tall, lean, elegantly weathered actor.

After wowing audiences as newspaper editor Cameron Foster in BBC ONE's acclaimed series State Of Play, starring parts in I Capture The Castle, Underworld and The Young Visiters and stealing the show from a strong ensemble cast in Love Actually as faded rock star Billy Mack, Nighy is hot property - and is even attracting attention Stateside.

"They didn't really know who I am in America until Love Actually, which was quite high-profile," Nighy explains.

"To them I'm the newcomer and so when I was in Variety they had to 'introduce' me. A friend sent me the cutting and he attached this note that said, 'I'm glad to see your career is finally taking off!'"

And it shows no signs of slowing down. He's just finished filming an adaptation of Ian McEwan's Enduring Love.

He stars as the caddish Colonel Osborne who drives a wedge between Louis and his wife Emily by visiting her too frequently and causing gossip in society. It's fair to say that he's not a nice man.

"Not at all," agrees Nighy with a sardonic smile. "He's a vain man who behaves in a manner which is heartless and cruel. In the novel it's slightly ambiguous but I think there's no doubting where Trollope stands on the matter.

"Osborne technically does no wrong, but in effect he causes great harm to two young people who could really live without it. It's fair to say that he knows what he's doing."

Though he hopes he wouldn't behave like Colonel Osborne, Nighy can understand his motives.

"He doesn't expect to have any real affair with Emily. He's presumably had a career in the world of women. He's had some success in that area and now I think he's got to that age when he can still cause a flutter around the house.

"That he can still be considered a threat I think he finds irresistibly flattering, because he's reached a certain age where his appeal is fading."

The character is in contrast to the actor who finds himself as much the thinking woman's sex symbol these days as when he first broke through to celebrity status a decade ago playing a lecherous lecturer in the BBC's The Men's Room.

As far as theatregoers are concerned, however, he's been a star for much longer with a string of hits to his name that include working with some of the best writers and directors in the business.

Not bad for someone who only turned to acting to get away from dull jobs on building sites.

"I never had a burning drive to be an actor," he admits. "I flunked school and didn't seem to have many prospects. But I met a girl who was going to drama teachers' college and she suggested that I might go to drama school, and it seemed like a bit of a gas not to go to work for a bit.

"I never thought I would be an actor for very long, if at all. I was an average mess as a young man and I didn't really have a thought in my head worth reporting. I was a bit of a dreamer."

In fact he ran away from his Surrey home twice as a teenager - first to the Persian Gulf (he got as far as the South of France before admitting defeat and getting his dad to pay his fare home) and then to Paris, where he also didn't stay long.

He was drifting along rather aimlessly when his big break happened.

"I'm a lucky boy. I've been in world premieres of plays which I think will be performed a hundred years from now such as Skylight by David Hare, Tom Stoppard's Arcadia and Betrayal by Harold Pinter - and this is what I will tell my grandchildren, that I worked with those writers."

It was in another David Hare play, A Map Of The World, that Nighy met his long-term partner Diana Quick. That was in 1982.

"If I tell you that we've been together ever since I think that speaks for itself," he says, reluctant to elaborate too much on their relationship.

He's similarly reticent on the subject of the couple's 19-year-old daughter Mary.

"But I have two dogs and they don't mind being in a newspaper so I can be incredibly indiscreet about Smokie and Nellie!" he laughs.

"Smokie is a rescue dog, he has a lurcherish kind of appeal. Nellie is a posh dog, a Tibetan terrier, and she's as cute and as doggy as you could possibly get. They almost resemble Lady and the Tramp if you can get them to sit down next to each other."

Walking those two, he says, is one of his favourite pastimes. He likes a quiet life and when he's not working likes nothing better than settling down with a good book, a cup of tea and some music on - preferably the Rolling Stones.

He admits that exercise leaves him cold, though he's rather gloomily considering taking up yoga as he reckons he needs to do something to stay fit and healthy into his "old age".

"I watched Love Actually and it was good fun but I thought, 'God you're old, you're knackered-looking, you look terrible' - because I do and I am," he says with his usual self-depreciating humour.

Many women would strongly disagree, but it's no secret that Nighy's hard-living youth has taken its toll on his body.

"I used to drink and it was terrible and now I don't. It's marvellous when it stops," he says. "It's not like having a drink in a normal way, you are in chemical thrall on a metabolic level."

Though he's been - as he himself describes it - "a sober alcoholic" for over ten years now, he only gave up cigarettes a year ago, but is ecstatic that he's still a non-smoker.

"Alcohol is arguably the heavyweight champion drug of the world but nicotine is right up there, and it's great to be liberated from nicotine because it's a real bugger - it robs you of so much out of the day," he says.

"I didn't know if I'd be able to stop smoking but by some miracle I did. I still haven't got over it - every day I think, 'I don't smoke!'"

And with a workload that shows no signs of slacking off any time soon, Bill's got every incentive to keep up his clean-living lifestyle - and even get around to that yoga.

< previous section next section >
Printable version top^

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

About the BBC | Help | Terms of Use | Privacy & Cookies Policy