Bill Nighy plays Gideon
It did not take Bill Nighy long to decide to take the role of Gideon,
the PR guru who is on the verge of meltdown in Stephen Poliakoff's
searing new film.
"Oh man," he beams, "this script is just great! I
read and completely loved it. I picked up the phone immediately and
said, 'I'd like to be in this, please!' I had zero hesitation."
The actor also starred in Poliakoff's last work for television, The
Lost Prince, and recalls that, "I had a wonderful time on that. It's
one of the finest pieces of TV I've ever been involved with."
Nighy is equally enthusiastic about Gideon's Daughter.
He was instantly drawn to the central character of Gideon, a man who
is quietly unhinging because he feels his daughter is slipping away
He is only saved when he meets Stella (Miranda Richardson),
another person suffering deeply. She is in torment after the death of
her young son in a cycling accident.
"Gideon is someone I feel I understand," muses the actor, who has over
the past few years become one of our most in-demand stars.
"Gideon is a man who is finding it increasingly difficult to pay attention at work, and yet the less he listens, the more successful he becomes. When you don't care, people give you everything. If you can arrange not to want stuff, people hand it to you for free. That's a great joke!"
This arrangement has taken its toll on Gideon, however. "There's a
price for him to pay," continues Nighy, an astonishingly busy actor who has starred in such memorable work as The Girl in the Café, Love Actually, State of Play, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Shaun of the Dead, Underworld, He Knew He Was Right, I Capture the Castle, Enduring Love, The Young Visitors, and The Canterbury Tales.
"Gideon has worked hard over the years and been very successful, but
guess what? It didn't work. Part of the human condition is that we
all go around saying, 'When I get that bit of my life straight, I can pull over and relax. If I can only get that person to love me or get that perfect pair of shoes, then I'll be sorted.'
"But guess what? You get the shoes and nothing changes. Now you can't find the right handbag to go with it. When you've attained one thing, there is always something else tantalisingly dangling at the end of the stick that you need. That's a universal experience."
Gideon is rescued in the nick of time from his spiritual crisis, though, by his relationship with the grieving Stella.
"Gideon does not ultimately unravel," reflects the 55-year-old actor. "He finally comes to his senses and gets his priorities right. That's precipitated by meeting Stella and coincides in a timely fashion with him reaching the pinnacle of his professional life and discovering that it still doesn't taste right.
"He learns a profound lesson from meeting this woman who has been
through the worst possible thing any mother could imagine: the death
of a child. That liberates Gideon because he finds himself through his
relationship with Stella. Through her courage and her sense of perspective, she educates him and enables him to see that there is more to life than work."
Nighy continues: "Gideon and Stella have a profound connection which is born of his depression and her grief. Apart from anything else, they're powerfully attracted to each other. But because of their situations, the
relationship takes on added significance.
Perhaps oddly, she brings more to it and is in much better shape than he is. Having been brutalised by life, Stella has come out the other side and is more together. Therefore, their meeting is perfectly timed."
The other major strand in Gideon's Daughter is an exploration of society's obsession with spin.
"The big elephant in the bathroom - or whatever that expression is!" Nighy laughs, "is that on so many levels marketing doesn't work.
"Focus groups certainly don't work because the norm is weird. You
can't find a cross-section of normal people. There aren't any: we're all weirdos. There is no point in looking for the Average Joe because we're all strange, exotic plants and therefore impossible to market. That's why retailers always have to go for the lowest common denominator.
"In the course of Gideon's Daughter, Stephen wryly comments on PR.
He's not overly enamoured of that world, who is? He gives it an old-fashioned look, as my mother would say!
"In this film, Stephen is saying we're getting further and further away from ourselves, and PR and marketing aren't helping one bit. Everyone shares that view, even people involved in that world.
"It's all got out of hand. It's the logical progression of capitalism.
Because the media has become such a huge industry, you can now use it
to deliver anything, including governments. We live in a world where style triumphs over substance."
Nighy, who has recently spent several months in the West Indies
shooting the two sequels to the blockbuster, The Pirates of the Caribbean, in which he plays an irredeemable baddie, goes on to pay tribute to Poliakoff's vision.
"What distinguishes Stephen as a writer-director? He's a wonderful artist because he's got such an original eye. He's a rare observer, who sees things from unique angles, and he's compassionate as well as irreverent.
"Also, as a director, he's incredibly bright and is extremely well-versed in visual language. He is an unfailing detector of the inauthentic or the approximate in one's performance. And he communicates what he requires without resort to psychiatry.
"Therefore, he gives you very practical hints about how to do it better, which doesn't happen with directors as often as one might think. Stephen is not squeamish about giving practical advice like, 'Don't wiggle your eyes around so much,' which I greedily accept."
Above all, Nighy carries on, "Stephen pays attention to what's going on in the world. With me, events go in one ear and out the other. You get to the end of the day and you think, 'That's an achievement!'
"If you ask me what happened last Wednesday, I'm lost. But Stephen pays rigorous attention to recent history - that's his job!
"God knows what happened in that powerful summer of 1997. I seem to
remember there was the New Labour landslide, the death of Diana and
the beginning of the Government's disastrous relationship with that lump of fibreglass somewhere near Greenwich.
"Stephen's other great gift is to personalise recent history. Great artists can take the universal and express it through the personal. In this film, we follow Gideon through that summer and see how the times are reflected in him."