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Actor Bill Nighy On Career, 'Marigold Hotel'


It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Audie Cornish.


And I'm Robert Siegel. Fans of British drama will find pleasure in a film arriving on these shores today. "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" follows a group of British retirees who move to India looking for a more affordable life.

The ensemble cast includes plenty of familiar faces. From "Downton Abby," there's Maggie Smith and Penelope Wilton. Dame Judi Dench plays a widow trying to make her own way and there's also our next guest, Bill Nighy.

There's little that Bill Nighy hasn't done over his long career. In addition to his work on British television and on the stage, American audiences will know him as the cuckolded husband in "Notes on a Scandal," again alongside Judi Dench, and as a hopeless rock star in the romantic comedy, "Love, Actually." Then again, to your kids or grandkids, he will likely always be the tentacled Davy Jones in "Pirates of the Caribbean" movies.

In "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel," Bill Nighy plays a beleaguered husband who finally lashes out.


SIEGEL: And Bill Nighy joins me now from our studio in New York. Welcome to the program.

: Thank you.

SIEGEL: We're all pulling for you there in the movie at that point. Glad to hear you strike back.

: Yeah.

SIEGEL: You have a look and bearing that says, at least to my American eyes: British gentleman. Is it true that you feel naked if you're not wearing a suit?

: Yeah. In fact, a jacket, really. I'm a jacket man. And if I'm without one, I am kind of seriously disabled. I don't know how to operate in shirt sleeves.

SIEGEL: You don't?

: It makes me anxious and uneasy.

SIEGEL: Even to a reading for a part or something very informal?

: Yeah. It's ludicrous. People sometimes inquire why there's a lack of classical work on my CV with the emphasis on Shakespeare and I have joked in the past that it's because I can't operate in those kind of trousers. But, in fact, it's true. I can really only operate in a decent lounge - what we used to call a lounge suit. It is kind of my muse and I am ludicrously attached to the idea.

I did a play on Broadway here in New York and the director desperately tried to get a jacket off me. He said, you're in the garden. It's summertime in England. What would you be doing wearing a jacket? I said, I always wear a jacket in the garden. Anyway, he did get the jacket off me and he actually made me appear without socks, which was deeply unsettling.

SIEGEL: This was very difficult for you.

: Yeah.

SIEGEL: This movie is a comedy. English pensioners go to India to a hotel that is substantially less than advertised and hilarity ensues. Tell us about your character.

: My character is a very nice man called Douglas who's been disappointing his wife for about 35 years. She only has to look at him to become depressed, and in the face of this, he tries. He still tries to help. He still tries to please her, but as you suggested at the beginning of this, there comes a point in the movie where he stops trying.

SIEGEL: This cast, by the way, also includes Tom Wilkinson. I didn't mention him. When you're all shooting this in India, was dinner every night an ensemble dinner full of the best acting talent of a certain age all engaging in conversation, or was it day is done. I don't have to see these people anymore.

: No. It was the former, which is unusual on movies. Generally, after the first flush of the first week, people go to their rooms, you know, and dine alone, but we did. It was like a traveling supper club. We did have dinner every night for two months and I've known these people all my life. I've known Tom since we were 25. I've been Judi Dench's love interest three times. I've been married to Penelope Wilton twice. I've been her doctor once. So we know each other pretty well and I now know every theatrical anecdote available. There are no stories left that I don't know.

SIEGEL: That's what two weeks of dinner - if you're invited to dinner with (unintelligible), it's all talked out already.

: Yeah. No. I know everything. Please.

SIEGEL: You play a retiree in this and you're in your 60s. Is this a foretaste of your character that's coming up? A lot of, you know...

: I think it could be a sign of things to come. Yeah. You know, the next thing, I'll be playing very ill people with tubes in various places. But, yeah. No. I don't know, but I figure, yeah, I guess it's probably - it could be a signal.

SIEGEL: Time for King Leer in a suit, perhaps?

: No. That will never happen. Well, maybe in a suit. Yeah. Maybe.

SIEGEL: I did look online at a video of how you played Davy Jones in "Pirates of the Caribbean."


SIEGEL: How did you figure dialect for Davy Jones?

: Well, I wanted something that was unlike anyone else in the movie. They'd already done "Pirates" one and I was in two and three. I wanted something that didn't repeat anything anyone else had done. There were lots of Irishmen in the movie. There were west country English burrs and I wanted something that could be powerful and spooky, you know, something scary and that particular accent - I met a guy on a train once, a very old guy and it was kind of, not entirely, but it was more or less based on him, an old Scotsman.

SIEGEL: Do you find yourself doing that? When you have a part, do you think of somebody who made an impression and you...

: Sometimes. Yeah. I do like to fool around with accents sometimes and some of it is subliminal. You meet so many people and then you're working on a part and something pops up and you speak in a way that must be - it's something that you heard sometime and you've kind of forgotten it, but it's remained in your mind in some way.

SIEGEL: Is it true that we owe your acting career to the fact that you were unqualified to become a journalist?

: It's absolutely correct. I went to - when I was a kid, I was very taken with Ernest Hemingway as a young man. As a boy, I read everything he wrote. I wanted to be like him and I read that he had been a cub reporter on the Toronto Star when he was 17 and I figured I'd do the same thing, except I wasn't anywhere near Toronto. But I went to the Croydon Advertiser and I didn't have enough credentials. I didn't have enough O levels, which is what they called them in those days. In other words, I hadn't passed enough exams, so they sent me away.

SIEGEL: You were also going to match Hemingway by writing a novel.

: Yeah. I ran away to Paris so that I could be more like him. I did everything in Paris that you're supposed to do except write anything. I didn't get around to putting pen to paper.

SIEGEL: You didn't write anything?

: No. I didn't write a word, so there is a way of looking at my acting career as a kind of - as one long monument of displacement activity, really. It's just what you do if you're trying to avoid writing anything and it did kind of turn out like that. It started out like that, rather.

Then I started to get interested in acting, truly interested in acting, in the theatre and I started to want to be good and I met some writers. I met David Hare, Tom Stoppard, Harold Pinter and I was fortunate to work with all those people who I consider to be some of the greatest writers currently working. That really got me interested and the nuts and bolts of acting began to fascinate me. Then I sort of properly became an actor, I think.

SIEGEL: Well, Bill Nighy, we're all very pleased that your writing career worked out so badly for you, that you were reduced to becoming such a terrific actor. Thanks a lot for talking with us.

: Thank you very kindly.

SIEGEL: Bill Nighy appears in the new film, "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.