Bill Nighy ('Valkyrie')
Bill Nighy is one of Britainís most recognisable character actors and has appeared in some of the most best loved films on both sides of the Atlantic, from "Love Actually" to "Underworld".
In fact, Nighy has also completed another "Underworld" film, is deliciously droll in the upcoming Richard Curtis comedy "The Boat That Rocks," stars with guinea pigs in Jerry Bruckheimerís upcoming "G Force" and in the meantime stars opposite Tom Cruise as one of several German officers plotting to assassinate Hitler in the closing days of World War 2, in "Valkyrie."
Chatting with Bill Nighy via phone from the filmís New York press junket, I first wondered if this character he played in "Valkyrie" had been played understated on purpose; or had it been in the script? (Nighy) - "Itís something that I worked on, I suppose you could say. Itís how it occurred to me. Itís not in the script, particularly, except that itís made plain in the script, that the way heís presented, as much as heís presented in the script, is that he was a hesitant, diffident, cautious man. So I suppose that the idea of that somehow would to some degree have informed my decision to kind of keep it low key. And I thought that might work, and get peopleís attention in the midst of all the hullaballoo."
What was the attraction of doing this, for you? "Well, there was Brian Singer, whoís a serious man. Tom Cruise is in it. And itís a great story. Iím interested in that period."
Why? "Well, I donít know, really, why, but maybe itís an English thing, or a European thing. I canít have nostalgia for it, obviously, because I wasnít quite around at that time, but everybody I know of my generation are kind of fascinated by it. I did read once that everyone has a kind of nostalgia for the period 60 years before they were born. I mean, before now, kind of thing. Itís a sort of perennial thing. Everyone has a kind of generalized nostalgia for a period of that length of time before. But, I donít know. Obviously itís a very evocative time and it was Ė you know, the stories are very big there. It was a time when our country, England, was briefly unified and that people were democratized by being in great peril. So it was a very interesting time, socially and culturally."
Are you one of these guys who immerses themselves into the research? Or do you feel that you had enough on the page? "I have enough on the page. Iím not famous for research. I did read around the subject, simply because Iím interested anyway. I read The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, which is the most extraordinary book. But no, I knew everything I needed to know and notes were provided about all of our characters, so I had a pretty in-depth profile of Friedrich Olbricht before I played him. So I knew the kind of basic, significant events in his life."
Are any of his family still alive, do you know? "Yes, I believe they are. And we are taking the movie to Berlin for the European premiere in January, so Iím expecting, perhaps, to meet some of them. Itís a tricky one, because obviously, as history and the film presents it, he was instrumental in the whole thing kind of falling apart, although he was involved in the resistance for they were honourable men. They had to swear an allegiance to Adolph Hitler, but they didnít become members of the Nazi Party. They came from a very, very strong military tradition and they were shamed by the fact that their Commander-in-Chief was an incompetent corporal. Quite apart from the fact that he was a lunatic."
In fact, itís interesting, because none of you wear Nazi uniforms in this and Iím wondering whether or not the reality of that period was that they would be able to get away with that? "Yeah, no, thatís all pretty accurate. They were able, at that point, to get away with it and I suppose some of it would be due to their usefulness as military commanders. He was a very senior man. He was a bureaucrat, really, although he had seen action, but he was in a very senior position, and therefore could probably get away with it."
Did you guys make fun of Tom Cruise at all, being the kind of American outsider of the group?! "No. There was never any feeling of that, really. Heís a very easy, satisfying guy to work with. And we all got along pretty well, and we slipped into a nice ensemble feeling. There was never any hint that he was Ė you know, head of the studio, or any of that kind of status crap. He was a democrat about things. I never felt that, and I donít think anybody else did."
Did you, Ken Branagh and Terence Stamp kind of sit around and swap stories? "Yeah. I have more stories now than when I started the film, that's for sure," he laughs. "Between Kenneth Branagh and Terence Stamp, thereís nothing else you need to know. They have it covered, between show business and music. I mean, the great thing about Terence is, you can go up to him at any time and say, ďOkay, Terry. what about Bob Dylan?Ē And heíll say, ďOh, yeah. What a lovely man.Ē You know. Or you can ask him, ďWhat was it like being on the helicopter that took The Who into the Isle of Wight Festival?Ē There are a million stories he has. And Kenneth, obviously, has many stories, too. So I was well-placed."
Now, you and Ken also worked together on "The Boat That Rocks," which is a very different dynamic; working on a Richard Curtis film. How do you compare working on a pure British film like that, with working on a big Hollywood movie like "Valkyrie"? "Well, in terms of the size of things, itís pretty much the same, really. I suppose that there wasnít much difference, in that both have a reasonable amount of money. I donít know that thereís a great deal of difference, given that most of the cast, or a large part of the cast on Valkyrie were English anyway. But itís a different vibe although when youíre telling a grim story, people do tend to try and fool around in the meantime, because otherwise, you go crazy. So there was quite a lot of goofing around on the set on both movies. But with Richard Ė well, you know, itís obviously a very different kind of movie, but we had some good fun. There are some great people in it. Philip Seymour Hoffman, who is marvellous and Nick Frost, Rhys Ifans, loads of young guys and some young comic assassins on board. And we floated around on a boat for five weeks, and then we did a lot of studio stuff."
This is loosely based on history, but you really throw the history away, donít you? "Yeah. Itís incredibly loosely based on events surrounding the pirate radio stations at that time. You know, the main events the main sort of plot mechanics are true. They were Ė you know, they discovered that you couldnít Ė the BBC played, I think, one hour of rock and roll per week in those days. So if you wanted to hear the new music, you couldnít find it. So then the pirates came along. And they were called pirates, as you probably know, because they were on boats, obviously. And they were three miles outside of territorial waters. And then you could pump all the new rock and roll into England. And it was great for me when I was a kid, I remember, bcause you could finally hear all that stuff. And the government did declare them illegal, and they did chase them, and they did close them down. So, those main events are reflected in the movie, but mostly, itís a shameless excuse to play all the songs in 1967. And it was a pretty good year."
What kind of groups did he get? "Youíve got The Stones, youíve got The Kinks, youíve got The Small Faces, youíve got Jimi Hendrix, youíve got The Turtles. Weíve got some Beatles. Iím not sure if they got The Beatles yet, but I hope they got The Beatles. Thereís some soul music in there, like some of the Motown stuff. I think thereís a Supremes song in there, so itíll be a hell of a soundtrack album!"
Back To Archives