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Bill Nighy

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Bill Nighy on spies, squid and the importance of being dapper

You shot the new instalment of the Johnny Worricker spy trilogy on the Turks & Caicos islands – that must have been a pretty good gig…

Spies are associated with rain and darkness, whisky and shadows. I don’t respond well to that kind of [sunny] weather. I’m not going to take my top off ever, and I’ll never wear shorts. If you ever hear that I’ve been turning up my trousers, please start to worry.

The new Worricker shows have a great line-up: Winona Ryder, Christopher Walken, Helena Bonham Carter. Did you all hang out together outside of filming?

Christopher Walken is a particular hero of mine. Every word he speaks, every move he makes is poetic. He’s a great man, a great actor and one of the funniest people I’ve met. It’s literally like being punched in the stomach. It’s deeply unusual. He does it with such a straight face. Sometimes he’ll be quiet for a long time and you think he’s tuned out, and then he’ll come in with the funniest thing you’ve ever heard. Winona was also completely marvellous.

You’re currently shooting The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel 2. The first was a surprise hit – how do you feel about the rise of ‘silver cinema’?

‘A bunch of old people go to India’ shouldn’t really be box office dynamite, but in fact it took quite a lot of money. As a result, you were allowed, for a while, to explore the stories of people who were not 35. I don’t mind one way or the other, it doesn’t bother me.

You’ve become a bit of a pin-up for that genre. Have you been receiving fan mail?

If I do get letters, they don’t reach me. I don’t experience it – I’m usually working, and I watch a lot of football. That’s about the size of it, really.

You’re a Crystal Palace fan, is that right?

I am a Crystal Palace fan, and it’s a very good time. I don’t go to football matches very often, because I like to be near the kettle and I like action replays, as well as Alan Hansen at half-time. It’s basically what I do when I’m away – read, watch football and listen to music. Lately I’ve been reading – it’s not really anything to do with Johnny Worricker – but I’ve always wanted to play a spy, and I’ve always been interested in espionage literature and films, so I have been reading a series of novels by Charles McCarry, who is sort of like the American John Le Carré, except that he was also a spy.

You’re a dapper gent. Have you always been into Mod fashion?

It may have started out as being fashion, but now it’s more anti-fashion. I make no concessions to the current trends. I always go to the same shops – Margaret Howell, John Smedley for my leisurewear; John Pearse and Anderson & Sheppard to construct my suits; Church’s for my shoes and socks, and glasses from Cutler And Gross. But I’m not into parkas and I’m not into helmets. I do like the idea of being smart, it’s cool. But also it’s a sort of defensive thing – “You may not like me, but check out my outfit.”

You’ve been in some big blockbusters such as Harry Potter and Pirates Of The Caribbean. Do you enjoy those massive productions?

It’s great, it’s a revelation. Pirates was a great part, great script and those movies are beloved from kids to grown-ups. I don’t mind what genre, as long it’s not going to be a nuisance in the world and there’s dignity in it for everyone. If you call being a squid dignified. Which I do.

Did you have any embarrassing jobs in your early career?

Oh man, I had some terrible embarrassments. When I was at the Everyman Theatre in Liverpool we’d play parks, pubs, borstals and prisons. We’d go to these estates and take it in turns to dress as the Space Monster that had escaped from the Space Zoo. The kids that summer all had golf clubs – it was a fashion – and they beat the hell out of us in these padded suits. One time we got a police escort out of there – they were trying to turn the van over, they were having so much fun. Borstals, you were safe as houses.

You’ve worked with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost a few times now. What’s the attraction?

They make you laugh all the time without that weird compulsive thing where they have to be funny. They’re classy guys and I’m very fond of them both. And I’m very proud to be one of the select few who have been in all three of the Cornetto Trilogy.

You’re also a regular in Richard Curtis’s films. Would you be offended if you didn’t get the call for his next one?

Well, Richard says that he’s not going to direct any further movies. The terrible thing is that I probably agree with that, because for him it equals 1,000 days of tension.

Would you not fancy a stint behind the camera, then?

No. It’s a year of your life, if not more. I had the usual teenage aspirations to be a writer. I tried to be a journalist. I had a completely unreal expectation of being in Yugoslavia in the rain in a good coat interviewing beautiful terrorists. I was going to try to be Ernest Hemingway. I ran away to Paris to write the great English short story, didn’t write a word, and then someone said, “Why don’t you become an actor instead?”

Turks & Caicos (20 March) and Salting The Battlefield (27 March) are on BBC Two at 9pm

(Image: Rex Features)

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