" Long famous in England for his roles on stage, screen, and television, veteran actor Bill Nighy made his major U.S. splash as Davy Jones in the Pirates of the Caribbean series and as a vampire in Underworld: Evolution. Nighy now reprises his vampire role in Underworld: Rise of the Lycans.
Izumi Hasegawa: When you signed on for Underworld originally, did you know that there was going to be a prequel later down the road?
Bill Nighy: I had no idea at all. I walked in off the street and met a nice young man called Len Wiseman who had a camcorder, who said, "How tall are you, and have you been working lately?" And then he said, “Would you like to do the vampire thing now?” and I did it, and he gave me the gig on the spot. I had no expectation of getting the job. It was just one of those things that you did then -- you just walked in, you did dozens of those kind of interviews, and I turned out to be a vampire enthusiast. I do like vampires and I liked that script. Underworld 1, I thought, was very hip and very slick. I don't mean in funny like a joke, but kind of witty. Any film that contains glass bullets, that contain harnessed daylight, is kind of up my street. I like all that vampire stuff and I just had a very good time...apart from the fact that I had six hours in makeup and it took two hours to take off, which was horrendous and medieval, and they will never be allowed to do that to me again. Apart from that, I was very happy to be in it. I had no idea there would be another one, and the fact that they made it for very little money... They were all first-time filmmakers -- very nice guys -- Len Wiseman, Danny McBride...and they're believers. They're proper enthusiasts; they didn't just make some vampire movie -- they chose to make a vampire movie as their first movie. It's their thing. And the fact that it went straight in at number one in America, and now we're on number three, is very cool and it's very satisfying. It makes me feel good.
IH: Do the six hours of makeup help you get into character?
BN: No, it doesn't help anything in any way whatsoever. It's just awful and, luckily, I only ever had to do it in the first one. I never have to do it again. Pirates is computer-generated, thank god. I didn't have to wear any of it. They put me in a prosthetic truck with these very nice guys who, for six hours, apply, with industrial adhesive, chunks of latex to your body so that you can barely move. They then put contact lenses in and fangs, and then nobody will have lunch with you anymore. [Laughs] It's horrible. There's nothing that's good about it. I listened to the complete works of The Rolling Stones while they put it on. They said, “Do you have any tunes you like?” And I'd just bought the complete works of The Rolling Stones for the third time in my life, and I said, “Yeah, I like The Rolling Stones.” So they played every tune The Rolling Stones ever did while you stand there, and then when they take it off, it brings lumps of flesh with it. So when they rip it off, they chip it off with stiff brushes and 99% alcohol, like you were wallpapering an old house. So this is not helping me act. [Laughs] There's no part of it that prepares me to play the role or anything like that. It's just awful. You just count your money.
IH: What is the joy of playing the vampire?
BN: Well, I get to do things that I don't get to do in other parts. I get to kill werewolves with one hand, I bring down a twelve-foot werewolf, and I get to occasionally pretend to wield a sword, although in fact there's a very nice man called Paul Shapcott who looks remarkably like me, who does the bulk of the work, and when it gets serious, he takes over. But I like the fact that I get to hiss at people. There are whole scenes with Michael Sheen and I, with no dialogue whatsoever, where we simply try and hiss louder and longer than each other. It gets stupid, and I dig it when it's daft. And when they shout, “Cut,” you just fall apart laughing because it's so stupid but so cool. I like the fact that I wear a battle skirt and fangs. How many times do you get to wear a battle skirt? And it feels cool, and I get very cool armor, and I look kind of manly. I don't normally play masculine-type roles. I get people who are falling apart, or sad people who are middle-aged and shy and lame. I don't very often get to play alpha male, so this is near as I get.
IH: In the first movie, we don't get to see your character’s true colors right away, so in this movie will we know that he's not such a nice guy right from the get-go?
BN: Yeah, he's just absolutely appalling in this movie. I mean really, really as bad as it could possibly get. It's unforgivable stuff. There's no question about his true colors are revealed. I'm about 2,000 years younger, which is cool. [It] was a bit of stretch, obviously, but it's the origins of the Underworld story. And you get to see the origins of the werewolf/vampire split and the great rift. He is undeniably, absolutely, completely appalling. There is nothing that one can say that in any way redeems him. He just behaves incredibly badly.
IH: So what do you look like in the prequel 2,000 years younger?
BN: Pretty much the same as I did. I'm probably about 8,000 years old, and once you get to 8,000, really, there's not a lot of shift. [Laughs] I look a bit whiter, frankly. I look terrible, but I look a bit more like Nosferatu than I ever did before. [Laughs] And I am six years older, so I guess I look worse.
IH: Do you normally get characters who are middle-aged? Did this Underworld character open your door to play a different character which you have never been offered, like the Pirates?
BN: I do normally play old people, because I am quite old. I can do the aging. I play aging rock stars because, not least, I can do the aging quite well. Maybe Underworld is the beginning, middle, and the end of my action career. I have zero interest, frankly, in fighting. I have minus interest in horse riding. If a stuntman walks towards me, I get immediately depressed. [Laughs] I don't have any aspirations in that way. I'm happy that I’m made to look good by Paul Shapcott, my stunt double, but I don't think that I'm suddenly going to get a new range of parts like macho men or anything. It's just not going to happen. [Laughs]
IH: Where was this filmed?
BN: This one was filmed in Auckland, New Zealand. I would love to go there again and I would film all the films I ever film in Auckland. Very cool crew, lovely people, great food, wonderful place. They have, since Lord of the Rings, [made] a lot of films down there. There were about four or five films down there while we were filming -- American films mostly. There was a film down there filming called The Laundry Worrier, with Geoffrey Rush and Danny Huston, which was described as a Korean Western, which I'm looking forward to, and I think James Cameron was down there filming as well, and Peter Jackson was filming something. It's a very busy place. We did Budapest for the first one, Canada for the second one, and New Zealand for this one, and I liked them all.
IH: What's it like working with first-time directors? 'Cause Len [Wiseman] was new to it, and now Patrick [Tatopoulos] is with this one...
BN: I hardly ever worked with any other kind. Love Actually was a first-time director; Shaun of the Dead was a first-time director; Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy was a first-time director; Underworld was a first-time director. There's another one somewhere. But it was absolutely marvelous working with Patrick. And you would have never thought he was a first-time director. He has a real flair for it. He certainly, from my point-of-view, was exemplary. He was very sharp on the story, very hip about tuning the performance, marvelous visually, given his background, and you had no sense that he was finding his way. He seemed to come fully formed.
IH: Are you ever hesitant to work with a first-time director?
BN: Not really. If the script is any good, I generally go with the script if I am hesitant about directors. With a first-time director, he hasn't made any mistakes yet, and I've been used to it over the years, so it no longer freaks me out. And I tend to be optimistic about it, rather than pessimistic.