Bill Nighy on his long relationship with the play ‘Skylight’
NEW YORK (AP) — Most people these days binge on “The Walking Dead” or “House of Cards.” Bill Nighy binges on Virginia Woolf.
The English actor known for such films as “Love Actually” and the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise is currently reading “The Voyage Out” — his fifth Woolf book in a row.
“It’s taken me all my life to get to Virginia Woolf and I realize, as usual, I’ve been postponing something completely marvelous,” he said. “I just find them completely compelling.”
That Nighy would be gorging on an eminent novelist from the inter-war period seems to speak to both the actor’s intellectual motor and his childlike glee. Actually, he’s in town for another sort of binge — his 10th project with playwright David Hare.
In the play “Skylight,” Carey Mulligan plays a woman who works at an inner-city high school and receives an unexpected visit one night from her ex-lover, a recently widowed and wealthy restaurateur played by Nighy.
It’s Nighy’s first return to the New York stage since 2006 and he admits to some nerves. “I just sit here thinking, ‘Why aren’t I on a film set with somebody bringing me a Snickers bar and a triple macchiato?’ I’m like, ‘Why do I put myself through this?’ Truly,” he said. “I’m not even kidding.”
Nighy has arrived at rehearsals at the Golden Theatre in one of his trademark tailored suits and a pair of dark-rimmed glasses. His sweepingly long hair, honest grace and self-depreciating charm have made him a sex symbol in his 60s.
Asking him about it makes him squirm a little. “I wouldn’t even dare to speculate what women think in that area. I just wouldn’t, honestly,” he said. “If you ever find me posing as an expert in that area, call a cab.”
“Skylight,” which has transferred from a well-received run in the West End last summer, also stars Matthew Beard, who plays Nighy’s son. Beard was terrified when he made his stage debut in London, but, to his delight, his older co-star constantly checked to make sure he was OK and happy.
“You can tell he has a great soul just from watching him. But knowing how far that reaches, how much he truly does care passionately about everyone he’s working with, is incredible,” Beard said.
Nighy, whose latest films include “Pride” and “The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” remembers first seeing “Skylight” when it made its world debut in 1995 in London starring Michael Gambon in the role he is now playing. Nighy was “bowled over.”
“When I saw ‘Skylight,’ I sword-fenced all the way home, as it were. Like, when you were a kid and you went to the pictures and you’d see a sword-fighting movie you would sword-fight all the way home,” he said. “Or if you saw a gangster movie, you’d shoot and jump over cars and hide behind trees. I was exactly like that when I saw ‘Skylight.’”
Nighy first tried his hand at the play in 1997 but only after first declining the offer three times. He agreed only after Hare finally called. Nighy admits he was intimidated: “I invented it something out of my range.”
Picking up “Skylight” again is not part of Nighy’s pattern since he prefers debuting new works, including Tom Stoppard’s “Arcadia,” Joe Penhall’s “Blue/Orange” and Hare’s “Map of the World.” But “Skylight” is something special.
“It’s everything you think you like about the theater,” he said. “You’ll go to dinner skipping along the street and you’ll have something to talk about. You’ll have a bloody good laugh and you might have had a quiet cry in the dark.”
Nighy plans on doing his favorite things in New York for the next few months — reading, wandering, keeping an eye on his beloved Crystal Palace soccer team, listening to music and sitting in cafes. His idea of heaven is a book store with a coffee shop next door.
Presumably, we’ll find him somewhere sipping a latte with another Virginia Woolf book?
“Yes, I do tend to gorge. I think I’m a completist,” he said. “Often when you get into the company of a writer, you just want to stay. It becomes where you go every day.”