Bill Nighy (1949-) b. Caterham, Surrey, England.
Bill Nighy, like Ian McKellen before him, has learnt there is no age-ceiling on career breakthrough. No one does ageing hedonist like Nighy, perhaps because he’s packed away some wild living in his youth. He was born in Caterham, Surrey – his father managed a garage and his mum was a psychiatric nurse. Nighy left school aged 15, and took a job as a messenger boy at The Field magazine in Mayfair.
He attended Guildford school of Dance and Drama in the late 1960s and jumped right into acting when getting his first role at the Watermill Theatre in Berkshire, where he had six lines in the Tennessee Williams play, The Milk Train Does Not Stop Here Anymore. The young actor went on to the Everyman Theatre in Liverpool, where he raised anarchy with the likes of Pete Postlethwaite, Julie Walters and the late Kevin Lloyd. The actors formed a travelling theatre group called Van Load, where they performed at borstals, pubs and even a few prisons. In the early 1980s he met his partner, actress Diana Quick, at the National Theatre while working together on Map of the World. Nighy made his film debut in Little Lord Fauntleroy (1980), then began appearing in further small roles on screen, including films like spy thriller Eye of the Needle (1981), The Curse of the Pink Panther (1983) and political thriller The Little Drummer Girl, a based on the John Le Carré novel.
However, Nighy’s unhealthy drinking habit, coupled with a drug habit to help him drink, finally began taking its toll. After getting treatment at a drying-out clinic for his personal demons, Nighy stopped in 1992 and never went back. In 1998 he landed what would become one of his best remembered comedic performances in Still Crazy (1998), as the aging egotistical lead singer of a disbanded rock group seeking to make a comeback. The actor continued to improve his lot with several higher profile roles; including Peter Cattaneo’s Lucky Break (2001) and the quirky period romance I Capture the Castle (2003). Nighy’s global breakthrough came with the Richard Curtis-directed romantic comedy, Love, Actually (2003), reprising his Still Crazy role as an aging washed-up rocker attempting a big comeback, Nighy subsequently stole the film from a stellar ensemble cast.
Nighy’s star continued to rise and he became one of Britain’s most prolific and versatile actors with a comic turn in the Simon Pegg/Edgar Wright horror spoof Shaun of the Dead (2004), a BAFTA Award Best Supporting Actor role in Roger Michell’s slow-burning psychological drama Enduring Love (2004), and the role of a greedy British official in Fernando Meirelles’ adaptation of the John le Carré novel The Constant Gardener (2005). Mainstream Hollywood success followed with support roles in action-adventure films including Underworld (2003) and its sequel, Underworld: Evolution (2006), the kids film Stormbreaker (2006), and fabled pirate Davey Jones in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (2006), and the third installment, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (2007).
Nighy returned to more traditional low-key roles playing Cate Blanchett’s older husband in Richard Eyre’s Notes on a Scandal (2006), an adaption of Zoe Heller’s tale of twisted love. He also rejoined Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright to make a brief cameo appearance in the action spoof Hot Fuzz (2007). Nighy will again be reunited with Richard Curtis in The Boat That Rocked (2009), a 60s period comedy based on the misadventures of a pirate radio station in the North Sea.