Bill Nighy discusses making more Pirates movies and embodying one of cinema's most interesting special effects
As one of the world's most consistent and dependable character actors, Bill Nighy might not look like the type to inhabit the body, mind and soul of dead man, Davy Jones. However in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, Nighy certainly proved that looks can be deceiving. Outfitted in multiple layers of digital effects, he gave life to a character of the sort we had never seen on screen before. Now in Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, Nighy gets to expand on the role that it seems only he can play.
As the age of piracy comes to a close, Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp), Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley) must sail off the edge of the map, navigate treachery and betrayal, and make their final alliances for one last decisive battle. Our heroes must face Lord Cutler Beckett (Tom Hollander), Davy Jones (Bill Nighy) and Admiral James Norrington (Jack Davenport) in a titanic showdown that could eliminate the freedom-loving pirates from the seven seas -- forever.
What do you enjoy the most about playing Davy Jones?
Bill Nighy: I like floating about on massive galleons in the caribbean night, on the ocean waves, hanging out with Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley and Geoffrey Rush and having a laugh. And, telling a big, fat, stupid, adventurous story and being in a set of movies that are as enthusiastically received as anything I've ever done in my career. I love playing half squid/half crab guy because you can get away with a level of acting that if you tried it anywhere else they'd arrest you for crimes against acting. So, its kind of cool.
Do think that At World's End is the end of the franchise? Would you consider coming back again as Davy Jones?
Bill Nighy: Yes, I would without question. I would jump at the chance. I don't know, I am not party to the discussions, the only thing that would prevent it really is if Johnny didn't want to do it. I don't know how he stands, I haven't discussed it with him, but if Johnny wanted to continue I don't see why they would stop, because, apart from the fact that they take in excessive of a billion dollars every time, you can't even think about its so much money. The people really seem to love them, I don't see why they shouldn't continue.
You're in a motion capture suit for the majority of your performance in At World's End? How does that effect how you act in those scenes when everyone around you is dressed up like Pirates?
Bill Nighy: Its not even how does it effect my performance its how does it effect my sense of myself as a man. Its like terrible, it's awful. The bad bit was the first week. The first week you walk on to a huge, American film set, everybody else looks fabulous. There's Johnny Depp, I mean, please, give me a break. There's Orlando Bloom, Geoffrey Rush, everyone looks fabulously piratey and then there's me. Dressed in a grey pajama suit with white bubbles all over and a silly hat. You look really lame, you know? It was one of the hardest weeks of my professional life, but they ran out of jokes on a Thursday so...
The characters in these films are so varied. Is it like that because of the environment that Gore Verbinski creates?
Bill Nighy: I'm not sure how it works out with the others. With me there was a degree of discussion. He's extremely attentive, he's a brilliant man, Gore, I can't say enough about him. He's a really, really serious guy. He did have specific notions and specific requirements from every character. Everything, I think, finally, is kind of tuned according to Johnny's performance as Jack Sparrow because its one of the greatest performances in cinema history, I think. Its just brilliant. As a comedy performance its fabulous and that sort of sets the tone, I guess, for the rest of the movie. You need some people to be serious, some people to be grim, some people to be scary at certain times.
What's sophisticated about the movie is that the characters aren't all black and white. They have complex stories and I think it just adds to the rich mix. You get all these crazy characters and everyone just has a story. I think the trick is to treat every element in the story with an equal amount of respect. That way you make a great movie. If you focus too much on one thing, at the expense of the other elements, than you may be in trouble.
When you play a character like this back to back in a second film is there an arc that you're looking to achieve as an actor?
Bill Nighy: I rely on the director to kind of guide me in that way and to tune it at any given point, and to limit the amount of information that comes out in the performance. You want the audience to find things out when they are required to find things out. You don't want to telegraph anything early. You want to save things up. You feel if you show too much anger or power now, how are you gonna top it later when you're required to be even more scary or whatever? Also, we didn't get the third script for awhile. It was maybe halfway through the second movie, I think? You try and pace it so that you can save a little for later. So that you can hit them with that and try and leak the story out at the appropriate moments.
Is your preparation to play an actor like Davy Jones different than lets say your preparation to play the Chief in Hot Fuzz?
Bill Nighy: Not really, its pretty much the same actually. The fact that I'm then involved in a technological process which is completely unfamiliar to me, and is something I've never done before, that's later. That's somebody else's department. I generally do the same thing. Which is, I try and think of some kind of guy who will fit into the requirements of the story. In this case, he wanted somebody who was different enough, powerful enough, with enough authority, and yet was human. Yeah, its pretty much the same.
What was that like for you when you first saw Davy Jones?
Bill Nighy: Honestly, I was completely astounded. I'm not just saying it, I was amazed. I watched it at Disneyland. They have the premieres at Disneyland. They close off... its mental. I've never seen so many people. Half of them are dressed as pirates, it's the longest red carpet. They screen the movie over the lake in the open air, and when Davy Jones came on my mouth dropped open. It was jaw dropping. I'd never seen anything like it.
What do you have coming up next?
Bill Nighy: Nothing I can talk about, boringly. It looks like its gonna be a busy time. The thing I've mostly been involved in lately is a project that is basically my project, which is this thing where I want to put great books on your iPod, read by great people. So basically, famous people reading your favorite book. Its called Silk Sounds. I read Edgar Allen Poe, we have the complete Sherlock Holmes, we've got Jules Verne, we've got Henry James. We've got some very cool people reading. The idea is that it would introduce younger people to great literature. You can download it on your iPod for a couple of bucks. The idea is that its ridiculously cheap and you get to hear some of the greatest books ever written, read entertainingly by some of your favorite actors.
Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End sets sail in theaters May 25 from Walt Disney Pictures.