ENTERTAINMENT
11/11/2011 06:46 GMT | Updated 11/01/2012 05:12 GMT

Bill Nighy, Star Of 'Arthur Christmas' On Voice Work, Red Carpets And The Magic Of Christmas

"I like Zooey Deschanel very, very, much. If she's in something I'm always quite keen to watch.' Gentlemanly British actor Bill Nighy is talking about one of his favourite leading ladies, who turns up in his favourite Christmas films, too - Elf as it happens.

However, his fondness for American actress Deschanel doesn't mean that Elf surpasses his new festive flick, Arthur Christmas, in terms of Yule-time film greatness.

In the new Aardmen animated flick, Nighy turns into cantankerous old Grand Santa, full of charming one-liners like: "They used to say it was impossible to teach women to read."

Arthur Christmas director Sarah Smith knew that Nighy would be perfect for the role, "I looked at my comic heroes in their Grand Santa years. I kept looking for that roguish spirit, and Nighy has that in spades, he's just naughty in a fun way, he's somebody you want to spend a movie with, and you want him to be your naughty grandfather."

But how did Nighy find the voice work - compared to his on-screen roles in Box Office hits such as Love Actually, the final Harry Potter films (he played Minister Rufus Scrimgeour) and Pirates of the Caribbean (as the much-disguised villain Davy Jones)?

"I like doing the voice work, it's quite interesting to just focus on the voice and not have to worry about anything else.

"I quite like the obsessive nature of acting, you have to do scenes over and over, but with animation you have to do them over and over and over, endlessly, over a long period of time.

"And they keep bringing you in over two years and you have to do hours of trying to get the line, because they have technical considerations and because of the drawing and the character, they have to get it minutely correct.

"I don't mind that though, because you really do feel like you've done a day's work."

READ: Our interview with Nighy's Arthur Christmas co-star James McAvoy.

Work-shy is something Nighy is not. Away from our interview, the Bafta-winning actor tells me how, when he left school, he wanted to be like Ernest Hemingway and went around badgering newspapers for a job doing anything involving writing...

"It was what I wanted to do when I left school, I went to the Croydon Advertiser, my brother knew a bloke there, and asked if I could be an intern or something. But I didn’t have enough O-levels - I only had two and you needed five – he said: 'If you go away and get them you can come back'.

"In the end I went down the youth employment with my mum because I wanted to be a writer, and Ernest Hemingway had written for the Kansas Star and the Toronto Star when he was a kid, and I thought journalism would be a way in to being a writer and I also thought I'd get a good mac and a good hat, and a girl, and it would be raining, and it would be Yugoslavia, and I'd be very glamorous. So I was a mess basically.

"But I did get a job on the Field Magazine as a messenger and I did the coffee and the errands. Lord Harmsworth who owned it said, after I'd been there for a while, if I did get shorthand and typing he'd put me in the sub-editors office, so it was all working out, but then I left and went off to Paris."

Nighy hasn't given up on writing - he recently wrote a blog for The Huffington Post UK on the G20 summit in fact, but he can't regret not making it his full-time career, as his much-lauded acting vocation is still going strong.

Not one to get wrapped up in the celebrity-circuit, Nighy has previously claimed to hate red carpets, so how did he feel when he was trotted out in front of the photographers and screaming fans - once again - for the Arthur Christmas premiere?

"Actually this premiere was absolutely OK. It was lots of kids and it was Christmas and it was also for Starlight, which did make a difference."

Nighy explains Starlight is a children's charity that helps make wishes of seriously ill and terminally ill children come true, for which he works as an ambassador. Keen not to miss an opportunity to showcase the cause close to his heart, Nighy jokes: "So if you buy my charity single Make Someone Happy, from the movie - you don't have to listen to the record, I wouldn't blame you if you didn't, it's me for a start - but you would be contributing to Starlight."

It's this lack of arrogance and kind nature that has made Nighy so enduringly popular, from his decades on the British dramatic stage and in small, offbeat comedies, to his scene-stealing supporting roles in a number of mainstream American hits after the age of 50.

Now he's added Arthur Christmas - a film that is very sentimental about Christmas - to his very long-list of film credits, we wondered if he's still sentimental about the festive season himself?

"I'm sort of institutionalised, you know that it's all being commercialised, but who cares? In the end there are special moments.

"When you're a parent it's all about the fact that your child or children will at some point be transported, hopefully not just glutted with gifts, but there are moments when you hope it expresses something other than consumption. And I like roast potatoes, I love crispy roast potatoes more than anything else."

Nighy is clearly no Scrooge, but does he think Christmas is less magical now technology has helped bring it into the 21st century? "Yeah it probably is, if you went back in time," Nighy admits. "But I don't know that, we'd all be a bit lost without music. Also, if you went back in time to when people just got an orange, my dad always said when I was a kid 'we only got an orange' and I’d say 'yeah alright just get me a bike, just shut up,'"

Schooled in the art of film press junkets, Nighy doesn't miss one last opportunity to plug his new film in his own charming way: "I think there's still opportunities for magic, like Arthur Christmas, or whatever movie you like, and that can bring you a magical feeling."

Arthur Christmas is in cinemas from Friday 11 November. Watch the trailer below...