ENTERTAINMENT
26/08/2011 12:15 BST | Updated 27/03/2014 12:59 GMT

Bill Nighy Interview: Very British Charmer Stars In BBC Political Thriller 'Salting The Battlefield'

Bill Nighy stars tonight, Thursday 27 March, in 'Salting The Battlefield', the concluding part of 'The Worricker Trilogy', penned and directed by his great friend and collaborator Sir David Hare.

Once again, Bill is Johnny Worricker, veteran MI5 agent, who's been forced to go on the run, following the events of the first of the series, 'Page Eight', which saw come up against a very self-interested Prime Minister, played with cool poison by Ralph Fiennes.

Bill Nighy stars as Johnny Worricker in 'Salting the Battlefield' the final of three instalments

This instalment sees Johnny Worricker on the run in Europe, with reunited companion Margot, played warmly by Helena Bonham-Carter. However, Johnny knows he can't go on the run forever, and will have to take on his enemies, back on home turf, if he is to live out a life of more gentle retirement.

Bill Nighy sat down with HuffPostUK two years ago when 'Page Eight' first aired and, to further prove the actor's enduring appeal, we thought it worth posting the interview again below....

“Never go anywhere you have to wear brown shoes,” is just one of the pieces of sartorial advice Bill Nighy is happy to share on a rainy afternoon in London.

He has plenty more up his well-cut sleeve, what he called his many “fashion fetishes”, but pauses abruptly when he catches sight of my own well-trodden pair of chocolate boots. We both take a silent moment, before he adds, “It’s all right, you’re a girl.”

I get the impression he’d cheerfully talk about clothes for hours - this dapper, whippet-thin, very British gentleman who reportedly never wears anything but a suit. Indeed, it occurs to me he might be keeping me on cuts and colours to slip out of answering anything more taxing, but it appears a very genuine enthusiasm.

Nevertheless, we move on to Page Eight, his latest political thriller that cuts at the heart of the British establishment only to uncover the rot within, in this case MI5. This seems familiar Nighy territory – after roles in State of Play, The Constant Gardener – so can he explain the appeal to actor and viewer alike of this enduringly popular genre?

“I think we like getting up close to these pedestals of power,” ponders Nighy, taking a sip of his second espresso of the afternoon. “These dramas are the closest most of us get to having a good look at the type of people actually running everything. And then we realise there are great cracks in these columns.”

This discussion takes Nighy swiftly into more reflective mode, that all that glistens is by no means gold, both in corrupted stately corridors and, for him, people:

“One of my great regrets, and I don’t have many, is that I spent too long putting people’s status and reputation ahead of their more important qualities. I learned far too late in life that a long list of letters after someone’s name is no guarantee of compassion, kindness, humour, all the far more relevant stuff.”

This is quite an admission and goes some way to explaining why Nighy has worked with several celebrated peers over and over again. He works so regularly with Stephen Poliakoff he almost occupies the position of male muse (indeed, when I interviewed Poliakoff recently in his office, a huge poster of Nighy gazed down at us).

Page Eight reunites Nighy with his Constant Gardener colleagues Ralph Fiennes and Rachel Weisz, both of whom he praises highly, although he reserves his strongest rapture for the achievements of Sir David Hare, in his first writer-director outing for 21 years.

“It’s a wonderful shortcut working with the same people,” says Nighy. “You witness the versatility of their talent, their intelligence, but they wouldn’t have done it for anyone but David. We just trust him implicitly.”

Nighy’s fondness for his colleagues is quite apparent. In fact, the start of our interview was only delayed by five minutes for two reasons, one his anguish when he discovered some books he’d meant to give to Sir David had been left on the sofa, and the other when he made a quick call to tell an actress (unnamed) how much he was looking forward to working with her - both the actions of a veteran charmer, but very thoughtful and one clue as to why he remains so popular and in demand by colleagues as much as his army of fans.

This trust in Hare is the same reason he’s content playing a lead role, of which there have been relatively few in a career stunning in its breadth.

When he hasn’t been frightening children as Minister Rufus Scrimgeour in the final Harry Potter films, he’s been stealing the show as an ageing rocker in Love Actually. Or jumping naked into public consciousness as a romantic rogue in The Men’s Room. (He’s shocked that I watched this – “Where were your parents?”)

Or fighting for the high seas as the much-disguised villain Davy Jones in two of the Pirates of the Caribbean films. So how did this last international mega-bucks enterprise contrast with his more arty small screen efforts?

“It didn’t jar at all, because Johnny (Depp) is such a democrat, such a team player,” Nighy explains. “He may be this incredibly high-profile figure, with everyone clamouring for him, but he’s able to leave that all behind and work with his team, and just be very, very human.”

This admiration for Depp’s down-to-earthness extends to Nighy’s own bemusement at his own high profile, and lack of time for the many trappings of celebrity and privilege at his disposal:

“I’m an old man,” he shrugs. (Not true, he’s 61, but very nippy with it, and would be welcomed on any dance floor of his choosing, something he would clearly run away from at a rate of knots.)

“I went to a shop opening once, by mistake, for about eight minutes," he remembers. "Literally went in one door and ran out the other.”

So we’re not likely to see him in the Celebrity Big Brother house any time soon, then?

“Certainly not,” he replies, the famously expressive Nighy eyebrows working overtime. “I hardly even leave my own house.”

Of course, whether he ventures down his garden path or not, one epithet travels with him everywhere, that business of being the thinking women’s...

“Ah yes, that funny business, which I always borrow from other people to answer. Christopher Hitchens called himself the drinking women’s crumpet, and an American actor once asked me if it meant some kind of bagel - which makes about as much sense as crumpet, really.

“I don’t take it remotely seriously. It seems to me if you get to a certain age, and you’re still working, and breathing, and have some hair, suddenly you become this beacon, but it’s entirely up to other people.”

In Page Eight, Nighy’s character, the troubled Johnny Worricker, has faith only in the knowledge that “the sun will come up in the morning and I will have a drink at six o’clock”. Does the actor rely on similar comforts, or indeed, what?

“Kindness, good humour, intelligence, rich conversation, all those things that, if we’re lucky, constantly surround us, but are simultaneously the most precious.”

I remember the books being rushed to Sir David before he catches his train, the quick phone call to his fellow actor. These qualities he admires in others this very British gentleman himself carries in abundance.

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'Salting The Battlefield' is on tonight, Thursday 27 March, on BBC2 at 9pm. The previous two instalments of the Worricker trilogy can be found on BBCiPlayer.

WATCH THE TRAILER HERE: