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Bill Nighy on why he loves Kiwi women

Bill Nighy talks candidly about life, death and being chased down the street by Kiwi women.
Bill Nighy

Bill Nighy may not have the best impression of New Zealand. Thanks to his hilarious role in romantic comedy Love Actually, the British actor has gained popularity among young hens – but unfortunately for him, he happened upon a particularly overzealous brood the last time he was in Aotearoa.

“Hen’s parties are the only thing I avoid,” he explains. “If they spot me, I’m [stuffed]. I have been chased down the street in New Zealand by a group of girls wearing bin liners and horns. And I really had to run because they would have torn me apart.”

It’s an unusual consequence of the 2003 film that sent his star soaring after more than 20 years in the business – and it’s continuing to shine with the release of The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, the sequel to the hit about a group of pensioners who move into a dilapidated retirement hotel in India.

Bill acts alongside Judi Dench in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel movies.

With the clothes of a gent and the mouth of a sailor, Bill – who is currently decked out in a black Saville Row suit – knows he’s a bit of an enigma. Despite appearing in more than 100 films and TV shows, including the Harry Potter and Pirates of the Caribbean franchises, Bill has never watched a single thing he’s starred in. “Why would I?” he asks. “That would be unpleasant. Would you like to watch yourself for two and a half hours?”

It’s a fair point. But the highlight of his recent projects, he reveals, was working with the incomparable Dame Judi Dench. “She is so funny, and I really think she likes laughing more than acting,” Bill says of his The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel co-star.

“At one point, we had to dance together to Strangers in the Night, which [is] such a preposterous song, and she comes up to about there [on] me,” he recalls, pointing to his chest. “And I said, ‘I’m going to do the next take very tall.’ And she says, ‘So am I’! I had a wet spot right here [points to chest again] because she was weeping with laughter. It was her own fault.”

Of course, the sequel to the surprise box-office hit has given the pair an opportunity to work together again, and for Bill to reunite with Richard Gere (65), whom he first met on the set of Yanks – Richard’s break-out role.  “I didn’t make the screen,” says Bill, who adds there was no rivalry with the Pretty Woman star on set, because “if you stand beside Richard Gere, you become invisible. Briefly, to women at least.

“He was probably 25, 26 [in Yanks] and he was very easy to work with,” Bill continues. “And he was mad about being in this film. He’s mad about India.” The Golden Globe award winner, who split from his partner of 27 years, Diana Quick, in 2008, was as surprised as anyone that the first film made any money, but was “delighted” by its success.

“A bunch of old people heading off to India didn’t seem like box-office dynamite,” he concedes. “I was pleased. It was satisfying from every point of view, and also for exploding marketing myths that such films cannot prosper.” At the sprightly age of 65, Bill’s never been busier, with roles, including one in the highly-anticipated Dad’s Army remake, flooding in. And while he agrees that he could be deemed a workaholic, Bill’s adamant he won’t be giving it all up anytime soon. “I’m hoping not to retire. What do we hope for? Go to bed and don’t wake up, I suppose. I probably think about death 12 times a day.

Bill was reunited with Love Actually director Richard Curtis in 2013’s time travel romcom About Time.

I measure my life in Champion’s Leagues [a European football competition]. How many do I have left? “I don’t know if I am a workaholic… I probably am. I used to structure my life around work, which a lot of people do. But I’m very lucky that I get offered very cool things.”

He admits to doing some “terrible” projects too, though he refuses to name them. “There were a couple where I could have made some money, but you find there’s a line you don’t want to cross.” But what he doesn’t regret, he insists, is the role that gets him chased down our streets by slightly drunk bridesmaids – even at Christmas time, when Love Actually is reliably repeated by most TV channels. “That would be churlish to regret because it made everything possible. It’s a nice movie. It’s not a bad thing in the world. Long may it reign.”

Vivenne Archer & Piers Manning

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