Bill Nighy on Playing Older Parts and the “Terrible Roles” He’s Been Offered

Actor Bill Nighy

“I never expected to be as fortunate as I’ve been and I’ve been able to play all kinds of roles.” – Bill Nighy

Bafta and Golden Globe-winning actor Bill Nighy has starred in a number of fan-favorite roles, particularly in the last dozen years, and that came on top of almost three decades of experience he already accrued as an actor. In Their Finest, he plays one of his most enjoyable roles — a hammy actor, and Nighy has a lot of fun with it. Speaking with Coming Soon, Nighy looks back on his career and reflects on how his roles have changed as he has aged.

Nighy points out that like his character in Their Finest, he has been offered some awful acting roles in the past. However, what he found harder to cope with was playing older roles. He explains, “I have been offered some terrible roles in the past. The thing that most think of in that respect is, I remember taking a phone call when I was almost 40. Maybe 39. My agent rang up and said, ‘Darling, it’s Hamlet. It’s 18 months. It’s a tour. It’s Moscow and Tokyo.’ I said, ‘I don’t want to play Hamlet.’ She said, ‘Oh no. Not Hamlet. They want you to play Claudius.’ And you realize that suddenly you’re Hamlet’s uncle and that’s all you’ll ever be. That was a watershed. It’s like the first time when you get kids when you’re 32. Suddenly, you’re playing a part with four children. Rachel McAdams had my first movie grandchild. I have actually just become a grandfather. So that’s all as it should be. But there are a lot of those little landmarks as you go along. There’s a tricky period in your late 30s and early 40s where you sort of examine your face in the mirror as you’re sharing, if you can bear to look. Your agent says, ‘Well, they like you, they’re just looking at other options.’ And you’re like ‘Am I too old? Is that what you’re trying to tell me?’ Luckily, I passed that stage a long time ago. It’s great! It doesn’t matter how I look. I mean, I don’t have to be in a certain kind of shape for anything. I’m just that guy that is that age and that’s it. It’s a relief.”

While Nighy won’t have the opportunity to play Hamlet anymore, he doesn’t feel like he’s missed out on any specific roles in his long career. He says, “I’ve been so fortunate. It’s all a bit of a surprise. I never expected to be as fortunate as I’ve been and I’ve been able to play all kinds of roles. I’ve worked with some of the best writers in the world and some of the best directors and actors… I recently played a spy. I waited a long time to play a spy. I’ve been a vampire. I’ve played a squid. I’ve got it covered.”

Leave a Reply
‘Call Me By Your Name’ Star Timothée Chalamet: “What scares me is being boring”
"At a certain point I was able to come to grips with the idea to just 'be.'" - Timothée Chalamet
‘Phantom Thread’ Star Lesley Manville: “It’s so easy to make someone bad look good on film. In theatre, there’s no hiding place”
"Filming is different. You’re getting a moment right. You can go in and create something very good, very quickly. That’s a different challenge to having five, six weeks to rehearse a play.” - Lesley Manville
Chadwick Boseman on ‘Black Panther’ and How He Refocused His Career
"As soon as I came to L.A., things immediately shifted for me." - Chadwick Boseman
Bernadette Peters on Returning to Broadway and Why She is Still Trying to Improve Her Craft
"You have to do your best to fulfill the role, not fulfill yourself" - Bernadette Peters
Ellen Pompeo: “Acting, to me, is boring”
"Anybody can be good on a show season one and two. Can you be good 14 years later? Now, that's a f*ckin' skill." - Ellen Pompeo