Bill Nighy on Watching Himself on Screen and Not Falling into the Period Drama Trap

“It takes me quite a long time to recover if I see myself on screen. Because all my fears about my inadequacies are confirmed when I watch myself.” –

BAFTA Award-winning actor Bill Nighy stars as Mr. Woodhouse in the latest film adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel Emma, and it truly feels like the type of role that was written for him (although since the book was first published in 1815, that’s highly unlikely). Speaking about the film with The Guardian, Nighy reflects on something he still has a lot of trouble doing even in a career that has spanned six decades: watching himself perform on screen.

Nighy confesses that he finds watching himself on screen to be somewhat torturous, remarking, “You look terrible. Well, you look terrible according to you, unless you’re a weirdo and you look at yourself and you think, ‘Wow, I look pretty good.’ But I’m not one of those. So there’s that to get over, and then you’ve got to watch yourself act and see yourself not pulling off all those things you thought you might, this time, have pulled off. Instead, you did that default thing that you always do. You think, ‘I did that again? Are you serious?’”

The reason it is such a difficult experience for Nighy is that it affects his confidence in his acting. He explains, “The trouble is that confidence is a movable feast and I’m not famous for it. And, therefore, it takes me quite a long time to recover if I see myself on screen. Because all my fears about my inadequacies are confirmed when I watch myself. I know there’s an answer, and the answer is, get over yourself. But that’s hard. I suppose it’s a form of dysmorphia. I mean, I hope it’s a form of dysmorphia.”

An example Nighy gives to illustrate this is his performance in Emma, in which he feels actors tend to fall into a certain type of acting that has become standard in period drama. He says, “Everybody starts standing in a certain way and talking in a certain way. It’s the same with Shakespeare, or Chekhov. Or Harold Pinter: everyone’s got a weird voice. It’s odd how that style is handed down. I don’t think it’s even spoken about. And it’s very hard to resist. I mean, I’m not immune.”

More: Bill Nighy on Acting in Film: “I make it up as I go along”

About Author

In college, overachiever Christopher McKittrick double-majored in Film and English because he loves to read, write, and watch movies. Since then Chris – who was born and raised on Long Island, New York and currently lives in Queens – has become a published author of fiction and non-fiction, a contributor to entertainment websites, and has spoken about literature, film, and comic books at various conferences across the country when he’s not getting into trouble in New York City (apparently it’s illegal to sleep on street corners...) For more information about Chris, visit his website here!

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