With Bill Nighy nominated for his first Academy Award at the age of 73, LIBBY PURVES PROVIDES A PROFILE OF THE EX-ALTERN BOY

Few Oscar nominations will spark more cheers across the land than Bill Nighy’s Best Actor citation for his performance in Living.

He already has a couple of Baftas and Golden Globes, as well as a string of nominations for some of his previous films, but we need to see this 73-year-old Brit at that point accept that trophy; Perhaps he shrugs off modest infidelity, and is definitely impeccably dressed—definitely devoid of make-up and imprudent Hollywood cosmetic alterations.

We all know Nighy and the roles we loved him in, especially since in middle age he ‘broken through’ after a long career in theater to be one of the more recognizable names in film.

Far from a seasoned academic star clinging to youth, his on-screen persona is grown up: the guise of a man battered by life and bad decisions, dryly self-deprecating, unpredictable, a little fallow, perhaps unreliable but certainly brilliant and thirsty. , a special blessing.

Bill Nighy was nominated for his first Oscar at age 73 (pictured: left to right, Anna Wintour, Bill Nighy and Diana Quick during Londonashion Week 2012)

Bill Nighy was nominated for his first Oscar at age 73 (pictured: left to right, Anna Wintour, Bill Nighy and Diana Quick during Londonashion Week 2012)

It’s not hard to believe that the real-life actor is a longtime recovering alcoholic, a man who still speaks of self-doubt and anxiety.

The point is that, like all good actors, he uses all of this, both weakness and strength, to bring his characters along.

I could watch Still Crazy every week — it’s about a rock band getting back together after they split up two decades ago — for its brilliant portrayal of a broken-down, washed-up rocker Ray.

In Richard Curtis’ Love Actually – seen as a major breakthrough for Negi and one that made him known to a wider audience – the reborn rock star’s role stands as a kind of relief against the more film-like elements.

You’ve seen him on stage too, notably when he returned to the West End in 2014 for David Hare’s Skylight, playing a recently widowed restaurateur who rekindles an old love.

The cute 73-year-old actor is in real life a longtime recovering alcoholic, a man who still speaks of self-doubt and anxiety.

The cute 73-year-old actor is in real life a longtime recovering alcoholic, a man who still speaks of self-doubt and anxiety.

He was even more tender here, curling around his ex-wife’s modest apartment in a smart coat and with head-shaking laughter: an Afghan hound strutting briskly in his graceful agility.

Bill Nighy has a high level of English – restrained but genuinely emotional, serious about his work but not himself. He’s the poster boy for the thinking woman (at least for those of us of a certain antiquity). And unusually, he seems to have come to us quite mature – only experienced theater-goers can remember his roles as a much younger man. But then his rise to stardom was gradual.

He grew up in Caterham, Surrey, the son of a nurse and garage manager, and served Mass as a Roman Catholic altar boy.

He left school with two O-levels, was a messenger on the local newspaper and then went to school to “impress the girls”. He ended up at the National Theater in his twenties, and on television The Men’s Room – a romance about two professors during the Thatcher years – enjoyed fairly regular work, although he spoke of acting as always a gamble, never a career.

For 27 years he was the partner of Brideshead actress Diana Quick, and during that time – several decades ago – he went into recovery.

He did not elaborate on this. But Nighy has not drunk alcohol since his early forties. He admitted to being a naturally addictive person, and said that after he gave up, he found himself drinking 15 cans of Diet Coke a day, or eating can after can of crackers.

In an interview, he told The Times: “A central fact of my life is that I have an unhealthy relationship with mood-altering chemicals, liquid or otherwise.

He left school with two A-levels, was a messenger on the local newspaper, and then went to school to 'impress the girls' (Pictured: Bill Nighy in the 2022 film, The Living)

He left school with two A-levels, was a messenger on the local newspaper, and then went to school to ‘impress the girls’ (Pictured: Bill Nighy in the 2022 film, The Living)

“The most important thing that happened to me was when I stopped. I take it very seriously and I’m so thankful that I don’t have to do any of that anymore.

He and Kwik separated in 2008, but they remain close and have a daughter, Mary, and two grandchildren.

Diana is a neighbour of mine, an occasional attendee here on the Suffolk coast, backing Aldeburgh cinema, always civil and humorous about acknowledging it and chatting to fans and locals.

He has no fear of his fans and has confessed his fondness for going to a local coffee shop for a proper breakfast.

There is no harsh DiCaprio-style pursuit of younger women. Recently, he’s often been photographed with an equally enigmatic and fascinating contemporary: Anna Wintour, editor-in-chief of Vogue.

The gossipper is eager to be an item but is the last person to shout about his own affairs.

We can suspect this extraordinarily chic pair—who have been linked since 2015 after appearing together at fashion shows, theaters, and restaurants—fall into passionate discussions about quality tailoring.

The accomplished actor grew up in Caterham, Surrey, the son of a nurse and garage manager, and served Mass as a Roman Catholic altar boy.

The accomplished actor grew up in Caterham, Surrey, the son of a nurse and garage manager, and served Mass as a Roman Catholic altar boy.

Nighy, frequently cited as one of our best men, loves his bespoke suits, gently criticizes the age of sloppy sportswear, and when asked why he isn’t a Shakespearean star—despite his actor’s heaviness and wide reading—gives an excellent answer: “I can’t Work in these kind of pants.”

It’s a bit unfair on Shakespeare’s principals in modern costume but – hell! – We know what it means. He’s simply not a guy in tights, razor blades, and puffy butts.

And for this, I suppose, Britain loves him more than ever. There’s something reassuring about the modest perfection of classic men’s tailoring, the kind of non-flashy elegance Nighy prefers. We’re grateful that a chap who wears such very good suits isn’t likely to show up in the celebrity jungle to air his love life.

And our love for him can only grow with his new movie, Living, which wins him a nomination. Here Nighy plays the best man in the suit. It’s set in 1953 and it’s the kind of English we miss — my dad, mainly.

It’s a fine performance, and it’s no surprise that screenwriter Kazuo Ishiguro, with his almost uncanny sensitivity to Old English restraint, just wanted Nighy and wrote the part around him.

Yet it is a role that transcends anything he has done before.

I’ve seen most of Nighy’s performances, from the Davy Jones he played – with a CGI octopus face in Pirates Of The Caribbean – to his performance as an unhappily married pensioner in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. In all of these roles and in more serious ones, there was always a likable streak of essential Nighy-ness: a sideways nod, the ‘them’ of observation, an irresistible admiration.

But here, as Mr. Williams, while himself recognizable, he is also a deeper character, none of that humour, and knowing the wit with which we associate him.

He is a man in his fifties, grieving over a dead wife and apparently emotionally dead to his adult children. He is another one in the bowler hat army of the Council and Government Staff in 1950s London.

Watching him take him to work brings back TS Eliot’s line comparing city crowds to Dante’s damned spirits: ‘The crowd poured over London Bridge, a lot. . . I didn’t know death solved so much.

In the harsh office, Mr. Williams is a fair, efficient, but boring boss, laughed behind his back by his cheery followers. His oath is the kind of bureaucratic walling familiar in every age and perhaps especially desperate for respectable post-war hat-wearing Britain.

But then, all of a sudden, his doctor diagnosed him definitively — he had stomach cancer. And he changes. He encounters younger, free-spirited people who puzzle and excite him, creating vigilantism. He begins to think about what life should be like, what it should be.

When he returns to work after an initial diagnosis and treatment – ostensibly the same as his boss – his final months are a journey through his battle against bureaucratic hurdles to transform ordinary life, renovating one bombed-out patch of London and building a stadium.

In the movie, Nighy maintains that understated British persona throughout. He is dexterous, heartbreaking, without an iota of self-consciousness.

His movements and the intonation of his voice change with lightning subtlety, while the spirit awakens to life.

It’s a movie to live by, and a performance to remember. Give him that Oscar.


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