Chatting with Bill Nighy, it quickly becomes apparent that he is nothing like his breakout character Billy Mack, the outspoken and outrageous musician from “Love Actually.”
Nighy comes off as anything but an egotistical rock star. During our talk, he was soft-spoken and intelligent, and, despite a little jet-lag from a transcontinental flight the night before, mentally sharp and eager to answer questions about his new film “Astro Boy.” He spoke with Blast about how far animated films have come, what it’s like to play a short fat man and about finally getting the chance to play a wizard in the next “Harry Potter” film.
Nighy’s enthusiasm for “Astro Boy” was palpable. He said he had always been intrigued by the “phenomenon” of the character (who, according to Nighy, is the Japanese Mickey Mouse) but was attracted to the film based on its smart script.
“I liked everything about the script,” Nighy said. “It’s a proper grown-up story. (It has) universal themes and stuff we all deal with, like family and belonging.”
When I asked him about his character Dr. Elefun, a scientist and supporter of Astro, Nighy said the character’s overall goodness struck him.
“He is the representative of human decency in the film” Nighy said. “His instincts are pure and he is able to distinguish between what is benign and what isn’t.”
Nighy chuckled when I asked whether or not it was challenging to voice a character so physically opposite from himself. While Nighy is tall, spindly and angular, Dr. Elefun is short, dumpy and has a cucumber-shaped nose. Nighy said he pretty much played it straight.
“I did try to do a couple of things that I thought would accommodate that genre of creature” Nighy said. “But in fact they really wanted it just like me, so it’s pretty much just Bill Nighy.”
The chance to work with director David Bowers again, who he had previously worked with on “Flushed Away” was exciting as well.
“David is a really cool guy” Nighy said. “He is devout when it comes to animation and he writes scripts that are worthy of any genre.”
Nighy said “Astro Boy” is an example of a larger overall trend. There has been a tremendous shift, he said, in quality of animated films. They have become more than just movies for children. In his opinion, they are approaching the quality and emotional depth of live-action films.
“The scripts are of the same level, the performances hopefully are on-par, and the degree of craft and technical achievement is very close” Nighy said. “There really are some masterpieces being made, and modern animation has transcended any sort of subgenre. They are absolutely mainstream and serious movies.”
When the conversation turned to his upcoming role as Rufus Scrimgeour in the final two Harry Potter films, Nighy expressed clear excitement at having finally earned his wand.
“I’m a wizard, finally” Nighy said. “I thought I was going to be the only English actor of a certain age who wasn’t in Harry Potter, but it turned out not to be the case.”
Nighy said it was great to work with all of the older actors, many of whom he grew up with in the industry. Nighy added that working with the younger actors, particularly Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson, was a pleasure.
Even more gratifying for Nighy was that he got to play a wizard with David Yates as his director. Nighy has worked with Yates three times previously, most notably in the BBC miniseries “State of Play”
“David is one of the finest directors currently working, and he is a believer” Nighy said. “It was a pleasure to be back working with him on something as luscious as Harry Potter.”
“Astro Boy” hits theaters today and “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1″ will be released November 2010.
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