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The Cricket: Bill Nighy defies Hollywood's youth movement

Published May 10, 2012 12:25 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Bill Nighy has his share of experience in megabudget blockbusters — after all, he played the squid-faced Davy Jones in the "Pirates of the Caribbean" franchise and appeared in the penultimate "Harry Potter" movie as Rufus Scrimgeour, the briefly tenured Minister of Magic.

The movie in which he now appears, "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel," opened in major cities last weekend opposite "The Avengers" (and opens today in Salt Lake City). It's not a blockbuster, but Nighy isn't worried about the competition.

"I'm quietly confident," Nighy said in a recent phone interview from New York. "It's going to take more than the Incredible Hulk to endanger Dame Judi Dench and Dame Maggie Smith."

"The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" represents a bold bit of counterprogramming in a summer filled with entertainments aimed at teen audiences. The movie is about and stars English people "of a certain age" — ranging from 59 to 77. (Nighy, at 62, is on the younger end of the scale.)

The movie, adapted from Deborah Moggach's novel (originally titled These Foolish Things), follows a group of disparate English retirees who decide to outsource their lives to the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel for the Elderly and Beautiful, a retirement home in Jaipur, India. In the swirl and bustle of modern India, these reserved Englishmen and -women discover new things about themselves.

Nighy plays Douglas Ainslie, a retired civil servant who discovers that his government pension won't buy him and his wife, Jean (played by Penelope Wilton), the easy retired life they had hoped.

Nighy said he was attracted to "a well-written script with a well-written character." He liked Douglas because "I'm interested in a quiet sort of heroism, the kind of heroism of a man in a marriage … who takes the decency option. It's instinctive in him in every way."

It was also a chance to work again with two of his leading ladies. Nighy has worked with Wilton four times now, notably as a married couple in the zombie comedy "Shaun of the Dead." ("I've been married to her twice. I also had letter sex with her in a radio play," Nighy said.) He's also worked frequently with Dench, including productions in Britain's National Theatre and in the movie "Notes on a Scandal." ("I've been her love interest three times," he said.)

The United Kingdom has a small film community, so "it does happen quite a lot," Nighy said. "I've known all these people most of my life. I've known Tom Wilkinson since we were 25. I went to drama college with Celia Imrie."

Filming in India was "very cool" and, in meteorological terms, "extremely hot," Nighy said.

"Rush hour in Jaipur is incredible. They get families of six on a [small] motorcycle," he said. "And they all operate on the horn."

Nighy recalled filming one scene, in which he and Dench are dancing in a town square as a band plays, where someone started singing to them. The singer wasn't a film extra, just someone who happened upon the scene and joined in. "You got accustomed to people being in the shot who weren't supposed to be there," he said.

Douglas, his character, represents a certain repressed quality "specifically associated with the English," Nighy said. It's similar to a character he played in the HBO movie "The Girl in the Cafe," a character he said was "almost disabled by self-consciousness."

He's played the polar opposite of that character a few times, too — particularly for director Richard Curtis, as an aging rock star in "Love Actually" and the operator of a rebel radio station in "Pirate Radio."

Nighy enjoys both kinds of roles, though the quieter ones, like in "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel," "come more naturally to me," he said. With the more outlandish ones, he said, "once I get going, it's all fine."

Unlike Douglas, Nighy has no intention to retire. "It's never going to happen to me, unless they stop calling. I'm not good at structuring my day without going to work," he said. "We should reap the rewards of people's experience, instead of putting them out to pasture. I think, in the modern world, they should review that situation. People are in better shape longer these days. … It is an attitude of mind."

Sean P. Means writes The Cricket in daily blog form at http://www.sltrib.com/blogs/moviecricket. Contact him via email at movies@sltrib.com. Follow him on Twitter @moviecricket or on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/themoviecricket.