William Francis Nighy
12 December 1949
|Partner(s)||Diana Quick (1982–2008)|
William Francis Nighy (//; born 12 December 1949) is an English actor. He started his career with the Everyman Theatre, Liverpool and made his London debut with the Royal National Theatre starting with The Illuminatus! in 1977. There he gained acclaim for his roles in David Hare's Pravda in 1985, Harold Pinter's Betrayal in 1991, Tom Stoppard's Arcadia in 1993, and Anton Chekov's The Seagull in 1994. He received a Laurence Olivier Award for Best Actor nomination for his performance in Blue/Orange in 2001. He made his Broadway debut in Hare's The Vertical Hour in 2006, and returned in the 2015 revival of Hare's Skylight earning a Tony Award for Best Actor in a Play nomination.
His early film roles include the comedies Still Crazy (1998) and Blow Dry (2001). His breakout role was in Love Actually (2003), which earned him a BAFTA Award for Best Supporting Actor. He soon gained recognition portraying Davy Jones in the Pirates of the Caribbean film series (2006–2007), and Viktor in the Underworld film series (2003–2009). His other films include Shaun of the Dead (2004), The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (2005), The Constant Gardener (2005), Notes on a Scandal (2006), Hot Fuzz (2007), Valkyrie (2008), Wild Target (2010), Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1 (2010), The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2012), About Time (2013), Emma (2020), and Living (2022), the last of which earned him a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Actor.
Nighy has gained acclaim for his roles in television, earning a British Academy Television Award for Best Actor for his performance in BBC One series State of Play (2003), and a Golden Globe Award for Best Actor for the BBC film Gideon's Daughter (2007). He's also known for his roles in HBO's The Girl in the Café (2006) and PBS's Page Eight (2012).
William Francis Nighy was born on 12 December 1949 in Caterham, Surrey, to Alfred Martin Nighy and Catherine Josephine, née Whittaker. His father managed a car garage after working in the family chimney sweeping business; his mother was a psychiatric nurse of Irish descent born in Glasgow, Scotland;
Nighy was brought up as a Roman Catholic and served as an altar boy, however he gave up "being a practicing Catholic" as a teenager. He has two older siblings, Martin and Anna. He attended the John Fisher School, a Roman Catholic grammar school in Purley, where he was nicknamed "Knucks" because of his hands and was a member of the theatre group.
As a child he was known to be insecure and shy by many and as a teenager he became an avid reader, particularly enjoying the works of Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald. During his teenage years, he fled home twice. First to the Persian Gulf, only reaching as far as Marseille at age 15 and then to Paris at age 16 "to write the great English novel".
After leaving the school with two O-levels, he worked as a messenger for The Croydon Advertiser. He applied for a place at RADA but was rejected and instead enrolled at the Guildford School of Acting to train for stage.
After working in various regional theatre productions during his early twenties in theatres such as, the Cambridge Arts Theatre and Edinburgh's Traverse Theatre, a friend of Nighy's suggested that he audition for the Everyman Theatre in Liverpool. During his audition he kept asking to start again about five times, according to fellow actor Jonathan Pryce, who said that he was "either he was a very good actor, or a madman". During his time at the Everyman he worked alongside fellow actors Julie Walters and Pete Postlethwaite, and writers Ken Campbell and Willy Russell. He was also a member of the travelling theatre group Van Load which included one of Nighy's most frequent collaborators, writer and director David Hare.
He made his London stage debut at the National Theatre in an epic staging of Ken Campbell and Chris Langham's Illuminatus!, after he met Campbell at a bar in London. When Nighy told him that he was an actor, Campbell hired him on the spot. It opened the new Cottesloe Theatre on 4 March 1977. He was cast in two David Hare premieres A Map of The World and Pravda, also at the National.
After he made his debut, he steadily gained acclaim with his performances in David Hare's Pravda in 1985, William Shakespeare's King Lear in 1986 and Anton Chekov's The Seagull in 1994. At the National Theatre, he acted in productions alongside Anthony Hopkins, Judi Dench, Harriet Walter, Rufus Sewell, and Chiwetel Ejiofor. Nighy's most acclaimed stage performances were in National Theatre productions. As Bernard Nightingale, an unscrupulous university don, in Tom Stoppard's Arcadia (1993), he engaged in witty exchanges with Felicity Kendal, who played Hannah Jarvis, an author.
He played Jerry in Harold Pinter's Betrayal in 1991 at the Almeida Theatre. He played a consultant psychiatrist in Joe Penhall's Blue/Orange (2000), for which he received an Olivier Award nomination for Best Actor; it transferred to the West End at the Duchess Theatre the following year. In 1997, Nighy starred as restaurant entrepreneur Tom Sergeant in David Hare's Skylight, which had premiered in 1995 and was moved to the Vaudeville Theatre.
Nighy starred in three episodes of the British anthology series Play For Today from 1978 to 1982. He played a libidinous young disc jockey, Vincent Fish, in the 1980 comedy series Agony, where he was the occasional lover of the lead character, played by Maureen Lipman. He also starred in two episodes of the BBC series Performance in 1991 and 1993.
One of Nighy's early major screen appearances was the BBC serial The Men's Room (1991). He claimed that the serial, an Ann Oakley novel adapted by Laura Lamson, was the job that launched his career.
He received some recognition by American audiences for his acclaimed portrayal of overaged rock star Ray Simms in the 1998 film Still Crazy. In 1999 he gained further prominence in the UK with the starring role in "The Photographer", an episode of the award-winning BBC-TV mockumentary comedy series People Like Us, playing Will Rushmore, a middle aged man who has abandoned his career and family in the deluded belief that he can achieve success as a commercial photographer.
In 2003, Nighy played the role of the Vampire Elder Viktor in the American production Underworld. He returned in the same role in the sequel Underworld: Evolution in 2006, and again in the prequel Underworld: Rise of the Lycans in 2009. In February 2004, he was awarded the BAFTA Film Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role as Billy Mack in Love Actually. At the BAFTA Television Awards in April 2004, he won the Best Actor award for State of Play. He also appeared in the comedy Shaun of the Dead.
In early 2004, The Sunday Times reported that Nighy was on the shortlist for the role of the Ninth Doctor in the 2005 revival of the BBC television series Doctor Who. Christopher Eccleston ultimately filled the role.
In 2005, he appeared as Slartibartfast in the film adaptation of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. He also appeared in the one-off BBC One comedy-drama The Girl in the Café. In February 2006, he appeared in scriptwriter Stephen Poliakoff's one-off drama, Gideon's Daughter. Nighy played the lead character, Gideon, a successful events organiser who begins to lose touch with the world around him. This performance won him a Golden Globe Award for Best Actor in a Mini-series or TV Film in January 2007. Also in 2006, Nighy made his Broadway debut at the Music Box Theatre alongside Julianne Moore in The Vertical Hour, directed by Sam Mendes.
In 2006, Nighy played the principal villain, Davy Jones, in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, with his face entirely obscured by computer-generated makeup. He voiced the character with a Scots accent. He reprised the role in the 2007 sequel, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, in which his real face was briefly revealed in one scene. He also provided the narration for the Animal Planet series Meerkat Manor. In 2006 he played the role of Richard Hart in Notes on a Scandal, for which he was nominated for a London Film Critics' Circle award. Nighy also appeared as General Friedrich Olbricht, one of the principal conspirators, in the 2008 film Valkyrie. He had played an SS officer in the 1985 Hitler's SS: Portrait in Evil. He starred in the film Wild Target in 2010.
In July 2009, he announced that he would play Rufus Scrimgeour in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1. Nighy had already worked with director David Yates twice, and with the majority of the Harry Potter cast in previous films. He has said of his role as Rufus Scrimgeour that it meant he was no longer the only English actor not to be in Harry Potter.
In 2010, he made a small cameo in Doctor Who, in the episode titled "Vincent and the Doctor".
Nighy voiced Grandsanta in the 2011 CGI animated film Arthur Christmas. In 2012, he starred in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Wrath of the Titans, and the remake of Total Recall. In 2013, he played a role in Darkside, Tom Stoppard's radio drama based on Pink Floyd's album The Dark Side of the Moon.
Nighy played MI5 agent Johnny Worricker in a trilogy of films written and directed by David Hare: Page Eight (2011), Turks & Caicos (2014), and Salting the Battlefield (2014).
In 2014, he starred with Carey Mulligan in a revival of David Hare's Skylight at Wyndham's Theatre in London's West End. It had a large international audience via broadcast in the National Theatre Live series. He and Mulligan also starred in the play when it was transferred to Broadway in 2015 where they both received Tony Award nominations for their performances. In 2016, he provided the voice of Socrates in the critically panned animated feature Norm of the North.
In 2020, he appeared as Mr Woodhouse, Emma's father, in Autumn de Wilde's Emma (2020) starring alongside Anya Taylor-Joy. The film received near universal acclaim with Variety film critic Andrew Barker praising the casting of Nighy as Emma's father writing that the decision was an "uncontested layup of casting".
In October 2020, it was announced that Nighy would play the leading role in Living, an English-language adaptation of Akira Kurosawa’s 1952 Japanese drama Ikiru, to be directed by Oliver Hermanus from a screenplay by Kazuo Ishiguro. Shooting began in spring 2021 in locations across the UK, including London and Worthing. The film premiered at Sundance in January 2022, where Nighy's performance in particular received high praise.
In the 2022 TV series The Man Who Fell to Earth Nighy played the brilliant Thomas Newton, the first alien to arrive on earth over 40 years ago. This role originally was played by David Bowie in the 1976 film adaptation.
Nighy is also the narrator of the Channel 5 travel show The World's Most Scenic Railway Journeys, a programme which started its fifth series in Autumn 2021 with episodes featuring train journeys across Australia and the Welsh borders.
He played Samwise Gamgee in the 1981 BBC Radio dramatisation of The Lord of the Rings (credited as William Nighy), and was heard in the 1980s BBC Radio version of Yes Minister.
Since 1999, Nighy has played Simon Brett's fictional amateur sleuth Charles Paris at least 17 times on BBC Radio 4. In 2022, Nighy became a DJ on BBC 6 Music when he stood in for Guy Garvey on the regular Sunday afternoon programme Guy Garvey's Finest Hour, with Nighy deputising for the Elbow frontman again at the beginning of 2023. He later deputised for Iggy Pop on his show Iggy Confidential from March to April 2023.
Beginning in 1982, Nighy was in a relationship with English actress Diana Quick, when they worked in David Hare’s A Map of The World. They have a daughter, actress and filmmaker Mary Nighy, born in 1984. The pair separated in 2008.
He has Dupuytren's contracture, which he inherited from his mother. The condition can, depending on its severity, cause contractures of the fingers, most commonly the ring and little fingers.
Nighy is a supporter of Crystal Palace F.C. He is a Patron of the CPSCC (Crystal Palace Children's Charity) and of the Ann Craft Trust. He is also an Honorary Patron of the London children's charity Scene & Heard.
He is a patron of the Milton Rooms, a new arts centre in Malton, North Yorkshire, along with Imelda Staunton, Jools Holland and Kathy Burke.
Nighy is a supporter of the Robin Hood tax campaign and starred in a video in support of it.
Known for his support of total gender equality, Nighy noted in an interview during the 2016 DIFF film festival that the highlighting of gender inequality problems in the film industry had influenced his choice of film roles. He has also spoken of his role in Pride, a film extolling the mutual support between the National Union of Miners and gay rights groups in the UK in the 1980s, as one of his most cherished.
Nighy is noted for his bespoke navy suits. He was listed as one of the 50 best-dressed over-50s by The Guardian in March 2013 and one of GQ's 50 best-dressed British men in 2015.
He became a fan of the Pokémon franchise during the production of Detective Pikachu, in which he played Howard Clifford. He has said that Mew is his favourite Pokémon.
For many years, Nighy struggled with substance issues, particularly alcoholism, a topic he rarely discusses, and has been a "sober alcoholic" since 17 May 1992. He also gave up smoking in 2003.
During his twenties, Nighy was in a band called The Love Ponies and subsequently recorded a few songs.
Nighy currently resides in Pimlico, London.
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