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Watching my films robs me of any sense of achievement, says Bill Nighy

Bill Nighy (Dominic Lipinski/PA)
Bill Nighy (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

Bill Nighy said he resists the pressure to watch his own films because he knows it would “rob” him of any pleasure and “steal the experience” from him.

The British actor, who was giving a screen talk at the BFI London Film Festival on Tuesday, put his fingers in his ears as the audience watched a clip of his latest offering Living.

In the film, Nighy plays a veteran civil servant who receives a medical diagnosis that inspires him to move to the coast and make the most of his final days.

He said: “There is a degree of pressure to watch… I’ve tried. If I don’t watch, everything is great, everything is marvellous, it’s a perfect relationship for me.

“If I watch, it’s all stolen from me. It robs me of any pleasure, any sense of achievement or anything.

“It doesn’t matter that it’s not logical, it doesn’t matter that other people think it’s all right… for me, I know and I’ve really, really worked on it, I know that it will steal the experience from me. So I gave it up very early on.”

Nighy said as a younger actor he had a complete lack of self-confidence – “I had whatever the violent opposite of confidence is,” he said.

He continued: “I don’t know why I persisted, it’s a mystery except I know I didn’t want to have the conversation with anybody where they said, ‘Are you still doing that acting thing’ and me saying no.

Into Film Awards 2019 – London
Bill Nighy (Ian West/PA)

“I didn’t want to have that exchange with anybody, I was too prideful. I had flunked school, I didn’t have any qualifications in anything and I didn’t have any enthusiasm for anything.

“I wanted to be a writer and I procrastinate at an Olympic level, I’ve made it to this point in my life without ever having put pen to paper which I’m kind of stupidly proud of.

“I didn’t want to do anything, I didn’t have any hobbies, I didn’t have a plan B so I just kept going because occasionally they gave me a job.”

The 72-year-old has gone on to star in Hollywood blockbusters including About Time, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and Love Actually – whose cast members Chiwetel Ejiofor and Andrew Lincoln were spotted in the audience on Tuesday.

However, Nighy revealed it was not until reading writer and director Sir David Hare’s work for the first time that he thought of turning professional.

He said: “It’s great art and it was so familiar to me. The way you experience great art… you almost experience it like memory. He was so brilliant and eloquent, the style was so beautiful that I kind of turned pro at that point because I thought ‘this, I absolutely get’.

“I had no enthusiasm for classical work… when I got to David’s work I understood it and I admired it profoundly. I didn’t do very well because I was chronically self-conscious around David because I admired him so much.

“I did have a relationship with his dialogue and I found a way of delivering it, we’ve worked together all of my life and it has been one of the greatest pleasures of my life.”

Nighy also told of his admiration for fellow actor Sir Michael Gambon, with whom he starred in thriller Page Eight, written and directed by Sir David.

He said: “I had waited a long time to play a spy and to work with Sir Michael Gambon who I did declare some time ago to be the leader of my profession.

UK Theatre Awards – London
Sir David Hare (Matt Crossick/PA)

“I went to see him in a play which transported me, his performance completely thrilled me and I wrote to him and said, ‘I now consider you to be a leader of my profession’ and he wrote back saying: ‘Thank you for your support, I am wearing it as I write this note’.

“He also used to creep up behind me in the canteen at the National Theatre and say deeply profane things which were encouraging… and that would keep me going for 18 months. Michael Gambon called me a bastard!

“He is touched by genius.”

Reflecting on his career, Nighy said that he was “proud” to be a part of 2014 film Pride about London-based gay and lesbian activists lending their support to striking miners in 1984 Wales.

The veteran actor said the film is an “important document” particularly for young people to highlight the “great developments” of our time.

He said: “The emancipation of gay men and women in my lifetime is one of the great developments that you would want to tell your grandchildren that you did nothing to impede.

“There are people trying to drag us back but those things happened while I was around and this story which is entirely true. I was very proud to be a part of that film.

“We have an almost mythical idea of what has been happening to us in the last few decades, it’s almost entirely invented.”

Nighy added that he thinks the way our minds work is the “result of movies”.

“I think it causes a great deal of pain and misery, it is also inspirational and can, however marginally, shift public thought or individual thought, without question,” he said.

Living will be released on November 4.