IF anyone should be making the most of every day, it is actor Bill Nighy.
Until three decades ago he was so hooked on booze he thought he would wind up dead.
Camera PressBill Nighy has been nominated for his first Oscar for his performance in Living[/caption]
AlamyBill as Mr Rodney Williams with Aimee Lou Wood as Miss Margaret Harris in Living[/caption]
Bill as rock star Billy Mack in Love ActuallyRex Features
But even though the movie he has been nominated for, Living, is about enjoying every day to the max, that is NOT the Nighy philosophy.
Bill, 73, says: “It’s that irritating thing that people sort of say, you know, ‘Try living every day as if it’s the last day of your life’. I can’t do that.
“I don’t know if anybody else has had any success with that.
“You just want to say, ‘Shut up’. It’s like all those ‘improving’ things they do for advertising now, like ‘inspir-ation’ or, you know, ‘No such thing as failure’.
“Oh, f*** off, leave us alone.”
In his immaculate suits and thick-rimmed glasses, the suave star cuts a confident figure.
That, though, hides a deep-seated lack of self-belief.
As a teenager he was offered money to make love to older women, but turned it down fearing he was too inexperienced.
And he almost gave up on acting because he did not think he was talented enough. That was clearly wrong.
The well-spoken actor grew up “poor” in Caterham, Surrey, with dad Alfred, a garage manager, and mum Catherine, a nurse, as well as his two older siblings Martin and Anna.
He got into the local grammar school but “flunked” his exams and left education aged 15 without any qualifications.
Filled with dreams of being a great author, Bill headed to Paris to write.
But aged 16, he was too young for the French capital’s seedy side.
He said: “I was offered a job at a club and it was explained that if I slept with women of a certain age, they’d give me 200 francs.
“I never did it because I’d never done it and would not know how.”
Bill recalls: “I met a girl, who was the first who’d ever paid any attention to me, and I over-reacted catastrophically.
At 16, I was offered a job at a club in Paris and it was explained that if I slept with women of a certain age, they’d give me 200 francs. I never did it as I’d never done it.
“I sort of started a religion on her behalf, which is about the least attractive thing you can do, and she fired me within three weeks.
“But in those three weeks, she suggested I go to drama school. I had no idea what that meant, I’d never even been to see a play.”
After returning to England, he studied at Surrey’s Guildford School of Acting.
But after graduating, the doubts crept in again and Bill quit to become a market stallholder in South London.
He recalls: “I’d retired, I was selling women’s cloth-ing off a stall in Croydon.
“We used to sell full-length cheesecloth skirts and I used to wear one to, you know, promote the product.
“The bloke on the egg store opposite just despised me because I would dress in women’s clothing.”
In his early twenties, Bill developed the genetic condition Dupuytren’s Contracture, which over the years restricted the movement of his fingers more and more.
These days the last two fingers on each of his hands are bent in toward his palms.
Bill did not expect to get in, but did.
He recalls: “I had whatever the violent opposite of confidence is.
“I’m amazed that I even went for that audition.”
But the Everyman was a “political theatre” and Bill had no clue what all the talk of Left and Right meant when it came to politics.
Having been brought up working-class he was uncomfortable with the idea of being a thespian.
When he was hitchhiking from London to work in Liverpool, the driver would ask, “Where are you going?” but he would never reply, “. . . to a theatre”.
GettyBill is reportedly dating Vogue magazine supremo Anna Wintour[/caption]
check copyrightBill as Davy Jones in Pirates Of The Caribbean, 2006[/caption]
He says: “It took me, I don’t know, ten years before I ever said, ‘I’m an actor’.
“I’d say I was an electrician. ‘I’m going to do the electrics in a theatre,’ sometimes I’d say.”
Clearly, Bill did have talent because the National Theatre in London hired him in 1977.
Around this time he started seeing actress Diana Quick and in 1984 she gave birth to Bill’s only child Mary.
Now an actress, Mary, 39, also directed her first film last year — a thriller called Alice, Darling and starring Anna Kendrick.
Bill and Diana split up in 2008 but remained friends, with him visiting her in Suffolk.
Bill admits: “I did audition for [writer and director] Bruce Robinson to be in Withnail, and I believe I came second.”
He had, though, struggled with “mood-altering chemicals” during early periods of his career.
But in 1992, the year after he got his first major TV break with BBC drama series The Men’s Room, he ditched them for good.
Bill says: “Had I continued to drink and take other drugs, I would not be having this conversation. That is the central fact of my life. I got help.
“There’s not a day that goes by when I don’t thank my lucky stars I do not have to drink.”
But habit-forming behaviour has persisted.
Had I continued to drink and take other drugs, I would not be having this conversation. That is the central fact of my life. I got help.
After giving up booze, he started drinking 15 cans of Diet Coke a day and for a long time he only ate salmon for breakfast.
There are other quirks, too.
The offbeat film star — whose credits include octopus-faced ghost ship captain Davy Jones in Pirates Of The Caribbean — owns no car, spends his free time reading books in cafes and is a Crystal Palace football fan.
He says: “I like cafes probably as much as anything else in human society. And I like bookshops. And that’s really, pretty much all I do.”
He is often seen out with Brit style queen Wintour, who split from US financier Shelby Bryan three years ago, at restaurants and fashion shows.
When asked, the very private actor did not deny being more than just friends with her.
But meanwhile he reveals he nearly blew his chance of starring in Living by arriving late for a dinner — after nodding off at home.
Producers had invited him to a meal with Nobel Prize-winning novelist Kazuo Ishiguro, who wrote the film’s script.
It took me, I don’t know, ten years before I ever said, ‘I’m an actor’. I’d say I was an electrician. ‘I’m going to do the electrics in a theatre’, sometimes I’d say.
Bill was unaware Ishiguro wanted him for the lead role of civil servant Mr Williams, who is determined to live life to the full after a cancer diagnosis.
He says: “I was invited for dinner and . . . fell asleep on the sofa.”
All was forgiven and Living was filmed in London in summer 2021.
Ahead of its release last November critics hailed Bill’s performance as “stupendous” and “a career-best”.
If he wins the Oscar, Bill should surely at last believe in his talent.
And he will no longer say to himself about acting, “I don’t know why I persisted. It’s a mystery”.