Follow Us on Twitter

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest - Billy Nighy interview

Bill Nighy as Davy Jones in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest

Interview by Rob Carnevale

POPULAR British actor Bill Nighy talks about playing the fishy villain in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest…

Q. Scots are going to love your accent in this. Where did it come from?
A. My mother comes from Glasgow, which is my excuse. We needed an accent which was different from everyone else’s and it had to be kind-of distinctive because the creature is so extraordinary. Davy Jones is traditionally a Welsh name but when I do a Welsh accent it sounds really rather lyrical and musical and soft and it didn’t sound like some creature that ruled the waves in a scary way. So Scots was what I came up with. The director, at one point, did suggest Dutch, because my ship is called The Flying Dutchman, but I can’t do Dutch and that sounded like a lot of work. You’d have to go to Amsterdam and take a tape recorder and do all of that stuff. Scots came reasonably easy to me so I gave it a spin.

Q. Johnny Depp has described you as one of the finest actors to ever walk the earth. Do you agree?
A: Well, that reminds me, I owe him money… I have no comment to make on that but I’m very grateful that he said that. Coming from him – I think his performance as Jack Sparrow has entered the language now in quite a rare way; it’s a performance that will survive down the years. It was a gas working with him, he’s a very easy, dreamy guy to work with and endlessly inventive and very funny. He’s very cool.

Q. I should imagine you can’t wait for Keith Richards…
A. I would be very proud and pleased to be in the same movie as Keith Richards; as you probably know I’m a big Rolling Stones fan. Somebody on the red carpet in Los Angeles asked me if that’d be the case, if Keith Richards would be in the movie and I said: “Apparently that’s the case, it’s not yet confirmed.” And then she said: “I understand you’re great friends with Mr Richards.” And I said: “No, I just look like I’m a friend of Keith Richards.”

Q. Keira and Orlando have both said how difficult it was to keep a straight face around Johnny. How did you find it?
A. It really was difficult, actually, because he’s profoundly funny. He has this way of listening to you when you’re doing your bit as if he nearly understands what you’re saying but not quite. When Orlando had to come out with a particularly convoluted bit of pirate talk at one point I spotted Johnny who was just doing this very kindly look, like someone who was trying to understand but it was such bollocks that he couldn’t quite grasp it. And it’s very, very witty. He does stuff like that all the time and it’s a serious challenge keeping a straight face.

Did you ever feel a little intimidated joining the franchise?
A. It was kind-of daunting before you got there but once you got there it was fine. They were all so classy about it. Most of the things you talk of being daunting and intimidating and exclusive; I feel like that on every film I do. Until you get there and you start and you feel part of the whole thing. It’s hard enough when you join a film half way through, you’ve got a part that starts later and people have been together for some time. They’ve already formed relationships. But people, I must say, were extremely classy about it and they made us feel at home.

Q. Can we expect to see Davy Jones having any sort of romance in the third film?
A. Well I’ve no idea! I don’t know where you got that idea from, I mean take a look at him. Are you serious? It was suggested that perhaps there are some lonely people out there who may look at the image of Davy Jones and find a kind-of resolution to their desires. But, you know, it takes all sorts. I just can’t imagine anyone getting down – if you pardon the expression – with him.

Q. Did the thrill of the role match the discomfort involved in the technical aspects of filming and the blow to your dignity in terms of the look of the character?
A. Well the blow to my dignity didn’t involve any physical discomfort. My dignity was just assaulted by the fact that I had to wear seriously worrying trousers which were sort-of pyjama trousers. I had to wear a pyjama computer suit with white bobbles all over it and white spots on my face and a very sad little skull cap with a bobble on the top which is averagely hard to front. Especially when you’re standing next to Johnny Depp or Orlando Bloom which is tough enough on a good day. But they ran out of jokes on about the third or the fourth day, which was a big day.
There was also another big day when I turned a corner on a set in Los Angeles and I saw eight other men dressed like me. Which was seriously encouraging because I did feel seriously isolated in my trousers for a while. It was slightly worrying but you saw the pictures and they kept telling me that whatever I did on set would be translated onto the screen and it would make this fabulous creature, so it was a bit of an act of faith really.

Q. What was your reaction to finally seeing him on screen?
A. Well it was very unsettling. It was quite shocking, actually, because, you know, all the decisions you make and all the facial movements they’d very movingly translated it. They bothered to do all that stuff; it was only a twitch of a lip or something. It was very touching that they should do that. And you knew it sounded like you and you knew all those movements and things like that were yours but it was coming out of this… I mean it’s upsetting, this creature. It’s not kind-of like cartoon squiddy or even movie squiddy, it’s properly kind-of squiddish. That stuff at the back of the neck and everything; it’s kind-of upsetting. It was an unsettling experience.

Q. But it must have been fun to play the bad guy in general?
A. Bad guys do traditionally have more fun. You get to do stuff and say stuff and make facial arrangements that you don’t generally do. And you get to see how scary you might be if you ever allowed yourself to do that in real life.

Did being unrecognisable make you hesitate? Did you know how it would look?
A. They showed me pictures of how it would look so I always knew what the task was. I didn’t expect the creature to resemble me at all but the way that they informed it with the stuff that happened on set was kind-of a pleasant surprise to me, really. I’m a big fan of the first movie and, as Gore said, how many times do you get to make a Pirate movie? The script for the second one is a rocker, it was a great part. I’ve played a zombie, I’ve played a vampire and now I’m a squid. And not many people can say that. In fact, no-one can say that. Well, they can say it but it won’t be true.

Read our review

Read our interview with Johnny Depp

Read our interview with Tom Hollander

View our Pirates Gallery