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The Boat That Rocked - Bill Nighy and Nick Frost interview

Billy Nighy in The Boat That Rocked

Interview by Rob Carnevale

BILL Nighy and Nick Frost talk about getting ship-shape for Richard Curtis’ The Boat That Rocked, finding their sea legs, becoming good DJs and the musical influences that informed their own lives.

Q. With The Boat That Rocked, you seem to have almost exorcised your inner rock and roll god. Do you have memories of pirate radio?
Bill Nighy: [Laughs] My inner rock god has yet to be entirely exorcised but I’m getting there as you’ve noticed. I was pleased to be involved in this one because I do remember… and, in fact, I’m probably the only person who actually remembers pirate radio. I was there and, like the kid in the film, turned on my radio privately when the parents had calmed down and gone to sleep. It was a big deal that’s hard now to explain. It was an unparalleled situation. It went from mum and dad’s music, which was people singing in evening wear, to Jimi Hendrix. So, it couldn’t have been more radical. And you gained outlaw status merely by tuning in, which was when you were 15, or 16. It was a big deal and was the first time you could get a signal and, I know it sounds weird now to everybody, to hear a song all the way through. You could hear all of the songs all of the time.

Q. How did you practise being a DJ?
Nick Frost: We had a DJ booth set up in a central London location so that we could go along anytime and play records using the ’50s equipment. I also went in to see Johnny Walker, which didn’t really end so happily for me. I think he asked me to leave after about 10 or 15 minutes. I saw him last night [at the premiere] and he spoke to me about it, so I think we’re all friends again.

Q. What had you done wrong?
Nick Frost: I hadn’t done anything wrong. I just think Johnny is his own man, he’s a bit of a legend, and he just wanted to play records and not really be watched. So, after quite a vigorous “hello” where he physically wheeled me into his studio, in my wheelie chair… after about 10 minutes he said: “You have to go, you have to go…” And that was it. But he spoke to me about it last night and we discussed it. He’s cool with it. I honestly didn’t do anything wrong, though.

Q. What are your main musical likes?
Bill Nighy: All the usual suspects… I’m a big Stones man, I’ve never really recovered from that, and The Who and from the movie I particularly dig those two tracks. I like American black soul music, that was my first big enthusiasm, and I like Marvin Gaye and Aretha Franklin and all of those people – Otis Redding, Atlantic Records, Tamla Motown when it came along. I love them all I guess. And more than anyone, Bob Dylan. I listen to Bob Dylan on most days and he remains the single most important artiste in my life. Van Morrison also is big on my list.

Nick Frost in The Boat That Rocked

Nick Frost: I am a hard house freak and I don’t care who knows. I like anything under Nucleus or Captain Tinrib’s stuff. I’m really not joking. You’re looking at me as if you think I am! Bill [Nighy] talked about a musical revolution in the ’60s, but I came at the beginning of the house revolution and there were pirate radio ships too. I obviously didn’t live through the ’60s but I think it had a similar feel with social and cultural upheaval. And house music was the soundtrack to that.

Q. And your least favourite?
Bill Nighy: Techno death thrash metal, tramp jazz, and anything where the drummer has got brushes.

Q. How was filming at sea?
Bill Nighy: The only time I got nauseous was in my cabin in the studio… not on the boat at all because the cabin was on a hydraulic gimble that could make it go like that [gestures a topsy-turvy motion]. It would make you feel sick. But not on the boat because I’ve been a pirate, you know.

Q. How was filming the Titanic-style ending?
Nick Frost: It was very exciting. We shot it a lot too… three our four times. It’s quite difficult to get that sense that we’re all dying, especially when you can actually see me just leaning on one of the banisters smoking a fag with not much angle at all. But I think you have to do as much as you can to try and make it feel as real as you can and let the computer do the rest. It was also quite cold some of the time. I think it looks good, though.

Q. You’ve obviously done a lot of films with Simon Pegg in your time. How does being a part of a big ensemble cast differ from that?
Nick Frost: We have made films together, yes… and it’s a very special thing when you go and get to work with your best friend every day. But I also enjoy making films, really, with anyone. That sounds very slutty of me but I don’t mind who I work with. I think it makes our sex a little bit more vigorous the next time we see one another. Instead of one best friend, I got to work with a whole bunch.

Q. But are you comfortable handing over more control?
Nick Frost: Well, because it’s Richard [Curtis], yes. I think if he was a lesser man, I may have been a bit more anal. But I felt in safe hands with Captain Curtis.

Read our review of The Boat That Rocked

Read our interview with Richard Curtis