Fresh Off a Career-Defining Role in ‘Living,’ Bill Nighy, 73, Is Generating Plenty of Oscar Buzz
Bill Nighy, 73, is enjoying Oscar buzz for the first time in his career for his career-defining role in 'Living,' an uplifting new drama about an elderly bureaucrat who turns his dull life around after a terminal diagnosis. Photo: Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times via Contour RA by Getty Images
Bill Nighy is living his best life. Twenty years after playing Love Actually’s washed-up rock legend Billy Mack (still his best-known role), for the first time in his career the beloved British stage and screen actor is enjoying Oscar buzz.
That’s thanks to the critically acclaimed Living, an uplifting new drama about an elderly bureaucrat who turns his dull life around after a terminal diagnosis.
Much like the recent step into the spotlight by Lesley Manville, 66, with Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris, or 85-year-old Anthony Hopkins’ Academy Award-winning turn in The Father last year, Living is a career-best performance. Decades after delivering memorable depth and dimension — largely in supporting roles (163 acting credits to date!) — the dapper Nighy, 73, is getting richly deserved recognition in the lead. (It helps that Living was written by Nobel Prize-winning novelist Kazuo Ishiguro, specifically with the actor’s trademark wit and restraint in mind.) Since the modest film’s première at Sundance, Nighy’s performance has earned accolades — deemed “a tour de force of understatement, suffused with an almost musical melancholy” by the L.A. Times, for example — while in early January, the actor was presented with the International Star Award for acting at the Palm Springs International Film Festival gala. The poignant turn has also landed Nighy on the Golden Globes, Critics Choice and BAFTA long lists.
The momentum has arguably been building for several years, with higher-profile ensemble projects like The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and raves for his role (with Carey Mulligan) in David Hare’s play, Skylight. When he isn’t in prestige dramas, Nighy tends to play the dashing avuncular: a reclusive bibliophile in The Bookshop, say, or stealing every scene in the recent remake of Jane Austen’s Emma as the heroine’s affectionate hypochondriac father. Appearances in Pirates of the Caribbean and a turn in the Harry Potter films (obligatory for all British thesps) aside, that millennial Austen adaptation has garnered a new generation of appreciative fans, as has voicing The Speaker in the Destiny video game series and embodying Anxiety in Florence + The Machine’s music video for “Free.”
Always immaculately attired, Nighy was as evasive as he was charming in a recent Telegraph interview about his long-rumoured romance with formidable fashion maven Dame Anna Wintour, the editor-in-chief of Vogue magazine.
He’s clearly relishing the moment: He did double duty on the red carpet at the Toronto International Film Festival for Living and the world première of Alice, Darling, his daughter Mary’s directorial debut. It’s apt, after the role of a man who figures out how important it is to seize the day.
A version this article appeared in the Feb/Mar 2023 issue with the headline ‘Living Proof’, p. 14.