Sunday saw me embarking on a new adventure. Probably out of my depth, I waited nervously in a queue outside the venerable establishment of the Cambridge Union Building, for entry to the BAFTA hosted event, a LIfe in Pictures with Bill Nighy. I had reason to be especially anxious, a few years back I wrote a screenplay and had him in mind to play one of the principal characters. All through development it was Bill's voice and mannerisms I heard bringing the character of Zachary Pender to life. This was my last chance to get the script to him personally.
My daughter and I planned our ambush, we found our seats at the end of the second row of burnished leather benches, banked across the oak floor from the opposite rows, now filling with fresh faced and eager students. My clammy hands gripped the folder containing my script, and I spent the entire time in a state of heightened anxiety, waiting for my chance. The chamber resembled the House of Commons, and I felt like a back bencher at Prime Ministers Question Time.
Despite the adrenaline coursing through my veins, I did enjoy the evening. Bill Nighy is one of the most enduring and versatile actors of his generation, a charming, debonair man, who swept into the hall in a pale blue suit, eyes twinkling behind large rimmed glasses. He entertained with a lifetime of anecdotes, tales of how he came to acting from a family of car mechanics. He didn't want to follow in his father's footsteps and had his head turned by a girl who got him into the Guildford School of 'Prance and Murmer' , where he learnt very little. Except perhaps the ability to make a move called a bananna, curving across the stage from one point to the other. Directors have asked him since if he's drunk on set, but it's his laid back and laconic natural attitude. Despite disparaging the 'craft' of acting, all the film clips shown displayed his considerable talent for it. Bill wouldn't watch, he crept down in his wing backed chair as if he wished the floor would open up. What galvanised him eventually as an actor, was the realisation he was doing it for a job and sometimes he would need to behave beyond the call of duty. He referred to his time as Davy Jones in Pirates of the Caribbean as 'the squid', and described his discomfort through the first days of shooting, dressed in a baggy black outfit, covered with white velcro bobbles in front of a green screen, when he was introduced to Johhny Depp: "Probably the most Beautiful man in the world, and I was dressed as Andy Pandy." He described his respect for writers "It's all about the writing".
Given encouragement by these words as the actor took his bow I rushed after him, shaking the hand of a man who'd shaken the hand of Johnny Depp, he was gracious enough to accept the script. Lets hope he didn't leave it on a table somewhere, and that he'll find the time to read it.