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(Credit: Carlos Delgado)

Film

Bill Nighy’s favourite film of all time

Since the 1960s, Bill Nighy has starred in hundreds of productions on stage, screen and radio. Aggressively English and incredibly charming, Nighy is celebrated as one of the country’s most well-loved stars. Perhaps most recognisable for his BAFTA-winning role as ageing musician Billy Mack in the star-studded 2003 Christmas rom-com Love Actually, Nighy actually began his career in the limelight all the way back in the ’60s.

After working as an assistant stage manager for a production of Plaza Suite in 1969, Nighy landed an acting role in an adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore at the Watermill Theatre, Newbury that same year. His training at the Guilford School of Acting allowed Nighy to begin performing for the Everyman Theatre in Liverpool during the 1970s, where he met fellow future-successful actors such as Julie Walters and Pete Postlethwaite.

But it wasn’t until 1977 that Nighy made his first of many performances at the National Theatre in London, beginning with Ken Campbell’s production of Illuminatus! Nighy continued to regularly perform at the National Theatre in the 1980s, starring in productions such as King Lear, Pravda and A Map of the World, the latter two both written by David Hare.

However, it was the Hare play Skylight that proved to be the most successful theatre production for Nighy. After starring in productions of the play from 1995 to ’97 at the National Theatre and the Vaudeville Theatre, he reprised his role as Tom Sergeant in 2014 and 2015 alongside Carey Mulligan and Matthew Beard. The revival, which was performed on both the West End and Broadway, resulted in a Tony nomination for Nighy.

Nighy has had an equally illustrious screen career as he has on stage. Alongside his role in Love Actually, the actor has starred in many hugely successful films including all of Edgar Wright’s Cornetto Trilogy, multiple Pirates of the Caribbean flicks, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part One, Arthur Christmas, and Emma. Although the majority of Nighy’s roles can be situated within the comedy genre, the actor demonstrates that he is more than capable of balancing humorous roles with sensitivity, best demonstrated in his role as James in About Time, a comedy-drama that uses time-travel to explore familial relationships and grief.

Therefore, it seems fitting that Nighy’s favourite film of all time reflects the way he blends comedy and depth. When asked the all-important question, Nighy stated that his favourite film is Punch Drunk Love (2002), directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. He said: “It’s tough, but I do really, really, really like Punch Drunk Love […]. It went straight in at #1, it’s everything I like. It’s romantic in the extreme, but in a messed up, tolerable way. I have nothing against romanticism, I’m all for it, helpless in the face of romance, but it’s funny, REALLY funny. The two central performances by Adam Sandler and Emily Watson are marvellous.”

Punch Drunk Love stars Adam Sandler as an anxious entrepreneur named Barry who falls in love with Emily Watson’s character Lena, a role that Sandler received critical acclaim for – a stark change from his usual roles in poorly received comedies. Whilst Punch Drunk Love is full of comedic moments, it also deals with themes of loneliness, alienation, and fear, with Rotten Tomatoes summing it up as “odd, touching, and unique” whilst also being “delightfully funny.”

The film received mostly positive reviews, with Paul Thomas Anderson winning Best Director at Cannes Film Festival. Furthermore, Sandler’s performance, which was described by Owen Gleiberman as a mixture of Charlie Chaplin’s Little Tramp, Woody Allen, and Edward Scissorhands, surprised audiences and critics alike, with Angie Errigo labelling the actor’s performance as “highly defining” and “astonishing.”

Bill Nighy was heavily inspired by the usually facetious actor’s performance. He stated that he “made a film shortly afterwards called The Girl in the Café [dir. David Yates, 2005] and I wrote ‘Adam Sandler’ inside the front of the script so I wouldn’t forget, because I wanted it to be a kind of undercover comedy performance. I wanted it to be buried and disguised.”