In 2003, aged 54, fame impertinently erupted via both TV’s State of Play series (as wise, dry newspaper editor Cameron Foster) and Richard Curtis’ Love Actually (as preposterous middle-aged rocker Billy Mack), winning Baftas for both. It’s not only me, though (perhaps foolishly), who thinks actors believe they’re someone else. That just shows you there are all kinds of different people who become actors.” These days, Nighy is forever being asked by the children of actor friends, fledgling actors themselves, for advice, to which he always responds, “so you agree to be a professional gambler for the rest of your life? The biggest shock to the acting world this year was, of course, the sudden death of the great Philip Seymour Hoffman. So far, under his presidency, enough money has been raised for the under-14s to play in America.
Eleven years on and he’s ubiquitous, in both colossal mainstream movies and acclaimed indie films – from Shaun of the Dead to Notes on a Scandal to Harry Potter and insists, today, of his award-winning skills: “I’m surprised I can do any of it, to be honest.” Recently, the now Oscar-nominated Jared Leto (who plays a drug-addicted transsexual dying of Aids in Dallas Buyers Club, losing 30 pounds and staying in character throughout the shoot) asserted actors, generally, might be psychologically askew. Recently, he met a fan in the street who’d loved one of his plays and was a fledgling actor herself, although her teacher was currently “displeased” with her. ’ and she said, ‘Because I’m having trouble with the feelings’,” he recalls. The figure for unemployment is insane, like 95 per cent”. Back in 2009, Nighy and Hoffman appeared in Richard Curtis’ pirate radio caper The Boat That Rocked. “I’m crazy about football,” he declares, back to his effusive self, “you wait for passages of great beauty, there are physical geniuses… sheer pleasure, it’s unspeakable what he can do.” Last night in London he watched a Real Madrid game and over in India he’s been watching “everything on the Star channel”, always amused on his trips to Africa with Oxfam when he meets an elder of a Serengeti village “wearing an Arsenal hat”.
“The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, as we call it,” he quips, in typically mirthsome style.
These days, he seems permanently surrounded by the actorly elite – the stylish Turks & Caicos also stars Christopher Walken and Winona Ryder (their debut appearances on British TV) alongside Helena Bonham Carter. “You can’t really, he has no electronic equipment whatsoever, not even one of those,” he notes, tapping my phone. It’s another way to keep away from unwanted attention.” Today, Nighy also seems wary of unwanted attention, talking at rapid speed, his two straight fingers drumming on the table, an unexpectedly irascible character lurking near the surface of his usual effortlessly charming self.
“I made a bit of a meal of other periods in my life, so I’m working on just enjoying it as much as I can,” he notes. I literally retune my head of a morning if there’s too much nattering going on. And in Berkeley Square [gestures towards the elegant square nearby] there’s some nice plain trees.