RT Interview: Bill Nighy talks Underworld: Rise of the Lycans

Fangs, skirts and buckets full of alginate

by | January 21, 2009 | Comments

Bill Nighy in Underworld: Rise of the Lycans

The world of Vampire and Lycan will once again clash with much nashing of teeth and bloody battle, but this time in the form of a prequel.   With the release of Underworld: Rise of the Lycans there are a number of familiar faces to be found amongst the warriors, including everyone’s favourite thousand year old vampire, Viktor, played by Bill Nighy.

RT, along with a small contingent of journalists, were invited into the heart of Underworld: Rise of the Lycans while it was filming in New Zealand where we were able to explore, first hand, the full scale castle set that acts as home to the privileged vampires and prison to the enslaved werewolf clan. We all took time out from snooping around the subterranean cages and scaling the castle’s parapets to talk to Bill Nighy about fang etiquette, skirt wearing and his repulsion of his own image.

On playing the role of Viktor for the third time…
It’s been great actually. I am very fond of these movies and I am not just saying that. Len Wiseman and Danny McBride and Richard Wright, the producer, are very decent guys and they are believers. They are not just making some vampire movie. They are committed. They come out of a graphic novel background and a design background and are deeply tutored in vampire lore. Anyone who writes about ‘daylight harnessed in bullet form’ is in pretty good shape as far as I am concerned. I love all that stuff. I love it when it gets technical. The phenomenon of vampires has always appealed to me. Everyone kind of likes a vampire story because it almost could be true. There are those moments when you get another report of some remains found in Transylvania that indicate that perhaps it was possible in 1107AD that there was a guy who existed purely on blood. It is almost true. It is just a funky kind of lore. The whole idea of them is great.

Bill Nighy, Underworld: Rise of the Lycons

On creating the character of Viktor…
Viktor is lordly in as much as he is king dog around these parts so I drew on that and from my experience of the genre and watching other movies. I wanted not to be too obvious. There is a sort of traditional way of playing such guys but I wanted to give it my own spin. I hate to start talking like this because it sounds so pompous whenever you start talking about acting. A lot of the choices I make are based on what I don’t want to be. It is just trying not to repeat stuff that is done elsewhere.  It is like when people do Shakespeare. For generations, when people have been asked to do Shakespeare they bend one leg, put their other hand on their sword, put their chin up slightly and start talking funny. It is like it is handed down in the DNA. It is really bizarre.  It is to be resisted because it is not good for anybody and it is not good for business. Apart from that I don’t know what I drew on. They put me in a skirt which always has a very profound effect on me. It is very liberating. I recommend it. Except in the wet. The problem with genre movies is everything is wet. You forget that. So when I said: ‘Yes, I will wear a full length velvet skirt’ it sounded like a good idea until I got on set. The set looks perfectly alright now but as soon as you start shooting the guys come in with the hoses and it starts dripping so everything is wet all of the time. It is a vampire world and it is a castle and you can’t have a dry castle. It’s got to be wet so you end up with a very soggy bum. You don’t need to know that detail but now you do. It is a battle skirt obviously. We should always preface the word ‘skirt’ with the word ‘battle’.

Bill Nighy in Underworld: Rise of the Lycans

What he likes most about playing Viktor…
I do like hissing. I like giving it a bit of vampire cat. When you get your fangs in, when you get your battle fangs in I should say, because as you probably know there are two level of fang. There is your usual street fang and then there is when you get engaged and they suddenly become much longer and fiercer. When you get your battle fangs in and hiss, I enjoy that. There was a scene the other day with Michael Sheen where I don’t think there was any dialogue. It entirely consisted of him roaring at me and me hissing back him. I do enjoy that stuff.

On the pleasure of playing a villain…
Yeah, they are meant to have more fun. And in terms of acting it is great. You try to be as obnoxious as you possibly can which you never get to do in life. You never get to use the muscles in your face that make you completely obnoxious. So it is kind of refreshing in that way. And it is fun to see how bad and awful you can be.

When one hapless journo asked if it was hard to shrug off Viktor once the camera stopped rolling…
No it is not. How dare you. It is absolutely effortless. Actors always talk about taking their work home and I always think: ‘What are you on? You just turn it off. You are at work and then you go home.’ But maybe you should ask people’s wives and families because they are best placed to know. I don’t go back to the hotel and hiss at people. At least I don’t think I do.

On the experience of returning to a franchise with a new director and a new female star…
It is nice to welcome new people and they have all come with a respect for it. The director, Patrick Tatopoulos, has been associated with the movies anyway and he has been tremendous.  I don’t think of him as a first time director because he doesn’t seem to be a first time director. He has been completely brilliant. And you also feel doubly reassured because like Len he comes from a design background and a genre background so he is steeped in the language of these movies and movies like these movies. And Rhona Mitra has come in and she is brilliant and beautiful and lovely and can do all these things that I can’t do like fight, ride and look tough. She is always up for it with the sword or horses. She just rides about, does dialogue, hits the mark, gets the sword out, and gives someone a hard time effortlessly. She has been a brilliant addition to the whole series. It is a bit like returning to school and there are some new boys on the block. It is a vampire/werewolf movie and the people who are here dig vampire/werewolf movies otherwise they wouldn’t be here. It is a successful franchise and everyone is happy to be a part of it.  

Rhone Mitra, Underworld: Rise of the Lycons

On watching himself on screen…
I never watch my own films. I had to watch Love Actually once. I don’t know how other actors do it. I know actors are supposed to but if I can possibly avoid it, I do. I hadn’t seen Underworld until we were filming Underworld: Evolution. I watched it in the hotel a couple of nights before we started filming. I just can’t. I don’t know why everyone isn’t the same. There is nothing in it for me to watch myself. All I see is how far short it falls from what was going on in my head or what I was attempting and I don’t need that information. I would rather live without that information. There was one occasion when I was with my daughter when she was younger and I took her to see a movie and it was too weird for her to see her father hanging out in the lobby. I couldn’t rationalise it: ‘Well Dad goes away now because he finds the sight of himself physically repulsive’… you can’t really explain that to a child. ‘What is wrong, Daddy?’. Well, you can hardly respond with ‘It makes me nauseous when I lay eyes upon my own image’. You can’t do that. She held my hand the whole way through it and every time I came on she just squeezed my hand. That worked.

On being invited to play a thousand year old vampire…
Well, I tell you what, I was amazed to get the gig but then I am always amazed to get the gig. I do remember it was a very bad day when I got Underworld. I was on a tube in London town and it was very hot and someone threw themselves under the tube and died. I had to get off the tube and everyone was quiet and awful. And then I remember having to walk for miles to get to the place where I was meeting Len for the first time. Not that this means anything, I am just telling you because it was a horrible moment. And then I have to go for this job and I met this very nice man and I did my version of a vampire and then he walked away and you think: ‘that will be the end of that’. Like most actors I have done 690 of these things and you get maybe 12 or something. You get used to just walking away and thinking they won’t happen. But I did admire the script. I remember thinking this is serious because I really do like vampire stories and they are not always that great. There are obviously some very distinguished exceptions to that but a lot of them don’t do it justice and this one did. And I was keen, I was very keen.

 The thousand year old bit… had I known what the thousand year old bit meant… if I truly knew what being asleep for a thousand years in the first one meant I would never have turned up. It was six hours to put the prosthetic on. First of all they fly you to Los Angeles and pour a bucket of alginate over your head and just before they pour the bucket the young man says, ‘um… do you get… like… claustrophobic or anything’ and it is a little late for that actually. They put things up your nose so you can breathe and then they wait for it to harden. You can feel it hardening around your shoulders and head and they take that off and then they put it all over your torso and you stand up. And they all stop laughing at your jokes because you have to stand up for some time while it hardens around your rib cage and it all gets a bit spooky and a bit quiet and you’re wondering why it has all gone a bit quiet and then afterwards they crack you out of it and tell you that half the people faint apparently because it gets so tight around their ribs that they can’t breathe properly. They have to catch you when that happens which is why it all goes a bit quiet. By the time you leave the building they have a full length model of you and they can do anything to it. They can cut your head off, they can cut your legs off, anything they want.

I would love to have one in the hall actually; if it had the right skirt on.

Bill Nighy, Underworld: Rise of the Lycons

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