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Ordeal by Innocence star Bill Nighy reveals why he almost gave up acting

The star of the BBC's new Agatha Christie adaptation explains why he longs to be typecast

Published: Wednesday, 30th May 2018 at 11:34 am

Are you an Agatha Christie fan?


I discovered the books when young and read all of them. I gave them to my daughter when she was 12. It was marvellous to see her go through them.

Did you remember the Ordeal by Innocence story from having read it?

I barely remember my name! I buy books and get to chapter three and go, “Oh! I’ve done it again. I read this in 1995.” I’ve done that half a dozen times. So I didn’t remember, no!

Did you go back to the book?

If I’m doing adaptations of novels, I don’t read the book. You don’t need all that information, which may or may not have survived into the script.

Who do you play?

Leo Argyll, widower of the murdered Rachel Argyll and head of a rather strange house comprising their five adopted children, all of whom have shady pasts. Everyone looks very shifty, and hopefully the audience will bounce around trying to figure it out. Leo is an amateur Egyptologist and very interested in dead bodies…

Have you ever been accused of something you didn’t do?

Yes. At assembly once in school, somebody next to me did something like pinch somebody’s bum, and I was accused of doing it. I was sent to the headmaster to be beaten and then the boy who did it came up and confessed, which was quite a big deal. He rocketed in my estimation.

Do you ever watch yourself on telly?

No. I tried that when I was young and less complicated to look at, and it was bloody awful. I was third bank robber in Softly, Softly [BBC1 1976]. I was staying in digs with some people — they were all crowded in the front room, and then I came on TV. I walked out, it was so terrible.

What was so bad about it?

I had a phoney accent, which was just not committed enough, and my hair, obviously. Oh! I went on Richard & Judy once, and they said, “We’ve got a bit of a surprise for you.” I said, “Oh?” And they showed Softly, Softly. So I was on TV, watching myself on TV. It was horrible. If you wanted to find out the perfect way to wind me up, this was it.

Did you ever think about quitting acting?

Oh, I thought of quitting, if not daily, then weekly. I was so unhappy. I just hated it, for years. It’s not unpleasant all the time, and you work with great people and I am proud of some of the things I’ve done. You get a degree of satisfaction when it’s over, but the actual process is never satisfactory.

What kept you going?

I couldn’t think of anything else to do. I flunked school — not that that would prevent you from doing anything in life — but I didn’t have any other ideas. I was deeply self-conscious, which you are supposed to be. Every actor is self-conscious.

Would you like to do more TV series?

Yes, I would. I was quite surprised when I got this because I don’t normally get many TV offers. I don’t mind how big the screen is, I don’t mind where the screen is, I don’t even mind if there is no screen. If the material is any good — and good material is thin on the ground — I don’t care if it’s on telly, film or on stage.

Do you worry about being typecast?


Oh, I long to be typecast! You can do good work. Having said that, I had a great time being a squid in Pirates of the Caribbean.


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