Bill Nighy’s elasticity as an actor has served him well. The man perhaps most famous for a playing an aging rock star in “Love Actually” does cantankerous crab and jovial clown with equal measure of believability, which might be why he was chosen to be Grandsanta in “Arthur Christmas.” Nighy plays the most recently retired Santa in the multigenerational Claus family. He spoke about playing a cranky old man and his own family’s contentious holiday traditions.
You seem too young for this role.
Yes, thank God. When I went for the job, I thought I was going for Father Christmas and then they said, “No, no, no Jim Broadbent is playing Father Christmas, so it’s Grandsanta.” Well, he’s 136. Thank you for noticing I am not quite 136.
What were your own Christmases like growing up?
We traditionally play games and split the family into two teams. We immediately become fascistic and scream and shout at each other. It’s quite seriously scary because people really scream at one another. They immediately become a team; and if you’re not used to it, if you’re not ready for it, it’s a shock.
“Love Actually” has become a Christmas classic. Did you consider that when choosing this project?
I do like the fact that “Love Actually” has entered the Christmas language. I did seriously think when I read the script for “Arthur Christmas,” “If they do this halfway decently then it will be a perennial.” And I did want to be a part of it.