MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
If you hear the name Bill Nighy you may think the science guy. Well, this next story involves the actor Bill Nighy. He played the washed-up rock star in "Love Actually," among many other roles. Nighy's a well-known stage actor in England, and one of his most successful collaborations is with the playwright David Hare. They're together again on Broadway this time in a revival of Hare's drama, "Skylight." Jeff Lunden reports.
JEFF LUNDEN, BYLINE: The actor and the writer first worked together on a television movie in 1980, and they've been working on and off ever since.
DAVID HARE: Our paths haven't crossed; we've beaten a path towards each other.
LUNDEN: That's playwright David Hare.
BILL NIGHY: Bill's my favorite leading man. I think we've worked together 10 times. And it's very unusual to have a leading man who has all the qualities of a leading man, but who also has a sense of humor - and a particular kind of humor which I enjoy very much, which is a sort of, what I call self-irony.
LUNDEN: For his part, Bill Nighy says that Hare's politically charged, emotional plays keep drawing him back
NIGHY: I admire David's writing a great deal more than I admire most other people's writing. I just enjoy speaking it. And, also, his concerns are, to some degree, my concerns.
LUNDEN: Hare has always been concerned with social issues and politics. And since 9/11, he's written a series of plays and television dramas that deal with the abuses of power. For the BBC, Hare created "The Worricker Trilogy" about an MI5 agent, played by Nighy, who takes on a corrupt prime minister.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE WORRICKER TRILOGY")
NIGHY: (As Worricker) Do you know the home secretary?
HELENA BONHAM CARTER: (As Margot Tyrrell) The one who says we can't be free because we have to be safe?
NIGHY: (As Worricker) That's her; she's our deputy prime minister.
CARTER: (As Margot Tyrrell) I thought we didn't have a deputy prime minister.
NIGHY: (As Worricker) We do now. Beasley's saying he thinks of her as his natural successor. She's been bought. We need to go to work. You coming with me?
CARTER: (As Margot Tyrrell) Try and stop me.
LUNDEN: David Hare says it's the only time he's ever written a part specifically for an actor.
HARE: I don't like to, normally, because I think it limits the characterization. But, yeah, of course, the idea that Bill's going to deliver my dialogue does keep me up to the mark.
LUNDEN: Hare knew the lanky, dapper and idiosyncratic actor would be up to the mark in "Skylight" because Nighy had played it on the West End in London. It tells the story of a millionaire restaurateur who tries to rekindle a relationship with a schoolteacher who's chosen to work in an impoverished neighborhood. The play's director, Stephen Daldry, says it's a story that resonates, even 20 years after it was written.
STEPHEN DALDRY: The conversation that the two characters have - particularly about a value system based on the banks, based on wealth, based on the ideas of the pity of the rich, based on social service, based on what teachers do, rich city, poor city, service city, not service city - all these really vital conversations are happening now in New York City, you know? The play resonates, absolutely.
LUNDEN: It's also funny.
(SOUNDBITE OF PLAY, "SKYLIGHT")
CAREY MULLIGAN: (As Kyra Hollis) It wasn't until I got out of your limousine, it wasn't until I left that warm bubble of money and good taste in which you exist...
NIGHY: (As Tom Sergeant) Thank you.
MULLIGAN: (As Kyra Hollis) ...That I remembered that most people live in a way which is altogether different.
NIGHY: (As Tom Sergeant) Well, of course.
MULLIGAN: (As Kyra Hollis) And you have no right to look down on that life.
NIGHY: (As Tom Sergeant) You're right.
MULLIGAN: (As Kyra Hollis) Thank you.
NIGHY: (As Tom Sergeant) Of course, that's right. However, in one thing you're different. I do have to say, Kyra, in one thing, you're different from everyone else in this part of town.
MULLIGAN: (As Kyra Hollis) How is that?
NIGHY: (As Tom Sergeant) You're the only person who's fought so hard to get into it when everyone else is desperate to get out.
LUNDEN: Actress Carey Mulligan, who plays the schoolteacher, says it's not just politics and sociology. She says what she likes about David Hare's writing is the way he draws out the humanity of his characters.
MULLIGAN: The romance and the grief and the loss and all those very kind of universal things that everyone has some experience of - and I think that's why the play is so touching, because David is able to articulate those parts of your life so clearly and so honestly.
(SOUNDBITE OF PLAY, "SKYLIGHT")
NIGHY: (As Tom Sergeant) This was the whole trouble with business and you. You looked down, always, on the way we did things or the way things are done. You could never accept the nature of business. I mean, finally, that's why you had to leave.
MULLIGAN: (As Kyra Hollis) Well, I must say...
NIGHY: (As Tom Sergeant) I mean...
MULLIGAN: (As Kyra Hollis) ...I never knew that was the reason.
NIGHY: (As Tom Sergeant) Oh, I'm sorry.
MULLIGAN: (As Kyra Hollis) I never knew that was why I had to leave.
NIGHY: (As Tom Sergeant) I feel badly.
MULLIGAN: (As Kyra Hollis) Badly? You did. I thought I left because your wife discovered I'd been sleeping with you for over six years.
NIGHY: (As Tom Sergeant) I mean, well, yes, that as well. That played a part in it.
LUNDEN: Actor Bill Nighy says even though it's been almost two decades since he played this role, David Hare's words still grab him.
NIGHY: There are very few plays I want to do. I love "Skylight." I adore it. It's probably my favorite play. It's certainly one of my favorite parts, obviously, otherwise I don't suppose I'd be doing it again.
LUNDEN: And he and David Hare will almost certainly be working together again down the road. For NPR News, I'm Jeff Lunden in New York.
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