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An Englishman in New York

An Englishman in New York

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New York, USA – 2023

Bill Nighy is an English national treasure and adored by all. Earlier this year, his Oscar nomination for Best Actor in a leading role in the film Living was celebrated in London, but for many it was his performance 20 years earlier as Billy Mack in the Richard Curtis romcom Love Actually that is engraved in our hearts as well as our memories.

We remember that his character in that most watchable of movies had a penchant for hard partying, promiscuity, and drugs. He stole every scene and no more so than the moment when he turned to the TV camera on a children’s show saying “Hiya kids. Here is an important message from your Uncle Bill. Don’t buy drugs. Become a pop star, and they give you them for free!” It remains one of the great quotes in comedic cinema.

Bill and I spitballed back and forth as to how to tell a story in a single frame. He is so well-read, considered, and articulate, that my default position was to listen rather than talk and so elevate the overall drift of the debate.

Together, we formed a few building blocks, we agreed on a period piece to add narrative and we independently found prompts in the image of James Dean in Boulevard of Broken Dreams. In that iconic picture, the ratio of the lead to the contextual narrative worked and the weather added an extra character for free - something I always champion.

Bill is not someone to be pigeonholed and wanted the story to be set outside of London - as that direction was a little predictable - so we settled on New York. From there the jigsaw puzzle came together. The meatpacking district, a snowstorm, and a nod to a memorable news story in the early 1960s. We chose Muhammad Ali, as we both felt this was a personality who transcended his own sphere of excellence. He was a boxer, but he represented change and in America in the 1960s it was all about change.

Bill was a total delight to work with and when the shoot wrapped, I was saddened that Bill could not morph back into Billy Mack and take me for a big night out.

He was an Englishman in New York.  ~ David Yarrow

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