​Bill Nighy on "Skylight"

The Tony nominee for Best Actor in a Play discusses challenges on stage as well as the groovy part of becoming famous.

CBS News

It's almost Tony time on Broadway -- the big award show is just two weeks from tonight, here on CBS. And among the five nominees for Best Leading Actor is a man whose name might not immediately come to mind. Rita Braver reveals his identity:

Walking in New York City, Bill Nighy says people on the street may think he's their dentist or brother-in-law. "It's like, 'Do I know you?' You go, 'Well, maybe, probably not!'"

You may not know his name, but you probably have seen Nighy's familiar face on the big screen. He's been in dozens of films, frequently drawing rave reviews for making small parts into significant ones, such as in "About Time."

And now he doing his best on Broadway, nominated for a Tony Award for his role in "Skylight."

"You know, I occasionally surprise myself," he told Braver. "Mostly I just try to do the best I can."

Nighy plays a man who has reconnected with his former mistress (played by Carey Mulligan, also a Tony nominee).

Tom (Nighy): "You looked down always on the way we did things. On the way things are done. You could never accept the nature of business. I mean, finally that's why you had to leave."
Kyra (Mulligan): "I never knew that was why I had to leave."
Tom: "I put it badly -"
Kyra: "I thought I left because your wife discovered I'd been sleeping with you for over six years."
Tom: "Well ... that played a part in it."
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Bill Nighy and Carey Mulligan in "Skylight."
CBS News

Braver asked Nighy, "Why do you like playing this character? What do you see in him that makes you want to do this play every night?"

"It's just a very good part. It exercises you," he replied. "I mean, you know, not that much. I'm not one given to -- you know, if anybody mentions the word 'challenge' I usually call a cab, you know what I mean? People say, 'Oh, this is refreshing, it must be a challenge.' You think, 'Yeah, right, I need a challenge like I need a gun at my head.' But it is challenging, and you get to kind of run the gamut."

On stage, Nighy and Mulligan argue about everything, even cooking. But off stage she marvels at his ability:

"His energy works with an audience in way that I've never really kind of got, [or] understood before," Mulligan told Braver. "He's able to understand what an audience is sort of tuning into and what they're not."

Today, at 64, Nighy is known for his elegant manners and bespoke suits ("Check me out! Check me out!") . But he grew up a restless, working class kid in Surrey, England.

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Bill Nighy with correspondent Rita Braver.
CBS News

How did he decide to become an actor? "I met a girl," he said. "She was the first girl who had paid any attention to me. And she could have said 'astronaut,' and I would probably have given that a shot. And she was going to drama school, she said, 'You could be an actor.' And I had no idea what that meant.

"And then, you know, one thing led to another."