And what did he discover he liked about acting? "I didn't discover anything that I liked about it. It terrified me! I thought, 'In a minute, I'll stop.' Every time I finished a job, I swore that I would never put myself through that kind of humiliation ever again."
But don't be fooled: In play after play, he established himself as a top actor in the competitive world of British theatre.
And then in 2003 came a film role that would change his life, playing an aging rocker in "Love Actually." Critics went wild, and he won a BAFTA for the role.
Nighy was in his fifties by then. "What was it like to be kind of an overnight success at that stage in your life?" asked Braver.
"The groovy thing [was] I didn't have to audition any more," he said. "I used to go for interviews about jobs, and there would be something odd about the exchange. And I'd realize that they were trying to talk me into the job, rather than me begging for it, which was a big and desirable change!"
He went on to play the Minister of Magic in a Harry Potter movie; he was the squid-faced villain Davy Jones in two "Pirates of the Caribbean" films; and he's one of the retirees taking up residence in India in the hit "Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" films.
There's no double of him driving the motorbike, with Judi Dench as passenger. "Every morning I used to wake up and think, 'Just don't kill Judi Dench!'"
In real life, Nighy is single, after a 27-year relationship and one daughter with British actress Diana Quick. He acknowledges overcoming alcoholism; and there is something else: "One of the things that people do talk about is the way you hold your hands," said Braver.
"Well, I suffer ... I don't suffer, I have Dupuytren's Contracture, which is a hereditary condition, which my mother had, and her father had." It means his fingers cannot fully straighten.
"It kind of looks elegant," said Braver.
"Well, younger actors have on occasion come up and said, 'I love that thing you do with your hands.' And I could say, 'Yeah, you know, it's something we came up with in rehearsals,' but I have to tell the truth!"
Indeed, it hasn't cramped his style. But even with "Skylight" nominated for seven Tony Awards, Bill Nighy isn't taking anything for granted:
"I do have average difficulty thinking positively about myself," he said. "I mean, I just always have. So there's nothing like a Tony nomination. For ten minutes gives you confidence. For those ten minutes when the phone call [comes], you go, 'Well, maybe I'm not crazy!'"
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