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Bill Nighy is ‘Living’ the Oscar Dream: Why the British Veteran is a Best Actor Contender

Awards Circuit Column: The 73-year-old actor is on track for Academy recognition.

Bill Nighy - Living
Sony Pictures Classics

In the eyes of cinephiles, remaking any film from Japanese giant Akira Kurosawa would be sheer blasphemy. But when captivating actor Bill Nighy is at the center of the story, his angelic smile and splendid vocals do more than win you over. 

The Sony Pictures Classics drama “Living” — about a civil servant who decides to seize life after receiving a terminal cancer diagnosis — debuted at Sundance and has since made stops at the Telluride, Venice and Toronto fests, building word-of-mouth buzz along the way. The common denominator of critical acclaim and joyful audience response is Nighy, whose submersion into the role of Mr. Williams, the tale’s central figure, delivers a compelling reminder to Hollywood that the 73-year-old thespian is long overdue for accolades.

Nighy’s work is studded with memorable roles, from Davy Jones in “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” to Ray Simms, lead singer of the 1970s band Strange Fruit in “Still Crazy.” And now, the British actor is receiving the best reviews of his career for his tender performance in Oliver Hermanus’ adaptation of Kurosawa’s 1952 classic “Ikiru.”  

Recent history has seen treasured character actors invited to the Academy after illustrious careers, including David Strathairn for “Good Night, and Good Luck,” Richard Jenkins for “The Visitor” and Michael Keaton for “Birdman.” Nighy has momentum after winning the Los Angeles Film Critics Assn. prize for lead performance alongside Cate Blanchett. Factor in vital nods from the Critics Choice and Golden Globe awards, and he has a clear pathway to his moment of Oscar recognition if SAG Awards fall in line. Sweetening the deal is the film’s appeal to the British voting bloc, which has been instrumental in securing films like “The Father” (2020) and “Belfast” (2021) their respective noms.

Bill Nighy in ‘Living’ Ross Ferguson

Boosting Nighy’s campaign is the period drama’s strong prospects in other categories. With Nobel Prize winner Kazuo Ishiguro behind the script, “Living” is considered one of the front-runners for adapted screenplay and a favorite for Writers Guild and USC Scripter Awards, which are essential precursors. Costume designer Sandy Powell, a three-time Oscar winner, created the gorgeous ensembles worn by Nighy and his co-star Aimee Lou Wood, and the branch almost never resists checking her name off. Thanks to Helen Scott and Sarah Kane, likely Art Directors Guild nominees, you can’t have the threads without the sets that surround them. Also noteworthy is Emilie Levienaise-Farrouch’s soaring score, whose Oscar prospects were dashed with the shortlist announcement, but BAFTA could still come through for her.

As Nighy’s washed-up rocker Uncle Billy says to the radio DJ in “Love Actually”: “When I was young, I was greedy and foolish, and now I’m left with no one. Wrinkled and alone.”

Our Nighy has never been foolish, and voters mustn’t leave him alone this season.

See the latest film predictions, in all 23 categories, in one place on Variety’s Oscars Collective. To see the ranked predictions for each individual category, visit Variety’s Oscars Hub.

2023 Academy Awards Predictions

BEST PICTURE | DIRECTOR | ACTOR | ACTRESS | SUPPORTING ACTOR | SUPPORTING ACTRESS | ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY | ADAPTED SCREENPLAY | ANIMATED FEATURE | PRODUCTION DESIGN | CINEMATOGRAPHY | COSTUME DESIGN | FILM EDITING | MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING | SOUND | VISUAL EFFECTS | ORIGINAL SCORE | ORIGINAL SONG | DOCUMENTARY FEATURE | INTERNATIONAL FEATURE | ANIMATED SHORT | DOCUMENTARY SHORT | LIVE ACTION SHORT