Bill Nighy on “Norm of the North”, Voice Acting, and More!

In Norm of the North, in theaters today, Billy Nighy voices Socrates, a sea bird that sends polar bear Norm on a mission to New York City. He recently spoke to Entertainment Weekly about that role, his experience in radio productions, and much more!

On what attracted him to Norm of the North, Nighy says,

Oh, I loved my character. I liked the way he looked; I liked that he was called Socrates and that he was a philosopher-shrink. The whole thing was attractive. It was a great script, and it’s about something current going on in the Arctic.

He goes on to elaborate on what he’s learned about acting from his roles voicing animated characters, including not only Socrates but also roles in Rango and Flushed Away.

It accustomed me to the discipline of focusing entirely on my voice. And knowing that’s all you have. When I come to do voices for animation, I do feel kind of prepared in a way that I wouldn’t without that experience. It’s very enjoyable, and then I get to go away for a few years while the work is done. Animation artists are heroic. It’s an enormous investment in terms of time before they see the thing let lose in the world.

Discussion of voice acting soon veered the interview toward Nighy’s illustrious career in radio – including a BBC production of Lord of the Rings where he voiced Samwise Gamgee! Nighy says of the importance of radio and his experience with that role:

I love the radio. BBC Radio is a vital part of our cultural life, not to sound too precious about it. I had no plans to make statements like that today, but it’s true. Radio is so crucial […] I often meet people who are thirty[-]something now, and they only know me as Sam Gamgee because they were made to be quiet by their parents while in the back of the car during long European journeys. My voice is embedded in their early consciousness.

The discussion turns next to the power of storytelling and how remarkably powerful radio and theater productions can be, despite their flashy alternatives on television and film. Nighy uses a current London production as a particularly remarkable example:

There’s a play that runs in London now [-] it’s been running for years [-] called ‘The Woman in Black.’ It’s two guys telling a ghost story. And people leap into each others[‘] laps. You can do that in 3-D and have trains coming off the tracks and heading towards the audience, and they’ll leap as well. But this is just from the storytelling. There’s one effect, where you see a face going by a window — at which point most of the theater lose their lunch.

During the interview, Nighy even touches on his performance in Pride, which he starred in alongside fellow Potter alum Jessie Cave.

I couldn’t believe my luck when I got that script. It deals with two things [that] are close to my heart[: t]he emancipation of gay men and women and the miners strike in England, which was a civil war here. Margaret Thatcher destroyed whole communities in her ideological quest to crush the Trade Union movement. She invented the minors as enemies of the state, when in fact they were exemplary people, working men and women. So to have one story, which dovetailed those two narratives in such a lovely way[…] I was just lucky to be in it.

It’s always fascinating to hear from someone who’s had a career as long and varied as Mr. Nighy’s! Be sure to read the full interview right here.

Jessica J.

I've been making magic at MuggleNet since 2012, when I first joined the staff as a News intern. I've never wavered from the declaration in my childhood journal, circa October 2000: "I LOVE Harry Potter! If I clean my room, my mom says she'll make me a dinner a wizard would love!" Proud Gryffindor; don't hate.