Mary Nighy Hits Toronto With ‘Alice, Darling,’ Shares Festival Experience With Dad Bill

·3 min read

Plenty of us have experienced helicopter parenting, but how many have had their dad’s film premiere hovering over their own?

First-time feature director Mary Nighy, for one. On Sept. 11, she’ll attend the Toronto Gala world premiere of her psychological thriller “Alice, Darling” just hours after her actor dad Bill Nighy’s drama “Living” has its Canadian debut that afternoon.

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“He was joking that I’ve got the ‘cool’ time slot — we were laughing about that,” she says. “‘Living’ is beautiful, and I’m so proud of his work. He watched ‘Alice’ and is really excited for me. I think it will be lovely to do this together.” 

But that’s where the synergy ends. Nighy’s parentage (her mom is actress Diana Quick) had nothing to do with Lionsgate financing “Alice” at the script stage. Their confidence stemmed from her early shorts, episodes of the U.K. crime dramas “Silent Witness” and “Traces” and the HBO/BBC hit drama “Industry,” plus the support of “Alice” star/exec producer Anna Kendrick.

And Nighy shot the story of a nervous woman (Kendrick) whose friends suspect she’s in an abusive relationship in just 20 days. “Once we ran to four locations in a day,” she marvels. “But there was such trust between [cinematographer] Mike McLaughlin and Anna and I that we found time to shoot scenes which weren’t scripted.”

Initially, Nighy followed in her parents’ footsteps, founding a theater festival in her London high school and making her screen acting debut as a teen in her dad’s 2003 TV movie “The Lost Prince.” “They would’ve really liked me not to enter the business. I think my mom was hoping I’d be a nuclear physicist,” she laughs. “But at home, all kinds of artists came around. It was what I lived and breathed.”

At age 12, she watched family friend Charles Sturridge (actor Tom Sturridge’s father, who directed her mom in “Brideshead Revisited” and her dad in other projects) make a movie of their holiday and developed a fascination for directing. “I’d never seen a woman direct on set. It was only when I acted for Sofia Coppola [in 2006’s “Marie Antoinette”] that I realized it was something a woman could do. There I started writing my first short, which I made when I came home from the shoot.”

After deciding on a career change (“I never felt that comfortable as an actor. . . I didn’t love being watched”), she met with Elevation Pictures’ Christina Piovesan, who introduced her to Babe Nation Films’ Katie Bird Nolan and Lindsay Tapscott, all of whom eventually decided to make Alanna Francis’ “Alice” script. The film will be released next year. Up next, Nighy is developing an adaptation of a mother/daughter book with producer Hilary Bevan Jones and screenwriter Felix Harrison, which she hopes to helm next spring or summer.

And yes, she has talked with her parents about directing them. “I think that’s why they had me,” she quips. “I mean, what good is a child if they can’t employ you later?”

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