Mary Nighy hits Toronto with “Alice, Darling”

Many of us have experienced helicopter parenting, but how many had their father’s movie premiere over their own?

First-time feature film director Mary Nighy, for example. On September 11, she will attend the Toronto Gala world premiere of her psychological thriller Alice, Darling, just hours after her actor father Bill Nighy’s drama Living made its Canadian debut this afternoon.

“He joked about me having the ‘cool’ time slot — we laughed about it,” she says. “‘Living’ is beautiful and I’m so proud of his work. He saw ‘Alice’ and he’s really happy for me. I think it will be nice to do this together.”

But this is where the synergy ends. Nighy’s parentage (her mother is actress Diana Quick) had nothing to do with Lionsgate funding Alice at the writing stage. Her confidence came from her early short films, episodes on British crime dramas Silent Witness and Traces and HBO/BBC hit drama Industry, and the support of Alice star/executive producer Anna Kendrick.

And Nighy shot in just 20 days the story of a nervous woman (Kendrick) whose friends suspect she is in an abusive relationship. “Once we walked to four places in one day,” she marvels. “But there was so much trust between us [cinematographer] Mike McLaughlin and Anna and I that we found time to do scenes that weren’t scripted.”

Initially following in her parents’ footsteps, Nighy started a theater festival in her London high school and made her screen debut as a teenager in her father’s 2003 TV movie The Lost Prince business would have entered. I think my mother had hopes that I would become a nuclear physicist,” she laughs. “But all kinds of artists came by at home. It was what I lived and breathed.”

At the age of 12, she watched a family friend, Charles Sturridge (father of actor Tom Sturridge, who directed her mother in Brideshead Revisited and her father in other projects), make a film about her vacation, and developed a fascination for directing. “I had never seen a woman directly on set. It was just when I was playing for Sofia Coppola [in 2006’s “Marie Antoinette”] that I realized it was something a woman could do. That’s where I started writing my first short film, which I made when I got home from shooting.”

After deciding to switch careers (“I’ve never been this comfortable in acting…I didn’t like being watched”), she met Elevation Pictures’ Christina Piovesan, who introduced her to Katie Bird Nolan and Babe Nation Films Lindsay Tapscott, all of whom eventually decided to direct Alanna Francis’ screenplay for Alice. The film will be released next year. Next, Nighy is developing an adaptation of a mother-daughter book with producer Hilary Bevan Jones and screenwriter Felix Harrison that she hopes to direct next spring or summer.

And yes, she has spoken to her parents about directing. “I think that’s why they had me,” she jokes. “I mean, what’s the use of a kid if they can’t hire you later?” Mary Nighy hits Toronto with “Alice, Darling”

Charles Jones

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