Why Bill Nighy's now voicing toons: Astro Boy, Rango

Contributed by
Dec 14, 2012, 3:54 PM EST

Bill Nighy has a voice made for animation, but he's actually done precious little voice-over work ... until now.

Nighy—the British actor who's played Davy Jones in the most recent Pirates of the Caribbean films and Viktor in the Underworld trilogy—will throw a one-two animation combination punch with Astro Boy and Rango.

Based on the beloved Japanese manga by Osamu Tezuka, the big-screen adaptation of Astro Boy will be an origin story about the little robot boy with superpowers who returns home to Metro City to save it from a military threat and also to reconcile with his estranged "father." The movie is helmed by David Bowers and features a voice cast that also includes Nicolas Cage, Freddie Highmore (as Astro Boy), Eugene Levy, Donald Sutherland, Kristen Bell and Nighy as Astro Boy ally, Dr. Elefun.

"I didn't really know about Astro Boy, but as soon as ... a few things were explained to me, I was so pleased to be in Astro Boy," Nighy said. "They have statues in Japan of Astro Boy. They have whole stores, obviously, dedicated to Astro Boy. I love Astro Boy. I've seen some of it and it looks really smart and really cool. I'm hoping to go to Tokyo in October for the premiere. I'd love to be there, because it will be such a big event."

Nighy added, "I love the images. I love the script. I love the whole spirit of the thing, the idea that this boy, who is supposed to be a robot without any emotions or emotional life, in fact, quite the reverse is true. And then you have a deeply contemporary story about—guess what—the threat to the environment and how military development can harm the world. But, mostly, I just love the figure of Astro Boy and the kind of tragic but heroic elements about him. And Elefun, he's the voice of reason. He's the voice of compassion and sense, and he also has an instinctive understanding that, although a robot, Astro Boy has some kind of inner life."

Recording his dialogue for Astro Boy, Nighy found himself all alone in a booth. That wasn't the case, however, with Rango, an animated action-adventure with Johnny Depp as the voice of a household pet on a journey of self-discovery. The film is directed by Gore Verbinski, who helmed the Pirates trilogy, and it features the voices of Depp, Nighy, Isla Fisher and Abigail Breslin.

"I'm a rattlesnake with a machine gun," Nighy said. "That was done like a sort of radio play or like rehearsing a theater play, where everybody was in the room at the same time. And they filmed it. Crash [Mark "Crash" McCreery], who did all the drawings for Pirates—which people may not have seen, but he's an incredible artist—he's done all the images, all the animation, the drawings. I only just did [my voice over] at the beginning of the year, so it'll be a while. But I got to meet Harry Dean Stanton. I didn't know what to say. Suddenly he was there, and I couldn't think of anything to say."

Astro Boy will blast into theaters on Oct. 23, while Rango is slated to open on March 18, 2011.