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posted: 11/9/2014 6:00 AM

Bill Nighy, PBS wrap up 'Worricker' trilogy

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  • British spy Johnny Worricker (Bill Nighy) returns in PBS' "Worricker: Turks and Caicos" and "Worricker: Salting the Battlefield."

    British spy Johnny Worricker (Bill Nighy) returns in PBS' "Worricker: Turks and Caicos" and "Worricker: Salting the Battlefield."

 
By John Crook
Zap2it

Three years after we first met British spy Johnny Worricker in the critically acclaimed 2011 espionage drama "Page Eight," Bill Nighy and writer-director David Hare round out their trilogy with two new Worricker adventures premiering Sunday, Nov. 9, on PBS' "Masterpiece Contemporary."

As fans may remember, in "Page Eight," Johnny -- a former Cold War spy now working as an intelligence analyst for MI5 -- acquired a classified file that documented the British prime minister's (Ralph Fiennes) secret collusion with the CIA in operating "shadow sites" where prisoners were tortured. Johnny's superiors demanded he return the document, sending Johnny on the run.

"Worricker: Turks & Caicos," the second chapter in the trilogy, finds Johnny laying low in the Caribbean tax haven of the title, where he is soon drawn into a circle of American businessmen headed by tycoon Curtis Pelissier (Christopher Walken) who are bankrolling a mysterious project. Johnny also meets cynical publicist Melanie Fall (Winona Ryder), who will have a big impact on him.

Nighy is reluctant to discuss any major plot points in the story, preferring to let viewers enjoy the twists as they unfold. The actor is delighted, however, that this project gave him the opportunity to work with an actor he has long admired.

"I revere Christopher Walken," Nighy says. "He is a hero to me, one of the great actors in the world. I knew he was funny, but I didn't know he was punched-in-the-stomach funny. He's got this terrible gift where he can incapacitate you at any moment, whenever he wants. He'll sometimes go quiet for longish periods, then suddenly he'll come out with the funniest thing you've ever heard in your life."

The pairing of these two great actors -- Nighy, the taciturn minimalist, and Walken, the eccentric loose cannon -- makes for engrossing television, yet perhaps the best performance in "Turks & Caicos" comes from Ryder, shedding any affectations to play a deeply damaged character.

"This woman really pays attention to a degree that few people can," Nighy says of Ryder. "It's what Richard Curtis calls 360-degree acting. You can't see around the back of it, because there is no back of it. She is absolutely concentrated to an incredible degree, without any kind of arty-farty stuff. I was thrilled by it."

"Salting the Battlefield" on Nov. 16 closes out the Worricker trilogy as Hare originally envisioned it, but Nighy hopes we'll be seeing more of Johnny.

"It's a tall order for David to write and direct these movies," Nighy says. "But I'm going to be doing his play 'Skylight' in New York. I am hoping to use that as leverage: If I do 12 weeks in New York with his play, maybe he'll write me some more ('Worricker')."

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