A Quick Chat With First Omen Stars Bill Nighy And Nell Tiger Free

Nuns are having a bit of a renaissance in pop culture.

Admittedly, their depiction hasn’t exactly been positive; the recent Sydney Sweeney horror Immaculate drew the ire of some devout Christians on social media, with the film’s marketing team going as far to use some of the worst reviews – labelling it, amongst other things, “diabolical, sacrilegious and pure evil” – to promote the movie.

It’s likely that The First Omen, another horror yarn set in the dark heart of the Italian church, will similarly be accused of blasphemy by devout viewers. However, star and living legend Bill Nighy, who grew up Catholic, is firm in his belief that his religious grandmother would have loved to still be around to see him in it.

As he explained to Zavvi: “My grandmother would have been very happy, because she always dreamt of seeing me in a Cardinal’s clothing – seeing me drenched in red satin would have been all of her dreams come true for what she expected of me. I would just hope that she wouldn’t see the film or read the script that went along with it!

“I do think part of the attraction to me was a curiosity to that hidden dark side. I love Rome and the way religion is expressed in the city’s architecture, and that hiding some dark forces of horror is a killer combination…”

Nighy stars alongside Nell Tiger Free, best known for her role as mysterious nanny Leanne in AppleTV+’s cult horror series Servant, who here leads as the American Margaret, arriving in the Italian capital to work at an orphanage at a time of mass civil unrest. But the protests happening in the streets are nowhere near as dramatic as what’s happening behind closed doors – which, as a prequel to The Omen, you should know involves a conspiracy to bring the Antichrist into the world.

20th Century Studios

Avoiding more specific plot spoilers is a challenge here, but speaking to Zavvi, Free outlined the similarities and differences between these two conflicted horror characters she’s played.

She said: “Well, for starters, they’re both brunette, and they’re both devout in their faith! But when we meet them at the beginning of their respective journeys, there’s a sensitivity and a meekness to both of them – but I think outside of those ways that they’re comparable, they’re vastly different.

“It’s always interesting to exist in a world similar to a previous project, especially with the parallels between this and Servant when it comes to the theme of religion. At the core of them, though, they are very different people.”

20th Century Studios

The most important lesson Free took from making that series was that laughter is the most crucial thing on any horror set, as it can stop the insanity kicking in when your character is pushed to intense places.

“It’s genuinely vital for a healthy set”, she continued. “If we didn’t laugh, we would cry – and as Bill has said, you’re in an absurd situation, you have to see the funny side.

“When you take away the atmosphere and actually look at what’s required of you in each scene, it can be really hilarious. There’s one shot in the complete darkness, where Bill is moving away from me, and his expression had to be locked on my face as he was getting pulled away by this pulley thing; it’s an intense moment in the film, but when shooting it, you can’t help but notice the absurdity of what’s actually required of you.

20th Century Studios

“Laughing at even the smallest things like that is the only way to stop you from losing your mind when making a movie like this. And once you start, it’s quite difficult to stop!”

The other thing that helped Free and Nighy form a bond on set was the power of music. Of course, Nighy has played several washed-up rockstars in the past, but he was also in a band in his youth, whilst Free also self-releases her own music – and this alone is the foundation for a beautiful friendship.

Nighy added: “She sent me a video when filming which I found again the other day, of her in a dressing room, in costume, wearing a pregnancy belly under her nun’s habit and dancing to James Brown. Music was all we talked about, and we sang plenty of times together – but you’d have to pay really good money if you want to see that, we haven’t practiced any further.

“If you can get 1,000 friends to go see The First Omen, maybe then we’ll perform for you…”

The First Omen is released in UK cinemas on Friday, 5th April.

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Alistair Ryder

Alistair Ryder


Alistair is a culture journalist and lover of bad puns from Leeds. Subject yourself to his bad tweets by following him on Twitter @YesItsAlistair.