"Of course, the main reason why a British actor wants to be in films," Nesbitt noted, is the same reason he keeps taking up smoking after each time he quits: "There's still an element of cool about it. You can say to your mates who are working in television, 'I'm doing a movie.' "
Nesbitt sometimes engages in mock-envy conversations with actor friends such as Jason Isaacs ("Peter Pan") who have successfully leaped to L.A. "Jason loves it here. He would say," -- Nesbitt switched to a posh English accent -- " 'God. I'm so envious of your career. Here I am doing these Hollywood shallow movies, and you're doing this important work.' I say to him, 'Yeah. Look out your window. The sun is shining and you're making a million dollars a movie.' "
Viewing U.S. TV shows
During his childhood in Northern Ireland, Nesbitt immersed himself in U.S. television and movies. He was obsessed, he says, with "Cheers," "MASH" and "Hill Street Blues." "When English people talk about Americans' lack of irony, I reel off those shows." While there's "a lot of American dross," Nesbitt said, "American writers are great. The work we're doing on 'Murphy' is absolutely being driven by what recent American television is teaching us," he said, citing "24" and "The Shield."
He also idolized Paul Newman, Al Pacino, Bill Murray and even the younger John Cusack. But he went to university at Belfast to pursue a career in teaching.
"I started a French degree but made the existential choice to give up studying the existentialists. At 4 o'clock in the morning when I was writing a very overdue essay on 'Les Mains Sales' by Sartre, I thought, 'It's time to give this up,' " he said. "I very bravely went to my elder sister's house and said, 'Will you ring Mom and Dad tomorrow and tell them I'm giving up the university?' "
Nesbitt is particularly proud of maintaining his Northern Irish accent and persona regardless of whether the role calls for an Irish character. "It's easier to act in your own accent," he said. More important, he believes he can introduce viewers to something new -- a contemporary character from Northern Ireland who doesn't carry "the burden of the Troubles."
In Hollywood, though, his accent could hang him up -- at least in network television. Then again, who knows?
The previous evening, out on the town with fellow BBC actor Steve Coogan, Nesbitt had run into Owen Wilson. "He knew Steve. He's just this great guy who's loving life. I love that." And he ran into an agent friend whose encouraging words made him think again about that crossroads.
"I do want to work here," he said with some finality. And then he clarified: "I'd love someone to ask me to come here and work."