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Articles On This Page:
Sam Neill: 12 Questions
Michele Hewitson Interview: Sam Neill
Love In The Paddocks
Did Sam Neill Really?… In “Dean…” He Did
Sam Neill On Directing Ski Ballet And Architects
Sam Neill Interview
Charming Neill Laps Up Dog Role
Interview : Sam Neill
Sam Neill Interview: Dean Of Movies
NBC's 'Crusoe' Interview With Sam Neill And Philip Winchester
TV Closeup: Sam Neill
Sam's Still Sexy At 60
Son Of Omagh
My Week Thanks for this, Pam!)
I Am Sam - Winemaker
Sam Neill Takes Wine Brand To Hong Kong Images and More!
New (Zealand) Honour For Neill
New Year Honours: Sam Neill Tops Bill
Neill 'tickled pink' For Arts Industry
Neill Stars In New Feature Role (Thanks for this one, Shy Fan!)
The Good Samaritan
Celebrities Gone Wild
Put It Away, Sam...
No More Mr. Nice Guy
Sam Neill And Dame Kiri To Head Actors Fund
WHO Magazine, 1993: Sexiest Man Alive
Order Two Paddocks Wine, Credits, Links
More Articles on Sam News Page 2
Sam Neill: 12 Questions
By Sarah Stuart
Tuesday May 28, 2013
Irish-born Nigel Neill grew up in New Zealand and became one of our most famous and best-loved actors, Sam Neill. He is currently playing a policeman in TV3's local drama Harry and is rehearsing for an Australian series with Bryan Brown, where he plays another cop, though this time retired.
Sam Neill says his moustache came along for the ride when he took the role of Stocks in TV3's Harry. Photo / Supplied
1.Did you always think the name Nigel was a bit of a liability?
Are you kidding? You might as well call a boy Cyril or Carol or Nancy. I met a bloke called Nigel Lythgoe once [creator of American Idol and So You Think You Can Dance], and asked him the same question. He looked at me for a few beats and then said "Try growing up in Liverpool called Nigel. And being a dancer." I understood.
2.Whose idea was the moustache for your character on Harry?
I had been supporting the moustache for a while already so it came with the package. It had taken up residence on my face about six months prior to Harry. It struck me as kind of harking back to a simpler time, when unreconstructed All Blacks and cops wore the mo with brutal pride.
3.What convinced you to do a non-leading role on a small Kiwi TV show at this stage of your career - and what is this stage of your career?
This feels like a trick question. I mean - why not? I enjoyed it, and Harry is good. I'd like all New Zealanders to see it. This stage is, without question - Salad Days.
Next up - Pudding. Or more Main Course, we'll see. If it is Pudding Days, I'd like plenty of caramel sauce and cream thanks. I'll leave room for the cheese for when I get to my 90s.
4.Can you describe the joy owning the Two Paddocks winery in Central Otago has brought you?
Not just joy for me, let it be said, but the unutterable pleasure it brings to others. I feel like a missionary bringing enlightenment and joy to darker places. No, please ... you're welcome.
5.You must have seen a lot of the foibles of Hollywood over the years: what stopped you from getting carried away with it all?
Not living there helps. The first time I went there I was already maybe 32 or 33, so I was at least semi grown up. Possibly. Bit late in the day for foibles.
6.How surreal does the celebrity machine get?
You don't have to be a celebrity unless you really want to be, and if you become one you may well live to regret it. I never have been one so it has never troubled me at all. I pick up celebrity magazines in the doctor's waiting room sometimes and I am totally mystified: who on earth are these people? What exactly is a Kardashian?
7.Your older brother Michael was interviewed for this column some months ago as he prepared to tackle King Lear: did you ever feel upstaged by his academic success?
It was clear from the get go that only one of us had the brains and it wasn't me. It was always a cause for anxiety in the holidays that my sometimes stern father would twig on to how slack I really was at school. My school reports went pretty much unremarked, however, as in fact no one expected much of me. My brother's reports were uniformly glowing, and continue to be so to this day. It was completely astonishing to my Dad when I got my first job and a great relief too. I have always been proud to have such a brother - he's the bee's knees.
8.What was the best lesson learned from your parents?
My Mum used to say when we were blubbing or something like that - "Pull yourself together. And buck up." And that's pretty sound, really. I imagine that therapy, rehab and so on - maybe even religion - they all pretty much boil down to that - pull yourself together. And for heaven's sake - buck up!
9.What do you hope to teach your own children?
Buck up kids. And be kind.
10. How would you change New Zealand, if you could?
For one thing I would eliminate that outrageous new law making it illegal to protest at sea. My God, that's a slippery path to totalitarianism right there. John Key should be ashamed.
11. Can you recall a time you felt truly lonely?
I love being solitary - swimming out a long way out and just staying there for ages, for instance. But lonely, that's not at all good. We all feel that way sometimes, me too; it's the human condition. And a sense of community is ever diminishing in the modern city. We need to say 'hello, how are you', more often. And mean it.
12. What is the greatest role of your career, thus far?
I have no idea but the one people seem the fondest of is that silly old cleric in Dean Spanley. I was fond of him too. If I might say so, I think I may have given my part in The Peaky Blinders [a BBC historic crime drama where Neill again plays a cop] a reasonably good crack; with luck someone might buy it for New Zealand later this year. You decide.
Michele Hewitson Interview: Sam Neill
By Michele Hewitson
Saturday July 28, 2012
Despite owning a vineyard, Sam Neill says he doesn't get drunk, which he credits for not having
the meltdowns his profession is known for. Picture / Natalie Slade
About a year and a half ago I emailed actor Sam Neill to ask whether, if he was ever in Auckland, I could perhaps interview him. We had a very pleasant email exchange that involved, of all things, a pig. He said he was seldom in Auckland but that I was welcome to go and see him, and to meet his pig, in Queenstown.
Now he is in Auckland filming a TV series, Harry, so we met in Devonport where he's staying at a friend's house. He'd suggested we meet in a nearby cafe but as soon as he arrived he said: "Would you like to come back to my house?" So we took a sticky sweet piece of slice each - "do you want a corner bit too?", and later, cheerfully, as we were eating it, "it'll kill you of course" - and coffee back to the house where he is baching. There were dishes in the sink and shirts drying on a clothes horse.
I mention all that because for one thing, he's supposed to be aloof and, for another, he's a big movie star, isn't he? An aloof person who was also a big movie star wouldn't reply to your email in the first place, let alone invite you to his house. The only slight disappointment was that the pig had remained in Queenstown, but he would almost make up for that.
In the meantime, I had to come up with some reason for wanting to talk to him. I'd never really had a reason other than that he's Sam Neill and I've always thought he was a terrific actor, was clever and was quite good-looking.
All of these things (not necessarily in that order) seem to me to be reason enough to want to interview somebody, but you can't quite put it like that, now can you? You'd sound like some weirdo stalker fan.
Is he good-looking? He said: "I can never really remember what I look like. I'm just sort of neutral. I don't think I'm sort of, you know, hideous."
I'd asked if he was vain, because he used to be talked about as some sort of sex symbol (although of course I didn't say so), and he'd been telling me that his wife, Noriko, hasn't changed in the 25 years he's known her. This is good genes, "and fish oil". He's supposed to take it too, but he only remembers about twice a year. So there you go: Not a bit vain.
He has a pleasant and decent face and a lovely smile and clever eyes. You don't really want to be interviewing people and thinking the whole time about how good-looking they are, so I was rather glad he turned up wearing a positively ghastly moustache. It was a new moustache but it looked as though it had been hanging about his face since the 80s. So he looked like whatever Sam Neill looks like currently, with a dead but rather friendly rat on his face. Somehow it suited him.
In Harry, he plays a copper, hence the moustache. He said: "I am not playing Grim". Grim is Neil Grimstone, a former copper of the old school who is only ever called Grim, who I know a little bit and who is the advisor on copper matters on Harry. I don't know if he gave advice on the moustache. Its wearer tweeted: "Bryan Brown thinks my moustache looks gay. I said to Bryan: 'It's 2012. My moustache can be whatever it wants to be'. I got about 200 people tweeting me back. You know: As long as your moustache is happy."
That was funny. There is, I think, an idea about him that he's a bit brooding, or at least, always terribly serious. Perhaps we've got him mixed up with his subject matter in his 1995 documentary, Cinema of Unease (or with the subtitle: A Personal Journey) in which he explored the darker side of the New Zealand psyche, via film.
He isn't particularly brooding; he can obviously be serious; he's often very funny, and is capable of great silliness, but you have to go looking for it. He writes a "ramshackle" blog on his Two Paddocks winery website, which is vaguely based on wine and sometimes his pigs. He said: "What do you want to talk to me about?" I thought his pig, and the blog.
His blog is interesting because it is certainly ramshackle and charming and a bit mad. None of these are what spring to mind when you think of Sam Neill. He presents himself on this blog as a pinot-swigging, pig-owning dero. Perhaps he's a different sort of person at home. I wondered whether he might have been drunk when he wrote this bit of whimsy: "You might just be a small pig ... Well, you might be ... and say ... your big fat mama has a habit of wandering off ... and you get shivery, shivery COLD, and probably a little teeny bit SCARED ... and where is she?"
There's quite a bit more of this, so it seems fair to ask whether he'd been at the pinot. But he says there is a "golden rule of tweeting and blogging. You never, ha, do it at night in case you are drunk. No, I don't blog drunk. I don't do anything drunk really." He doesn't really get drunk. "No, I don't think I do." No, I didn't think he would. But, Sam Neill and whimsy? Why not?
He showed me a video clip on his laptop: It's him holding a small piglet which is making the most ridiculous noises, and wriggling. He (Sam, not the pig) is laughing his head off in the video and I'm laughing my head off watching the video. But he's laughing in a curious way; he's shaking with laughter but doesn't make a sound. He is a polite and quiet laugher; he is a polite and quiet man.
He says, by the way, that actors aren't madder than anyone else but that when famous ones "blow a tyre" - a terrifically good phrase - they're just more visible. He is entirely sane, because he doesn't have a problem with drink, which is what usually leads to tyre blowing, he says. He is perhaps a little dotty about pigs. "How good is that pig?" he said about the pig in the video. I thought the bloke holding the pig was more interesting but I could be wrong.
He once said he'd "worked all my life to shed myself of any character". When I asked about it he groaned and said: "Oh God. I don't know what I meant by that. That must have been some flippant remark." He has trouble with being flippant, I think, because he is seen to be serious and so is taken seriously. But was he being entirely flippant? He then said, about Peter Sellers, whom he's interested in, that "people say that ... you were never sure who Sellers was. Even in life he was always coming up with voices all the time. But the actual essence of what Sellers was or who he was at all is interesting." Was that an answer? I still don't know. He says, by the way, that he has never "felt aloof"; that he's shy.
Which is probably why journalists who have interviewed him say, "good luck" when they hear you're going to see him. But he isn't being deliberately elusive, although it takes a while to realise this. The thing about him, in addition to the shyness, you see, is that he isn't that clever.
I know this because he, in his digressive way, told me so. He was (not at all cleverly avoiding talking about himself of course) telling me about his brother Michael, the emeritus professor and Shakespearean scholar who was to play Lear in Summer Shakespeare.
Is he ever going to do Lear? "I wouldn't do Lear." Why not? "Well, he's got the brains for it and I don't." Do you have to have really good brains to do Lear? "I think you need brains to do any Shakespeare with any authority." So he couldn't do any Shakespeare? "I could do Shakespeare, but not with any authority."
But honestly, I emailed, exasperated: Why does he pretend to be a dimwit? He answered: "Re dimwittery. An English girl I rather fancied turned on me one night and said I was the slowest person she had ever met. Speak slow, move slow, think slow. Just ... slow.
I had to agree."
All of this is true, or part of the truth. He came to New Zealand when he was 7, from Ireland, and his brother, who was 12, said in an interview recently that it was easier for his younger siblings because "they learned to pretend to be New Zealanders. I think those were his words."
Is that true, does he think? "I'm sure we adapted quicker than he did. He still sounds British."
What does he sound like? "Just some kind of mongrel."
The actual essence of Neill, or who he is, is probably not as complicated as you can make it by peering at that Sellers stuff and trying to figure out how cryptic it is or apropos of what it might be.
This is possibly a better answer. I asked about his father, a military man who wore a mo all his life except for the one time he shaved it off: "To the weeping laughter of his children ... He looked like someone else, of course". He said: "I think he was a very nice man who seemed quite distant and severe but wasn't really.
"He was really rather charming. And, you know, a bit absentminded and rather agreeable." He sounds lovely, rather like someone else ... who is not, either, a great actor. "Serviceable," he says, which is, "not bad."
I could never figure out just how famous he is; maybe a bit famous. He said "famous" was over-stating it and that he wouldn't want to be truly famous for "quids. Mind you, they do make plenty of quids, but as compensation goes for loss of privacy ... small cheese, I'm afraid. They are cruelly imprisoned."
He has, I think, the very best of all worlds. He gets well-paid work and he finds his work to be great good fun and travels all about the place having fun and then comes home to New Zealand and buggers about (he once said that's what he'd do if he ever ran out of work) with his wine and the pigs.
It seems the perfect life to me and I don't know where this idea that he's some sort of misery-guts comes from. He's the happiest man I've ever met.
And I was very happy to have met despite him not being Sam Neill at all but some slow, not at all famous actor who may or may not be a bit good-looking - if only I could remember what he looked like. Who cares? The other guy was, like Sam Neill's father, a very nice and charming man.
Love In The Paddocks
Actor/oenophile Sam Neill Gives Celebrity-Owned Vineyards A Good Name.
By Don Mendoza
Apr 15, 2011
THERE are those who make a name making good wine. And then there is a romantic bunch of famous folk - or celebrities - who share a common affinity with owning a vineyard.
David Beckham apparently bought one for Victoria. And singer-songwriter Sting owns one, which is where he produces his "rock music wine".
Thankfully, there are the celebrated few who might know a little more about what they're doing. Celebrities like Sam Neill - actor, self-confessed lover of red, red wine (and we don't mean the UB40 song) and proprietor of cult winery Two Paddocks in Central Otago, New Zealand.
Indeed, the 63-year-old Kiwi is more famously hailed as a nomadic thespian who has made a name for himself taking on diverse movie roles such as the Antichrist in Omen III: The Final Conflict (1981) and a palaeontologist-slash-accidental-hero in Jurassic Park (1993).
Yet, despite an impressive list of films and blockbusters that top a string of hit television mini-series such as Merlin and The Tudors, Neill, who is one of New Zealand's most credited actors, told Today that he doesn't actually see himself as a "celebrity".
"I don't count myself in that pack," he clarified. "Well, you don't see me in the social pages. And I've never partied with Charlie Sheen."
He continued: "I'm a reasonably successful actor but I'm not one of those celebrity actors."
Regarding fellow actor Gerard Depardieu's foray into the world of wine-making, Neill agreed that the man is after all French. "He has a well-developed nose for wine. A spectacular nose," he quipped.
Neill did proceed to deduce that he didn't know many actors who make wine, noting in the discussion that Francis Ford Coppola is a director and Cliff Richard only had one movie.
Seizing the opportunity to further indulge his natural wit, he added: "I mean I know lots of actors who drink, and drink very successfully. And some of them shouldn't drink at all."
Close to home
"I read somewhere that pinot noir is a wine for the intelligent wine drinker, and I felt a lot better about myself," Neill shared. Jokes aside, the self-made oenophile is seriously in love with wine - the Central Otago pinot noir, in particular.
The region in which this temperamental varietal is grown is now home to the actor and his family after he moved back to New Zealand in 1987, from England where he had been living for seven years. And that was before he knew of the land's intrinsic worth.
As fate would have it, the area is one of the very few pockets in the world that the pinot noir (the red burgundy clone) is grown successfully.
He explained: "When that became apparent, I thought, I'm going to buy 10 acres and I'm going to plant some vines and see what happens."
Neill did just that in 1993 and was surprised with the success of the winery's first vintage, the 1997.
"Initially, I thought, I just want to have something on the table for my family and my friends," Neill said. "But then I got more ambitious when I realised we could grow something really special."
The winery is still called Two Paddocks, after its initial two plots, although the business has grown to encompass three vineyards. These are harvested to produce a clever variety, essentially its top of the range Two Paddocks Pinot Noir, the more seriously affordable Picnic Pinot Noir by Two Paddocks, the occasional single vineyard vintages from its Gibbston and Last Chance vineyards when appropriate, as well as some Riesling and sauvignon blanc.
That said, Neill's passion for wine is driven by something greater that the opportunity to maximise profits; something closer to the heart.
Wine, he believes, is something we discover as we make our way through life. "You discover yourself. You discover art. And you discover wine. It's one of those great journeys you go on in life.
"It doesn't dominate my life ... It's about friendship and conversation, and living a complete life. That's what wine is for me."
Wine-making, on the other hand, is a slightly more complicated relationship to nurture. But Two Paddocks does seem to be blessed with incredible talent, not least its lead wine-maker Dean Shaw.
Making wine is like making a film, Neill conceived. "You've got a much better chance of making great film if you work with great people."
Neill has also grown significantly since his first taste of a burgundy. "I had dinner with James Mason and he ordered a bottle of something which I thought was quite extraordinary ... And I said, 'What is this? I've never had anything like this. This is fantastic.' I was young then (about 28 years old). And I mostly drank stuff out of cardboard boxes prior to that.
"He said, 'Well, this is red burgundy, try and remember that,'" Neill recalled. "And I took that advice to heart."
Do you see this as something you will be doing long past your acting career?
Sam Neill: Of course ... Well, two things about that. One is that I've no intention of retiring, thank you very much. The second thing is that I believe Two Paddocks has its own momentum and is independent of me. I mean, I could get flattened by a Singapore bus today and Two Paddocks will (still) be going in 100 years.
How did you end up in love with wine?
It has always been in the family. There was always wine on the table. And we grew up with wine. And my father was a great wine enthusiast ... I'm sort of fourth- or fifth-generation in the wine business, loosely speaking. (His family had a business importing wine and spirits from France.) Not growing wine ... I'm the first one to actually plant anything and produce it.
Do you appreciate wine-making as much as you do playing great characters in movies?
I see these things as being sort of complementary. There is always downtime in between films ... One of the things that actors dread is the waiting around. On any given day of filming, you probably actually work a total of 10 minutes. And the rest of the time, you're waiting around for the camera to be set up, the lights to change. So I might as well be on the computer, on Skype, dealing with the vineyard. And I write my blog ... which has this weird fanatical following around the world. It's much more than a hobby - it's a commitment and I'm dedicated to it. And it has been a very rewarding process. It's been very gratifying that Two Paddocks has become a kind of a cult in itself and it has its own following.
How involved are you in the wine-making processes?
Reasonably. The style of the wines is very much under my guidance. But my wine-maker knows a great deal more about wine than I ever will. I mean he should - that's his job. And the same goes for my viticulturist.
How would you describe the Two Paddocks pinot noir?
Well, I have lots of words for it, but I think it's … deceptively unassuming. Very seductive and multi-dimensional. And very rewarding with age.
How would you describe your wines in terms of summer blockbusters and Oscar-winning vintages?
Some years are outstanding and some years are more challenging. One of our vineyards is about the most southerly vineyard in the world ... more than Chile or Tasmania. And for that reason, some years can be difficult. We can get frost at either end of the season. We've lost huge parts of our crops from time to time.
Do you think more New Zealand actors will see the wine business as a good investment?
I would advise them not to. Here's the thing, there's a lot of wine in the world, but there's never enough great wine. There's always a shortage of great wines. But there are no guarantees that you are going to make great wine.
So you think that there are enough connoisseurs in the world to appreciate that fact?
I think more and more people are getting interested in wine. I know the recession has hit some vineyards quite hard ... but as people are more interested in drinking good wine, I think there's a bright future for wine. And in Asia, people have stopped putting Coca-Cola into their Chateau Lafite - that's very encouraging. I see more interest in this part of the world. Two Paddocks has been in Hong Kong for five or six years now. We've got a very loyal and keen following there.
No cravings for a big Margaux, then?
I don't want to offend anyone but I'm just not interested in Bordeaux - it's not for me. I just don't get it. I've kinda leap-frogged over bordeaux and I went straight to burgundy and pinot, and that's where my heart lies.
Limited quantities of the Two Paddocks Pinot Noir 2008 (S$73.00), Two Paddocks Picnic Riesling (S$43.00) and the Two Paddocks Picnic Pinot (S$50.80) are available at Hermitage Wines (One Marina Boulevard, B1-04 OMB, Tel: 6438 1120).
Did Sam Neill Really?… In “Dean…” He Did
By Saeed Saeed
March 10, 2009
Sam Neill stars in the off-kilter comedy Dean Spanley.
WHEN Sam Neill first read the script for Dean Spanley, he was truly stumped.
This off-kilter British-New Zealand comedy, set in Edwardian England, required Neill to play the title role of a clergyman reincarnated as a dog.
In some scenes, Neill enthusiastically sniffs food before eating it, and howls at the moon.
The 61-year-old rejected the role three times before being persuaded.
“This role was really a departure from anything that was familiar to me,” Neill said.
“It was really two roles in one, so I was struggling on finding a way to play it and make it seem credible.”
Starring alongside Neill is British screen legend Peter O’Toole, and Jeremy Northam, both seeking Dean Spanley’s help to heal their strained father-son relationship.
Performing alongside O’Toole was an education, Neill said.
“Just watching him construct this wonderfully nuanced performance was just a fabulous thing to see.”
But his own performance required a delicate balance as to not render it a parody, he said.
“There are very unlikely characteristics this man has, so to contain it within the parameters of some kind of reality was really quite risky.”
Risk has helped make Neill one of the screen’s most versatile actors.
He’s played a swashbuckling wizard in hit television miniseries Merlin; a youthful anti-Christ in the third Omen horror film; even gouged his eyes when playing a mad scientist in the space thriller Event Horizon.
“What you don’t want to do is repeat yourself and start getting bored with yourself, let alone your script,” he said.
“I am actively looking for films that can give me some sort of stretch and this is as big a stretch as I think I’ve had.”
Dean Spanley has received standing ovations at film festivals in Europe and Canada, and Neill credits its success to being an old-fashioned crowd-pleaser.
“The other night after a screening a woman told me the film made her love her dog even more,” he said.
“So the film is not just about love in the family, it’s also about loving other species.”
Sam Neill On Directing Ski Ballet And Architects
Posted by Screen Talker
March 6, 2009
INTERVIEW ON VIDEO
Kiwi acting icon Sam Neill (The Piano, Jurassic Park) talks to NZ On Screen. Neill recalls the time in his twenties when he apprenticed as a director at the National Film Unit (“about a hundred thousand years ago”) after being inspired to join by his university mate John Laing. He reflects on the unofficial film school it provided:
~ there was an attitude of making “one for them - the post office, railways or banana company - and one for yourself”.
~ the challenge of getting through personal projects under the auspices of tourism - the NFU was mandated with making promotional films for the tourism dept. Neill, a skiing fan, remembers the challenges they faced shooting retro classic ‘ski ballet’ Flare atop The Southern Alps and Ruapehu.
~ on how he’d do things differently with hindsight (“I’d cut them quicker!”)
~ “there were one or two I quite liked”; he fondly remembers a doco on innovative NZ architect Ian Athfield: “‘Ath’ was fizzing with ideas … he was one of those outstanding New Zealand individuals.”
~ on ditching pretensions to direct as his acting career took off. Neill muses that he hasn’t quite decided (between acting or directing) but remarks that “the acting seems to have taken precedence over the last thirty years or so …”
Neill offers a precis of his career, from debuting as a priest in Barry Barclay’s Ashes, which was seen by Ian Mune and Roger Donaldson, which led to him being cast as the lead in breakout feature Sleeping Dogs, which in turn saw him cast in Aussie director Gillian Armstrong’s My Brilliant Career and … the rest has been “a weird game of dominos …” through to his latest film: starring alongside screen legend Peter O’Toole and Bryan Brown in Toa Fraser-directed Dean Spanley.
Sam Neill Interview
By tvnz.co.nz's Darren Bevan
March 9, 2009
Sam Neill and Bryan Brown describe their roles in the new film Dean Spanley INTERVIEW ON VIDEO
||TVNZ - Tell us a bit about this role - you were initially a little reticent to get involved?
Sam Neill - Yes, I mean every role you do, you wonder whether you're up for it - or indeed for right of it and I wasn't entirely convinced that I was because it's a very unusual role - it's really two roles in one and I wasn't completely sure that I was capable - so you need reassurance and you need a bit of a push for things like this. And my friend Bryan Brown who's in the film pushed me with considerable force - I spoke to Toa and he was really reassuring; he made it clear that he thought I was the right man for the job and you know I was persuaded to do it.
TVNZ - There never was really another actor in the frame for Dean Spanley though was there - did you feel the whole film hinged on you taking the part?
SN - I don't know why that would be - but everyone else got on board before I was - Peter O'Toole was , Bryan was and Jeremy - I was the last to put my hand up - and that in itself was a reassurance because I knew I'd be in good company.
When you're doing a film and you're in a good company and have good actors around, the chances are you will act better than you would - it's like a tennis player - Nadal plays better when he has Federer on the other side - I'm not comparing myself to Nadal by the way...
TVNZ - Did you know much of Tokay (the wine plays a central part in regressing Neill's character to a former life during the film) as it's fair to say you know a bit about wine having the Two Paddocks vineyard?
SN - Yes I know a bit about wine - but I don't know much about Hungarian wine. I've never been to Hungary - though most actors have been to Hungary as they get to make a film there and then end up hammered on Tokay - but that's not my experience! I think the actual wine is a metaphor as much as anything&.
TVNZ - How did you prep for the role - as well as speaking the lines you seem to exhude the characteristics of the dog when you're onscreen?
SN - I was channeling my own animals - and other animals I have known! I'm particularly fond of dogs and I find them amusing and very touching because they wear their emotions on their little sleeves.
You know what a dog's thinking because they're like open books - generally they're not thinking a lot - they're thinking "I'd like that ball", " A walk wsould be smart idea right now" or "It's time I went out and visited a bush" - they're fairly easy to read.
My favourite show on TV is The Dog Whisperer - as it's about the folly of dogs and the foolishness of the people who own them.
My dog is completely lovely - a Staffordshire bull terrier - who has this very undeserved reputation for being a fierce dog when in fact she's a pushover&but there are occasionally dogs which will rile her and I love the Dog Whisperer's way of dealing with this - I try to use some of that.
TVNZ - Was it a good cast to work with on Dean Spanley? I imagine Peter O'Toole is intimidating to work with?
SN - I was initially intimidated by him - despite having done two other jobs with Peter prior to this, we've never met on set before this role - but yes he's legendary and when he walks into a room, he carries such mana with him. But he's such a charming man, supportive of fellow actors and so caring that all of that apprehension disappeared within half a minute of being with him.
TVNZ - It's quite a verbal script - a lot of the film hinges on your performance and speeches..
SN- I've never found lines difficult to learn; I can easily forget my family's birthdays and my best friend's names but I can learn 10 pages of dialogue in half an hour - it evaporates just as fast.
But these were such wonderful words to work with and that makes it easier too - if you have difficult dialogue, words turn to ash in your mouth; but delicious words like this&.I have to say when it comes to words Peter O'Toole is the word master - he never wastes a word at all.
TVNZ - This film is primarily about reconciliation and reincarnation and warmth as well as a sucker punch to the gut at the end, do you worry people will miss this rather than fixing on the fact some of it's about recounting life as a dog?
SN- That's what's great about this film - it does surprise people; it sneaks up on them and they don't quite know why they come out of it in tears.
A friend of mine, a New Zealander, came out and said to me that he couldn't stop crying - so I asked him why and he said because the possibilities of what men can do - I don't know quite what he meant by that but if it's good for you, then it's fine by me..
TVNZ - We're not an overtly emotional country here are we so this tale of fathers and sons will really strike a chord with the audience?
SN - Well I certainly come from that generation and my father and I - he would send me off to bording school and he'd shake hands with me at the railway station - and we wouldn't see each other for 3 months - I think I'm a bit more demonstrative with my children - a pat on the top of the head and "You'll be fine".
TVNZ - What's next for you?
SN - I don't ever want to stop acting as it's too much fun - and it lets me live and in these times it's good to work - I'm very involved in the vineyard and the process of wine and I find that very engaging so when I';m not working I have that - and the great thing about both of them is neither of them feels like work at all.
TVNZ - That's a very unique position to be in isn't it?
SN - I know I'm privileged - believe me..
TVNZ - Who is there around at the moment that you would like to work with these days?
SN - There's so many directors and you'd love them to call you and say I need you, I need you now and what's more I'd like to pay you - people like the Coen brothers, Scorsese , you know the usual suspects - some of those great Chinese directors; the list goes on and on.
But that's the great thing in cinema - if you have an international dimension to your career - you never know where you'll end up. There's something to be said for blockbusters, where people want to pay to see the film - I'm all for entertainment on the other hand there's a lot to be said for entertainment which is informative, that reveals things about yourself, about life and about humanity - that's great if you can combine those.
TVNZ - What do you make of the current New Zealand film scene?
SN - Look I'm really excited about the sort of - and I want to see more of it - the kind of Polynesian elementand Maori element that's coming into NZ film.
I loved Sione's Wedding and No2 - not only are we seeing signs of change - Once Were Warriors and Whale Rider were important films - but we're seeing different aspects of New Zealand which are different from many other cultures in the world - but I love the fact we can make comedies here now - at last!
Films that aren't just dark and gothic - they're great - but who knew we could be funny as well - that's just fantastic.
Charming Neill Laps Up Dog Role
March 6, 2009
INTERVIEW ON VIDEO
||At 61, Sam Neill remains a leading man of both substance and style. He weaves his magic on Kylie Northover.
AS SAM Neill enters the hotel suite set up for his afternoon of publicity, he catches me stuffing a handful of free Fantales into my handbag. "Aah, Fantales. I'm on the wrapper myself, although I haven't seen myself for a while," he says. "Maybe I've been demoted."
He reaches into the bowl and unwraps one of the sweets I'd missed; as he does so, I delve into my bag to check the wrappers for his mini-bio. It's never too late for research.
Was he surprised when he first saw his name on the famous sweet wrapper? "I was relieved," he says drily, those eyes twinkling. "Hurrah — the nod from the Fantales people."
Neill is charming, and more handsome than expected. He also looks much younger than his 61 years. He's in Melbourne to promote his new film, Dean Spanley. Problem is, it's a tricky one to talk about.
The New Zealand-made feature, which was shot in England, also stars British actors Peter O'Toole and Jeremy Northam and our own Bryan Brown. It's set in England in 1904, and Neill plays a senior clergyman, the dean of the title, who, when he sups on a rare Hungarian wine called Imperial Tokay, begins to relive his previous life as a cocker spaniel.
No, really. Pretty darned quirky.
"Mmm," agrees Neill. "It's very hard to explain. It's a hard film to sell because the more you try and explain it, the more it seems unlikely."
Indeed, Neill had to be cajoled into taking the role; he turned it down three times before his co-star and long-time friend Brown finally talked him around. "That was a lack of imagination, I think, on my part," Neill says.
Based on a novella by Edward Plunkett, the 18th baron of Dunsany, the film is indeed an oddity, particularly among today's explosion-heavy blockbusters. "Yes, there are more words than you generally get in a movie these days," Neill says. "It's a grown-up film that's free of adult themes — you can warn people. It's not on the poster but I think it's quite a good slogan."
Would you say it has a rather old-fashioned feel about it?
"It makes you feel better. And it's good to feel better. But Dean Spanley also has a hint of the tear-jerker about it as well."
While Spanley's recalling of his past life as a dog is central to the story, the film is really a father and son tale. "Under the kind of hilarity there's a note of grieving," Neill says. "People find this film very touching and they come out a little awash, having been chuckling for quite a bit and then found themselves crying. When I saw it I was quite moved too and I'm not sure if I understand it entirely."
For his character's alcohol-induced reveries, Neill had to verbalise a dog's thoughts. He does it well; it's obvious he's a dog owner, or at least a dog lover. "Oh yeah. I didn't have a dog for a long time because I led such a peripatetic life," he says. "But now I have a farm and she lives with the farm manager when I'm not there. Although I'm sure she's completely heartbroken when I'm not there with her, as I am."
For a non-dog fan, this role would be a stretch, one imagines. "You do have to understand dogs, although they're not hard to understand. That's what's great about dogs."
As well as the chance to be a cocker spaniel, Neill got to work with the legendary O'Toole.
"He's great fun. Fantastic, better than ever," he enthuses. "I've worked with him before but never in the same scene, so this was a treat. And, of course, Bryan was there, larger than life, doing his bit to ensure we all had a good time."
Word is that Neill, who counts the Finn brothers (among other celebs) as his mates, is something of a bon vivant. He owns a vineyard in New Zealand (Two Paddocks, which produces pinot noir, riesling and sauvignon blanc, though he says he drinks more than he sells) but is not a fan of tokay, the variety so central to Dean Spanley.
"It's much respected in wine circles but I don't like it; I don't like dessert wine. I think, as a rule, you should stop drinking after your main course."
And move on to hard liquor?
"No," Neill says, smiling cheekily. "Have a coffee."
What kind of bon vivant attitude is that?
"You can still do a lot of bon vivanting up to that point," he says. "As long as you're not someone who has dinner at 5.30pm."
Having racked up more than 50 films and a wide array of roles, Neill says he is offered fewer action films of late (his Omen and Hunt For Red October days are behind him, it seems), yet looks mildly aghast when I ask if he's being sought for dashing-older-man roles. "Can you be dashing and old?" he asks.
After Dean Spanley, we'll next see Neill, who made five films last year, as a "vampire mogul" in Daybreakers. Surely that's a role that requires a dashing type?
"No, I'm afraid not," he says. "I think the dashing role in that film went to Ethan Hawke."
I wouldn't be so sure.
Interview : Sam Neill
December 9, 2008
From "The Piano" to "Jurassic Park", revered actor Sam Neill talks about his new film "Dean Spanley"
Boasting an illustrious career that stretches back over thirty years, Sam Neill remains one of the world's most revered actors. His CV includes work with some of the world's most famous directors, including Jane Campion (The Piano), Steven Spielberg (Jurassic Park) and Robert Redford (The Horse Whisperer). Born in Northern Ireland, but raised on New Zealand's South Island when his family moved there, Neill began his life in film by spending seven years at the New Zealand National Film Unit. Later moving to Australia, he started his acting career with some of the country's most prominent filmmakers: Roger Donaldson (Sleeping Dogs), Gillian Armstrong (My Brilliant Career) and Phillip Noyce (Dead Calm) among them.
While Hollywood came calling, Neill has never forgotten his roots. Upcoming for Neill are several projects by Antipodean directors, including big budget vampire movie Daybreakers and children's fantasy Under the Mountain. This month, Neill can be seen in Kiwi director Toa Fraser's Dean Spanley, based on the novella by Lord Dunsany. Set in Edwardian-era England, Neill plays the title role, a cleric whose love for Hungarian desert wine sends him into a trance-like state - beginning a moving tale that brings a father and son (Peter O'Toole and Jeremy Northam) back together. Below Neill talks about what drew him to the film, and why he believes a good honest glass of wine has the power to transform.
Q: What convinced you to take on Dean Spanley?
A: I think Toa, for a start. First of all, I was daunted by it, and I wasn't sure how to play this part, that I may not be the right man for the job. Then I was persuaded that perhaps I might be. The second thing was, this was my fifth film this year, so I was thinking that it might be time for a break. But what I overlooked is that I love working and when you do things back to back, in a sense it's easier. You get match fit. It's like a singer - if you're doing your scales, it's easier to hit the high notes.
Q: Did you already know Toa?
A: I've known Toa for a few years now. He comes more out of theatre really, so I was interested that he would have a...he brings an intellectual approach to what we're doing.
Q: We've recently seen Australian director Stephan Elliott take on Noel Coward in Easy Virtue. What is it about Antipodean directors latching onto these English period pieces?
A: That's a good question. I don't know. Toa is half-English and so am I, so I have divided loyalties here.
Q: Was working with Peter O'Toole another attraction?
A: Of course. Peter O'Toole's one of the great screen actors of our time. I've actually worked with Peter on two other films, but we've never traded blows, so to speak. He's so fabulous and has been immensely encouraging and generous. I couldn't be more delighted to have had some time with him.
Q: You also just made The Tudors with him and another Dean Spanley co-star, Jeremy Northam...
A: I know Jeremy very well, and we get on really well. We ping off each other pretty good. He was Thomas More and I was Woolsey.
Q: Does it help that you're old friends with these guys?
A: Absolutely. And Bryan [Brown] is also a very old and close friend of mine. We've worked together on a number of things. There's no shorthand necessary. And Art [Malik] I've worked with before. It was immensely pleasurable. I really enjoyed myself.
Q: What sort of preparation can you do for a film like this?
A: About all one can do to prepare for something like this is to...there is no research you can do, but what I've drawn on is embedded in myself. A familiarity with odd people and dogs!
Q: Are you a dog lover then?
A: I have a Staffordshire bull terror of whom I'm inordinately fond!
Q: So you're not a cat person then?
A: If I had to choose, I'd come firmly down on the side of the dog.
Q: There's a cricket scene in the film. Did you indulge and play?
A: No cricket for me. Just as well. I used to play at school though I was never any good.
Q: Can you explain what the Dean drinks to take him into this strange reverie?
A: He likes Tokai - it's a sort of Hungarian desert wine, one I know nothing about, but I'm prepared to believe it's transcendent. It seems to have this magical effect on the Dean. He's a fool for Tokai.
Q: That's his spiritual lubricant, right?
A: Yes, the lubrication comes from wine, and I do strongly believe in the power of a good glass of wine to transform.
Q: Not least because you own your own vineyards, right?
A: Yes. I have three little vineyards, and we produce an excellent pinot noir. That's my little sideline and it's a great deal of fun - and it's even more fun to drink!
Q: Do you know much about reincarnation, which the film touches on?
A: It's not something I know a lot about, or indeed think a lot about. These are other people's preoccupations. The things this film deals with are...eccentric might be a way of describing it. I think it's also very funny, in an eccentric way. That's something to do with being English - or Irish, as Dunsany was Anglo-Irish. So perhaps it's that!
Q: How has Toa approached realising these more fantastical elements?
A: It all has to be grounded in some kind of reality, otherwise you're just dealing in the surreal and the absurd. Though come to think of it there are some surreal elements...but it can't be a lot of luvvies goofing off. That would be awful.
Q: It seems to be a very dialogue-driven film?
A: There's as much dialogue in this film as I've done in the last five years across I don't know how many films. When you start a film, it always seems like a mountain too high to climb. But once you've got your crampons on and a rope around your waist, it doesn't seem too bad. Once you realise you're enjoying yourself - that's terribly important.
Q: Is it unusual to play in such a dialogue-driven film?
A: It's very unusual in that respect, in that it's very dialogue heavy. Troy Kennedy Martin, who wrote Reilly, Ace of Spies [which Neill starred in] did a film that Clint Eastwood played the lead in. And Clint, before they started, gave him the script back and said, 'Troy, I want you to cut down my lines. I only ever say 12 lines in a movie!' Well, that's one way of going about things, and it certainly worked for Clint. But this is diametrically opposed to that. This is all about ideas and stories.
Q: It's quite moving towards the end, don't you think?
A: I think in the final third is where everything starts to pay off. I wasn't really prepared for how touching it became. I think it's a surprising film because it's so not like anything else. When we first met, Peter said to me, 'I don't know how they got money for this. It's too intelligent, too funny and too different. What are they thinking?' And he was thrilled that they had but was completely surprised.
Q: Did the film make you think about your own relationship with your father?
A: Of course, yeah. Since my father died - and he died about 15 years ago now - I've thought about him every day. I'd hardly thought about him while he was alive. Funny, isn't it? The older I get, the more I realise there's a little bit of my father in every performance I give.
Q: So what fed specifically into playing the Dean?
A: I would say there's a little bit of my father in there. I would say there's a fair bit of my dog in there - my Staffordshire Bull Terrier. I always loved those English actors from the Forties and Fifties. James Robertson Justice, Wilfrid Hyde-White...and I think there's a bit of them in there. And then all the churchmen I remember from the place when I used to go to church. So it's a bit of a mix.
Q: How do you approach making a period movie? Is it the same as a contemporary film?
A: I always think if you start thinking period...well, you have to respect the conventions and the manners of the time. But if you start thinking period, that way madness lies. I never think of myself as doing a period film. It's like getting through a constipation that goes with corsets that are rather too tight. It's much more interesting to think of being immediate. These curious relationships that people have with each other. One has to think of them as actual and present.
Q: Talking of period films, you made your breakthrough with My Brilliant Career. Do you consider it the turning point of your life?
A: Well, prior to that, there was Sleeping Dogs, which Roger Donaldson did, but I didn't think that was going to lead to anything. My Brilliant Career certainly did, and it led me to England, and I was here for seven or eight years. And that was really what got me started.
Q: You've just made Daybreakers, a vampire film with the Australian-born Spierig brothers...
A: Yeah, they're a couple of interesting guys - they're identical twins. The only way you can tell them apart is that one has a girlfriend who's a very good cook, so he's a few pounds heavier! They do everything together. They write and direct; they're like two halves of a very interesting brain. They're very smart guys.
Q: Is it a big scale movie?
A: I would say it's medium scale. It's Hollywood money and it's got a Hollywood-ish cast. There's Willem Dafoe and Ethan Hawke. It also has some Australians. It's a cool idea, where it's a vampire world and I play an oligarch vampire who finds humans for blood. There's a lot of money for blood in the vampire world.
Q: Do you like working with auteur directors?
A: Yes. I like the idea of auteur directors, and to be a part of their body of work is a pretty cool thing to do.
Q: You have also made Skin, with Sophie Okonedo. What's that about?
A: It's South African. A true story about a girl who was born 'coloured' but to a white family. And it deals with all the appalling things that happen to her as a result of this hideous system. I play the white father - I was Sophie Okonedo's father! It could be terribly interesting.
Q: What did you do after you made Dean Spanley?
A: I took a little bit of time off, and then I did Robinson Crusoe for NBC, then I did Under the Mountain, a kids' film, then went back to Crusoe. The last four months have been pretty flat out. Before that, I had about two months off.
Dean Spanley is at Irish cinemas from December 12th.
Sam Neill Interview: Dean Of Movies
By Siobhan Synnot
06 December 2008
Sam Neill in his new role as Dean Spanley
IF SAM NEILL WAS A DESSERT, HE would be the pannacotta or an Armagnac-laced croustade – something subtly flavoured to be cherished by the discerning.
He would definitely not be spotted dick, but that's what Neill has chosen from the fashionably retro pudding menu. It arrives halfway through our interview and two slices bathed in custard gather a skin by the side of the table, ignored by Neill, until I cannot resist any longer. That's quite a small portion of dick, Sam, I say. Neill pretends to wince, but I suspect he's been waiting for a punchline since he put in his order.
Sam Neill may be one of New Zealand's best-known exports, but there's a touch of the languidly mischievous English gent about him. Off-camera, he's more ironic and less dour than his screen persona might suggest, and co-stars say he's given to prankishness. During the filming of Jurassic Park on the Hawaiian island of Kauai, it was Neill's idea to stage a mock fight among the actors in front of horrified Japanese tourists.
Meeting him in the flesh, you are struck by the timelessness of his looks (he is 61) – the wide forehead, straight nose and cheek-to-cheek smile. There may be a pair of reading glasses on the table but he's still one of cinema's hardest-working and most versatile actors. He can move between art film, exploitation flick and blockbuster: he dodged velociraptors for Spielberg, chopped off Holly Hunter's finger in The Piano, and he's always turning up in unexpected places. "I'm very little trouble on the set," he says. "As long as I have my own chair, I'm agreeable."
In the sort of double whammy that seems to come naturally to him, he has just flown in from South Africa after wrapping a mini-series of Robinson Crusoe for American TV in order to attend the premiere of Dean Spanley, a slice of British period dress whimsy with a deft screenplay by Scots novelist Alan Sharp. This time it's his quirky indie side that gets a workout, with Neill cast as the enigmatic Dean, who unravels after a couple of glasses of dessert wine to recount his past life as a dog. It's not a film that Neill has seen; he finds watching himself akin to Chinese water torture.
"I just see my mistakes," he says. It must have been some performance to make Hungary's sweet Imperial Tokay wine look delicious, especially since the film's budget replaced it with apple juice. "I hadn't had Tokay because Peter O'Toole has done his best to put me off – 'foreign muck, don't go near the stuff'."
You wonder how he manages to find time for life outside films, but far from Hollywood Neill takes another role seriously: not just as wine quaffer, but as vintner of his own New Zealand winery, Two Paddocks. He clearly enjoys discussing vintages and the heartbreaking destruction caused by a sudden sharp frost rather more than his acting techniques. "When you drink a glass of your own wine, if you have any kind of palate at all you can judge it with some kind of objectivity," he says. "That sort of objectivity is not available to you as an actor watching yourself."
No-one would argue that Neill is better known for his acting than his vintage red, but wine-making is an expensive habit and Two Paddocks's running costs are covered by the income generated by acting. "Hopefully, the wine will start paying me back, but it doesn't seem to want to at this point," Neill says. "We have an extremely approachable pinot noir. It's hard to find because I make some and I drink most of it." While he has no shortage of drinking companions, his wife is not one of them: "She's decided she doesn't like wine at all. She only drinks beer, but I can't afford a brewery."
Mrs Neill is make-up artist Noriko Watanabe, who won a Bafta for Memoirs of a Geisha. "We met on Dead Calm and I leapt out in pursuit of her. I met with tremendous resistance for a long time. I got there in the end with dogged persistence." They have a 16-year-old daughter, Elena, and Noriko has a daughter, Maiko, from a previous relationship. Neill has an adult son, Tim, from his relationship with actress Lisa Harrow. None has followed him into acting. "Intelligent children," he says, approvingly.
Neill was born in Northern Ireland but moved to New Zealand when he was eight, and started acting at university "for a bit of a laugh". But after an acclaimed Macbeth he joined a repertory company and toured New Zealand for a year. "It was best of all playing to Maori audiences who'd never seen a play. The freshness and excitement of their response staggered me."
He was also a film director, editor and scriptwriter for the New Zealand National Film Unit for six years, but as a twentysomething, with Australian thespian Judy Davis, he was thrust into the spotlight in 1979's My Brilliant Career. James Mason, who had seen Gillian Armstrong's film, became an early champion, sending Neill a ticket to London and encouraging him to find work there. "He got me to Europe," says Neill, who landed his first role in Britain in 1981 with Mason's help – playing Damien Thorn, the Antichrist, in The Final Conflict, the third Omen film.
"I played him as if he were the loneliest being on the face of the planet – after all, who would want to go to a bar and have a drink with the devil?" Hmmm, quite a few women, I would have thought. "Ah yes," he concedes. "I did get quite a lot of rather odd letters after Omen from women wanting to do unholy things with Damien."
During the 1980s Neill was mainly based in Britain, starring in the popular ITV series, Reilly: Ace of Spies. In films, he co-starred with Meryl Streep in Plenty and A Cry in the Dark. In 1986 he says he came within inches of landing the role of James Bond. For his screen test, like all candidates, he acted out a scene from From Russia With Love but while the director, John Glenn, was said to be keen to sign him up, Bond producer Albert "Cubby" Broccoli, having been let down once before by an Antipodean actor – George Lazenby – knocked the idea back.
According to Neill: "My agent fancied it for me at the time but it wasn't something I wanted. Having said that, I'd love to play a villain in a Bond movie. That is one of my unfulfilled ambitions."
Neill is a bit like his 2006 pinot: he treats words like a good mouthful of red, something substantial to be savoured awhile. He's also a bit fruity. In the recent delirious ruffles and romp series The Tudors, for instance, he was great fun as the morally bendy Cardinal Wolsey, roughing up enemies and groping ladies of the court.
"I have one scene naked in bed with my mistress and at this time of my life I rather welcome that, actually," he says disarmingly. "Mostly if I get asked to do bedroom scenes these days they involve pyjamas, a book and some reading glasses and I'm the one who turns the light off."
• Dean Spanley is in cinemas from 12 December.
Sam Neill on …
THE SON of a New Zealand army officer father (Harrow and Sandhurst) and an English mother, Nigel Neill was packed off to "a very English" boarding school when he was seven. There, the other boys renamed him Sam. "Odd kind of place, not a place you'd find too many Nigels."
"James Mason sort of took me under his wing. I thought he was a wonderful actor, and I admired the way he moved in the world. So I suppose if I've had a model, it would be James."
Steven Spielberg directed him in Jurassic Park: "He cared about character more than many directors would. Yet he's very fast and thinks six times more quickly than I do. He did 60 per cent of the camera operating in Jurassic Park. I'd never seen a director actually operating the camera."
"I'm used to playing parts where the actresses get the gong when the film's released and I don't. But actually I like working with women more than men. More interesting things take place between men and women than between men and men. What could be more boring than a pub or a locker room?"
NBC's 'Crusoe' Interview With Sam Neill And Philip Winchester
By April MacIntyre
Oct 17, 2008
Sam, I was thrilled to see you and I was a big fan of you on The Tudors and miss you. Your character is Jeremiah Blackthorn, and we see a lot of you in flashbacks. Can you tell us more about how you’re going to be worked into the story through the season?
Sam Neill: Oh good, good. Well I’ve filmed - I’m not sure how much I’m allowed to give away but Robinson has been stuck on this island for 11 hours dealing with all kinds of bad people and any number of challenges.
And Philip can tell you more on that. I live in England and I’ve filmed all of my material in England in advance, I think in May or June. Something like that, wasn’t it Jeff? Something like that.
Jeff Hayes: Yes it was
Sam Neill: So now I’ve decided that he’s had - that all good things must come to an end and I am coming to the island and I will deal with Robinson one way or another.
And if tides and so on have been bad, he ain’t seen nothing yet. So I think that’s pretty much - is that a fair comment Jeff)?
Jeff Hayes: I’d say that’s a fair comment.
Where are you based? Are you based in London or are you in Australia or New Zealand?
Sam Neill: That’s an interesting question that I ask myself a lot, too. But I just - in between times I’ve been home in New Zealand where I live and I manage to fit in a movie there.
So I just finished that last Saturday and I’m ready to take to Robinson and he’s not going to forget this in a hurry.
Sam - could you talk about stepping into these iconic roles?
Sam Neill: I have to be fairly honest and have to admit I’m not the world’s leading expert on Daniel Defoe. And I probably - I’m more in favor of the (rip and yard) and what we’re doing here is, …I think probably, the job description is to have as much fun and provide as much fun as we possibly can, and pack as much as possible into a good television hour.
And I think the - what we’re doing.
And as far as the iconic roles go, Philip’s role is much more iconic than mine.
Philip Winchester: Shoot, I thought you were going to answer for me there, Sam.
Sam Neill: Yes, you’ve got an immense burden on your shoulders for a young man. And - but as for me, I’m just lifting what I can from the page and running with it as fast as I can for the touchdown.
What’s the longest you’ve ever been stranded somewhere for a period of time?
Sam Neill: If I can just add to that for a minute - I think that nothing about the island would worry me except for my own company. I can’t figure anything more stultifying or dull.
Jeff Hayes: Oh come on, Sam.
Sam Neill: And - no I would think - , you always think oh I’d really like to be on my own and just have some quality time with myself. And then after about a day or two you think this is really, really boring. now.
Jeff Hayes: Oh funny.
Sam Neill: It would freak me out.
TV Close-Up: Sam Neill
by Eirik Knutzen
Although born in the Emerald Isle, Sam Neill found himself a tad homesick after nearly seven months of shooting 10 one-hour episodes of "The Tudors" in and around Dublin. He loved the project, salivated over his role, met with friends all over Great Britain and had several visits by his wife and children; however, his heart and mind always remained focused on his country home in New Zealand.
Neill - a serious traveler who seldom films two movies in a row in the same country - felt the incredible urge to live and breathe with his wife, Noriko Watanabe, and daughter, Elena, in the pastoral beauty of his Two Paddocks vineyard in Central Otago, deep in New Zealand's South Island. He had been dreaming of such blessedly mindless tasks as mowing the grass between his vines.
When he returned to paradise, Fire - Neill's Staffordshire bull terrier employed for rabbit control in the vineyard - chased a bunny into the engine compartment of his late-model Mini-Cooper S. The canine then proceeded to dismantle the car's grill and bumper; a few smaller parts may have been digested.
The rabbit got away, but Fire still sleeps on the best sofa in the house while the Mini-Cooper remains in the shop and suspicious automobile insurance company agents try to piece the case together.
On the more positive side, Neill discovered that he had just been awarded the D.C.N.Z.M. at the 2007 New Year's Honours. Once the 59-year-old picked up the large Distinguished Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit medal at the Government House in Wellington for his contribution to filmmaking - which fits very nicely with his fine collection of distinguished showbiz service awards, including the Order of the British Empire in 1993 for his contribution to acting - his life returned to normal.
Suddenly, the soft-spoken performer had a few weeks to think about his life and times, particularly his recent activities in Ireland shooting "The Tudors," a 10-hour limited series revolving around the intemperate lives of young King Henry VIII (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers) and Cardinal Thomas Wolsey (Neill). Wolsey was the son of a butcher and a prostitute who became Lord Chancellor in 1515 while heading the Catholic Church of England during its split from Rome.
By the time both men became fat, disgusting beasts consumed with greed and power, Wolsey fell from the graces of Ann Boleyn (Natalie Dormer) and the king, after dragging his feet regarding a papal annulment of Henry's marriage to Queen Catherine of Aragon (Maria Doyle Kennedy). Stripped of his power and earthly possessions overnight, Wolsey died under hazy circumstances in 1530 on the road to London, where apparently he was falsely accused of rape.
It was also a matter of taking on a huge personal challenge on camera, according to Neill, a man who counts "A Cry in the Dark," "The Hunt for Red October," "The Piano," "Jurassic Park" and "Jurassic Park III" among his big-screen successes.
"It was a happy time for me, working with a great ensemble cast led by Jonny Rhys-Meyers, who is intelligent and charismatic. But it's a bit daunting to work with really fantastic British and Irish actors."
Neill was introduced to American television audiences in the brilliant series "Reilly, Ace of Spies," soon followed by the miniseries "Kane and Abel." He killed time while away from his family for half a year by visiting old friends in London and traveling the length of Ireland by car - including his birthplace in Omagh, Northern Ireland.
"It was quite by accident," said the actor-director-writer-producer.
Neill's mother was English, but his father was a third-generation New Zealander serving as an officer with a British-Irish regiment when he happened to be born. A fourth-generation Kiwi, he grew up in New Zealand and studied English literature at the University of Canterbury.
He met his wife - an upper-tier makeup artist who last earned an Academy Award nomination for "Memoirs of a Geisha" - on the set of "Dead Calm," working opposite Nicole Kidman. When both are working at opposite ends of the universe, their three children (his, hers and theirs) are likely to pursue their career or education simultaneously on three continents.
"Something unusual has happened during the past year," sighed Neill, "as Noriko has been home for the past few months we're parenting our 16-year-old Elena through school. I've spent as much time as humanly possible with her while overseeing our pinot noir from vine to bottle and after a slow start due to an early frost, it looks like a vintage year for the Two Paddocks label.
"However, I recently promoted my French film, 'Angel,' at the Berlin Film Festival and I'm about to start an as-yet-untitled film with Guy Pearce in Australia. I love acting, but there are few things as rewarding as opening a good bottle of your own wine."
Sam's Still Sexy At 60
Sunday Herald Sun
April 1, 2007
HE might be pushing 60 years of age, but New Zealand actor Sam Neill is not yet ready to say no to intimate bedroom scenes just yet.
In fact, says Neill, who has a seduction scene in the lavish new TV mini-series The Tudors, he relishes the opportunity now more than ever.
"I have one scene naked in bed with my mistress and at this time of my life I rather welcome that, actually," he says with a smile.
"Mostly if I get asked to do bedroom scenes these days they normally involve pyjamas, a book and some reading glasses and I'm the one who turns the light off.
"So this is, like, back to the old days."
Neill gets his chance for a bedroom romp in The Tudors despite the fact that he plays King Henry VIII's Lord Chancellor Wolsey, or Cardinal Wolsey, in the series which stars Irish actor Jonathan Rhys Meyers as Henry. It was written by Michael Hirst, who wrote the 1998 movie Elizabeth, starring Cate Blanchett.
"All this is accurate," Neill says. "Wolsey had a mistress and he had two children.
"Apparently that was not unusual for members of the clergy in those times. And certainly sex and lust and also romance were important driving factors."
US cable network Showtime staged a Hollywood-style premiere for The Tudors this week at the landmark Egyptian Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard. Neill walked the red carpet, but by the time two episodes of the 10-hour series had been screened inside he was on a flight home to New Zealand.
Apart from his storied acting career, the 59-year-old star owns Two Paddocks, which is actually three wineries producing Pinot Noir at Gibbston, on NZ's South Island.
After living abroad for many years while he chalked up myriad credits, Neil moved back to NZ permanently with his Japanese-born wife Noriko about 10 years ago.
They have a 16-year-old daughter, Elena, and Noriko has a daughter Maiko, from a previous relationship. Neill has an adult son, Tim, from his relationship with NZ-born actor Lisa Harrow.
He says he will make a mini-series called Iron Road and possibly two Australian movies over the next few months.
"We're getting into winter now so it's going to get cold and that's a good reason to go north," he says. "I've got a lot of children to feed so I need to work because children equal overheads.
"And I'm coming from about the most isolated place in the world, so there's still something very compelling about getting on an airplane and going to work somewhere different.
"I don't know how many different countries I've worked in - I must work it out one day - but I love going to new places and working with new people and making new friends."
Son Of Omagh
March 8, 2007
A CELLO of a voice echoes in my ear, genteel and precise as I sit, beaming and humble by the kitchen table halfway down a big glass of red wine. The voice sounds as though he might be calling from the phone-box at the end of the road. He isn't, of course. He is thousands of miles away, 26 hours as the jet flies, on the opposite side of the globe, just about as far away from me, the wine and the phone-box as it is possible to be.
When Sam Neill rang last Thursday night, it would be fair to say he took me by surprise. Even though I'd been trying to track him down for a chat, it isn't every day a Hollywood wizard rings you at home.
Dinosaur expert, zookeeper, Russian submarine captain, son of the devil - Sam Neill has played them all – and with some aplomb. He has a back catalogue of films that makes the entire British film industry look like the dole queue and has starred in some of the best loved movies in modern cinema history, not least The Horse Whisperer, The Piano, The Dish, A Cry in the Dark, Dead Calm and Event Horizon. He is probably best known for his portrayal of Dr Alan Grant in Speilberg's blockbusters Jurassic Park and Jurassic Park III and it has also been rumoured (though I forgot to ask him about it – dagnabit) that he will reprise his role as the mild-mannered palaeontologist in the possible 2008 film Jurassic Park IV.
Did I mention he's from Omagh?
"The memories I have of Omagh, tend to be memories from photographs," the cello tells me quietly. "I was back two or three years ago, though I only stayed briefly, just for the night. I found the house where I was born actually, which was kind of interesting. I can't explain where it is. It was in the countryside when I was small, though that's changed now."
Sam is thinking of Mullaghmore House on the Old Mountfield Road, although I am unaware of this at the time.
"Come to think of it, I don't know why I wasn't born in the hospital. I was born in the kitchen, according to my mother."
Speaking from his home on New Zealand's South Island, Sam Neill pelts questions at me about Omagh and Tyrone. How are people doing? Is it a good place to live? Are the troubles behind us? He seems interested and I get the distinct feeling this isn't feigned.
Born in Omagh on September 14, 1947, Sam Neill (originally Nigel John Dermot Neill) DCNZM, OBE, is the second son of Dermot, a Harrow and Sandhurst-educated army officer and his English wife, Priscilla.
"I moved to New Zealand when I was seven, though after Omagh I lived for a time in Armagh and Co. Antrim. I was also back in Omagh during the '70s. I was hitch-hiking around Ireland at the time.
"Of course these days we follow what's happening (in the North) with considerable interest; we keep an eye on what's going on. The last big story we had was about the bloke who got stuck in the door."
Sam refers to Michael Stone with a smile in his voice, but when I mention "the bomb" the levity evaporates.
"That was the worst," he says, grimly. "It's getting better but it was pretty desolate for a long time."
A few years back, Sam Neill was even approached to play the role of Elrond in The Lord of the Rings trilogy by Peter Jackson, but turned it down due to contractual obligations. Not only that, but for a hair's breadth of chance, he narrowly missed out on the role of James Bond after Roger Moore's tenure came to an end back in the 1980s. And you just know you've arrived when you've had a cameo on the Greatest TV Show Ever - The Simpsons. Sam played the role of Molloy the Cat Burglar in Homer the Vigilante in 1994.
"I try to strike a balance with some of the smaller things, they tend to give me quite a lot of satisfaction," Sam remarks. "It's also good to go to Hollywood once in a while, to have a big trailer and get taken care of. Though they tend to be quite slow and take up a lot of your time."
"Is that right?" I add casually, as though cinematic legends talk to me about their lives all the time.
At present, apart from his continuing career in television and movies, Sam Neill has discovered he has a distinct penchant (and ability) for wine-making. Described by one reviewer as "sex in a glass," Two Paddocks wine is in high demand across the Antipodes and the southern hemisphere, a scarcity Sam attributes to the possibility that he and his friends drink quite a lot of it.
"There isn't enough to go round – and I like it too, which helps," he adds. "Two Paddocks is going great. It's nice to be in a position where demand exceeds supply. I'm very proud of it and I think it's exceedingly good wine. Next year we're going to be certified organic as well, which will be very satisfying. It's the classic grape of Burgundy, the Pinot Noir.
"It (wine) is something I developed an interest in, probably due to my affection for alcohol. When we first planted our vines we didn't have so many high hopes. But now we do. I'm lucky insofar as I am surrounded by people who know an awful lot about wine. I don't pretend to be an expert but I'm very interested."
Sam married makeup artist Noriko Watanabe in 1989 and he lives with her and their 16-year-old daughter, Elena at their home half an hour outside Queenstown on the South Island. He has another son, Tim, born in 1983 and two step-children.
Just returned from the 57th Berlin International Film Festival where he was promoting his new film, 'Angel,' which closed the festival, Sam's day at home is only beginning (it's around 10.30am with him). He confesses he plans on taking things easy apart from picking up Elena from school later on.
As for the future, the wine-making will continue and he has a promotional tour to do in the US for television series The Tudors when it airs in April. After that there's the rehearsals for another Australian film he's making.
"It's all go – but not all the time. I live a kind of country life at home," Sam says. "I have chickens and pigs and, of course, the vines. One of the good things about my job is that I could afford to buy a little farm. It's great."
I thank Sam for calling. It has been a real pleasure and I tell him so. I hang up the phone and drain my wine.
Dagnabit! I forget to ask if I could be in his next film.
Sam Neill, actor, describes his week to Alastair Sooke
I was at the Berlin International Film Festival because my new film Angel, directed by François Ozon, was in competition. I spent the whole of Friday afternoon doing German press at my hotel. One question kept rearing its ugly head: "Why weren't you James Bond?" I get asked that a lot - it's very tiresome. In the evening, I ended up at a party for a Russian horror film in what used to be East Berlin. There were a lot of tall women with Russian accents. I lasted about 10 minutes. Film festivals can be fun, but they can also be frenetic. Berlin is better than most.
Angel closed the festival, which was an honour. But by this stage people were a bit sick of film, so I was a little apprehensive before the première. The film is an adaptation of a novel by the English writer Elizabeth Taylor. Ozon himself describes it as very strange. After it was shown, there was a party in a big restaurant with 300 people. I met Gael García Bernal, who's hilarious: he did a routine about Madrid taxi drivers that cracked me up. I drank too much. And you can still smoke with aplomb in Berlin, so I smoked too much, too.
Feeling decidedly ordinary, I caught a flight to London. Michael Fassbender, who's also in Angel, was in far worse nick than me - his eyeballs actually looked as though they were bleeding. His date on Saturday was Miss Germany 2006, but I don't think the bleeding eyeballs were connected to her in any way. After arriving in London, I met my friend Tim Spall for dinner at the Ivy [restaurant in central London]. He was on hilarious form, but the management castigated him for his language. I was aghast: some sad eavesdroppers had dobbed him in. It happened at the end of dinner, so whether we were actually expelled or not is a moot point. In my view, there's far too much good behaviour in restaurants.
I spent the day in meetings for various film and telly projects - things look good for Blighty in 2007. In the evening, feeling jetlagged, I decided to see a play that could guarantee a laugh to keep me awake. I went to Boeing-Boeing, a silly farce with lots of doors but a bloody good night. It's always humbling to see really good British actors. Frances de la Tour, for instance, can hold a pause like no other. Then back to the Soho Hotel, where I was staying. I'm very fond of Soho: I like the way showbusiness rubs up against naughtiness. It's amusing.
Oddly enough for a city as big as London, good coffee is scarce. But Bar Italia in Soho is wonderful. I went there to get sorted with a couple of espressos in the morning. Then more meetings (I'm not in London much, so carpe diem). That night, I went with a bunch of friends to my favourite restaurant in the world: St John [in Smithfield, east London]. They serve things like chitterlings, bone marrow and venison offal. The roast lamb is irresistible, though Fergus [Henderson], the chef and owner, always refuses to provide mint sauce. Personally, I think that's a shame - like having toast without marmalade. It's hard to beat London, but I was looking forward to going home and jumping on my ride-on mower: I've got a couple of little vineyards back in New Zealand. It makes a nice contrast to cosmopolitan life.
Sam Neill stars in Until the End of the World, out now on DVD
I am Sam, Winemaker
South China Morning Post
February 1, 2007 Thursday
Actor Sam Neill is no ordinary celebrity vintner. He tells Susan Jung how his nose for Burgundy led to organic pinot noir and the happiest pot-bellied pigs in Otago
THERE ARE PROBABLY three things you didn't know about the actor Sam Neill. The first is that he plays the ukulele. Yes, the man who acted as the evil Damien (in Omen III - the Final Conflict); the super secret agent (in Reilly, Ace of Spies) and paleontologist Alan Grant in the three Jurassic Park movies, plays the totally uncool, tiny wisp of a guitar that was popularised by entertainers such as Don Ho and Tiny Tim. "I can't sing the falsetto [on Tiptoe Through the Tulips] but I can play the chords," says Neill.
Second, he also has a refreshingly down-to-earth website. If you log on to www.samneill.com , you won't find the expected filmography, photos of Neill in his many roles, or an unofficial online fanzine. The site, strangely enough, has nothing about Neill - the actor, but instead is identical to www.twopaddocks.com , the website devoted to news about Neill's Two Paddocks winery in Central Otago, New Zealand. (The site's "TP blog" is written by Neill in the third person [he refers to himself as the Proprietor] and is laugh-out-loud funny.)
And finally, Neill is in Hong Kong now, judging at his first wine show, WinPac (Wines of the Pacific Rim), where he's joining the likes of John Avery, MW (Master of Wine); Australian winemaker Peter Lehmann and Hong Kong judges Simon Tam and Debra Meiburg.
No one would argue that Neill is better known for his acting than his pinot noirs. But wine-making is an expensive habit, and he wouldn't have Two Paddocks without the income generated by acting. "Hopefully, the wine will start paying me back, but it doesn't seem to want to at this point," Neill says in an interview that takes place just an hour after he flew into Hong Kong from Sydney. "We're covering ourselves, which is quite all right; I'm happy about that. But the investment - if I put it on the Shanghai Stock Exchange I'd be a lot better off. But then I wouldn't have any wines on the shelves."
Born in Northern Ireland, but raised from a young age in New Zealand, Neill had the wine-drinking "seed" planted by his father, who was a wine and spirits importer. But it wasn't until he was living in London in the 1980s that he started to appreciate the drink.
"I suddenly discovered I could afford to buy good wine," he says. "I was in movies and no longer impoverished. The first thing I did was to start buying good wine. I rapidly realised my favourite wine was pinot noir, specifically from Burgundy. They were reasonably affordable then. Cut to 10 years later and I bought some land in Central Otago. I realised not only was this the place I wanted to live, but it was also a place where it was possible to grow outstanding pinot noirs, which is kind of a double happy coincidence.
"Central Otago is a kind of unnaturally beautiful part of the world. There were a couple of pioneers who started to grow pinot noirs there, and it was very interesting. I thought if they could do it, why couldn't I. So, I bought some more land and planted my first grapes in 1993. We're now in our 10th vintage. It's called Two Paddocks because my friend [film director] Roger Donaldson had a paddock next to me and we thought we'd have a little company together. But his grapes didn't grow for a few years - he had a lot of bad luck.
"Now he's gone separately, he has a place called Sleeping Dogs, and I've got three paddocks, effectively, because I bought two other properties."
By all reports, including Neill's, Two Paddocks is bucolic.
"We not only grow grapes, we also grow saffron and lavender. We've infected some oak trees with truffle spores and hope they grow. We have pigs and sheep and chickens. Without being too po-faced about it, we are interested in organics and sustainable farming. We are producing our pinot along the sort of lines they were using in Burgundy, I imagine, 200 years ago. We don't use pesticides and herbicides and I think we'll be certifiably organic this year."
The animals, though, aren't eaten, although it isn't Neill's choice. "I thought we were growing them for our own consumption, but my wife [makeup artist Noriko Watanabe] won't have anything killed. So, they just wander around looking decorative. The pigs are getting awfully big - they're pot-bellied pigs. They were cute and now they're just enormous. Pot-bellied pigs are no good for eating after about six months, apparently, so they're well past their due date. They just eat more and more, and get bigger and bigger. But they're extremely happy about it."
Over the three plots of land, only 12 hectares are planted with grape vines, producing just over 2,000 cases through Neill's team that also includes a viticulturist and winemaker. "We're very small, but that's kind of why I've always rather liked Burgundy as opposed to Bordeaux," says the 59-year-old. "Bordeaux has grapes grown by extremely wealthy people with vast estates and chateaux. Burgundy is grown by peasants like me, with little plots and charming pigs."
Although Two Paddocks is known primarily for its pinot noir, Neill grows a small amount of riesling, and he also makes chardonnay, sauvignon blanc and merlot from grapes purchased from other growers (the wines are sold in Hong Kong at ThreeSixty in the Landmark, Central).
"I planted riesling to please my wife, because after we started with the pinot, she came to the conclusion she no longer liked red wine. But after the riesling was planted, she decided she doesn't like wine at all. She only drinks beer now. I can't afford a brewery," he laughs.
Central Otago is the world's southernmost wine-making region. Neill calls it a "very marginal area. It's only just warm enough. That's the secret to a good pinot noir, you have to let the grapes hang on the vine until the last possible moment to get the greatest complexity of flavours. Some years will be disastrous, others will be absolutely extraordinary, that's just the luck of the draw. Frost is our greatest enemy."
Neill starts to practise for the WinPac wine judging by attempting to describe his own wines. "This is the sort of thing a wine judge should be able to do with great aplomb," he says. "I think what characterises them is very vivid fruit, a sort of exuberance, with balance, refinement and long finish. I think vibrant would be the best word - they sing, they're alive."
Neill has an Order of the British Empire and the Distinguished Companion to the New Zealand Order of Merit, but he gets a gleam in his eye when he's asked if he wants to add the Master of Wine initials behind his name.
"It's quite difficult to be an MW, isn't it?" he says. "I'm terribly lazy, it sounds like an awful lot of work. I would like to learn about wines formally, though, there are vast areas that I'm woefully amateur. That's the good thing about being the boss."
However, Neill eschews the "celebrity winemaker" label. "I don't really think of myself as famous. I'm happy to be lumped in with Francis Ford Coppola and Gerard Depardieu because they're film guys and serious about their wines. But then people start to write about celebrity vineyards and you start getting into Greg Norman and Cliff Richard and so on. I'm sure they're perfectly nice people, but I don't think we have anything in common. They don't make films and they're famous; they're celebrities and I'm not. I'm an actor who also makes wines."
Sam Neill Takes Wine Brand To Hong Kong
Tuesday January 30, 2007
One of New Zealand's most famous exports, actor Sam Neill, introduced his boutique line of wines to Hong Kong on Tuesday, and urged a rapidly expanding Chinese market to consider buying bottles from his country's vineyards.
Neill signed bottles of wine for customers and posed for pictures at a downtown organic food store that will exclusively carry four Two Paddocks wines - a Sauvignon Blanc, a Riesling and a Merlot, all from 2003, and a 2004 Pinot Noir.
Hong Kong is viewed as a launching pad for businesses targeting the Chinese market, but asked about his expansion plans for the mainland, where wine is popular among the newly rich, Neill said Two Paddocks wasn't the type of vineyard geared up for huge markets such as China's.
"We're a boutique winery. I think if we started expanding into China we'd be swallowed up in a minute," he said.
Two Paddocks runs three vineyards in the Central Otago region of New Zealand's South Island. Neill said they produce 3,000 cases of wine a year.
Still, Neill said he's pleased about the prospect of a new market in China.
"I'm very happy to hear that people are beginning to drink wine up here because there's a whole world of wines to discover. We're particularly proud of our wines from Central Otago," he said.
Neill's acting credits include The Piano, Jurassic Park and Dead Calm.
New (Zealand) Honour For Neill
Arts Hub Australia
Thursday, January 18, 2007
New Zealand actor Nigel John Dermont Neill (aka, Sam), has been awarded with one of his country's highest accolades for his achievements on stage and screen.
Neill was presented with a New Zealand Order of Merit as part of the nation's New Year's honour roll. He was made a Distinguished Companion, the second highest of five levels of merit, in the order of chivalry which recognises “those persons who in any field of endeavor, have rendered meritorious service to the Crown and nation or who have become distinguished by their eminence, talents, contributions or other merits.”
Neill, whose career spans some 60 films. was joined in the honours list by fellow countryman and actor, director and cabaret singer, Jennifer Ward-Lealand.
Ward-Lealand declared herself “thrilled” to receive the fourth highest level of merit, in recognition of her “services to theatre and community”.
Other New Zealand artists and creators honoured in the New Year shout outs include film director Vincent Ward, and NZ Film Commission chairman Barrie Everard.
New Year Honours: Sam Neill Tops Bill
Saturday December 30, 2006
By Chris Morris
Actor Sam Neill celebrates
the award at his Central
Otago vineyard, Two Paddocks.
Photo / Otago Daily Times
When Hollywood star Sam Neill received a letter from the Governor-General offering him the honour of a DCNZM, the actor admits he wasn't quite sure what to make of it.
It was only after a bit of research on the internet that Neill, 59, discovered the acronym's true meaning, and learned he was to become a Distinguished Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to acting.
It turns out to be pretty big cheese, Neill said from his home near Queenstown.
"I was surprised and very flattered. I don't think there's anything more satisfying than being recognised by one's own country. But also I'm always pleased to see the arts get a nod.
"We produce marvellous actors in this country and I felt pleased to be one of them. This is for them as much as anything."
Neill has won international acclaim and recognition for his performances, which first brought him fame as the lead actor in the 1977 feature film Sleeping Dogs.
His career now spans more than 60 productions, including the blockbuster Jurassic Park and the acclaimed The Piano in 1993, and Perfect Strangers in 2003.
He has also enjoyed commercial and critical success through his work as a film producer.
He co-founded the Queenstown firm Huntaway Films to develop and produce films and television programmes in collaboration with writers and film-makers from throughout New Zealand and Australia.
Neill's trophy cabinet boasts the Best Actor Award from the Australian Film Institute in 1988, an OBE for services to acting in 1991, and the Best Documentary Award of the New Zealand Film Institute in 1995.
But despite the glamour and accolades that have come throughout his career, Neill insisted New Zealand's third-to-top honour was top enough.
"I actually think this is as good as it gets and I couldn't be more delighted," he said. "It's the kind of thing you want to be able to go home and tell your Dad about, but unfortunately my Dad moved on about 12 years ago and he's no longer with us. So I will have to ring my old aunt."
Some confusion remained for Neill, however.
After discussing whether he would hang the insignia around his neck or pin it on his shirt, the proud New Zealander admitted he was still unsure exactly what his gong looked like. "We'll see when I get to Wellington," he said, laughing.
Neill 'tickled pink' For Arts Industry
By MIKE CREAN and TANYA KATTERNS
The Dominion Post
Saturday, 30 December 2006
TICKLED PINK: Actor Sam Neill was "tickled pink and gratified
for the arts" after being made a Distinguished Companion
of the New Zealand Order of Merit in the New Year Honours.
NEW YEAR HONOURS
When Sam Neill broke into the movies, being a Kiwi on world film sets was a rarity.
"Now New Zealand is part of the mainstream of film culture. We are part of world cinema now," he said.
Neill, whose full name is Nigel John Dermot Neill, was "tickled pink and gratified for the arts" with being made a Distinguished Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit. However, he does not see his part in the growth of New Zealand film as significant.
"I was no trail-blazer. I take no credit for that," he said from his Queenstown home.
Neill, who was awarded the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1991, felt lucky and privileged to have made a career in film. "I became an actor only because I showed no conspicuous talent in any other area. Acting is a pleasure. I am always completely surprised to have made a living from acting - let alone to have got a gong for it."
As the earliest and oldest New Zealander on the world film scene, he felt thrilled that many New Zealand actors and directors were now working around the world.
Greytown-born director Vincent Ward, who had a rough ride with his latest film River Queen, has also received a New Year honour. He is one of 25 people named an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit.
Camping beside the Ruamahanga River in southern Wairarapa with a sombrero perched on his head yesterday, Ward said he was "quite baffled but obviously really appreciative" of the honour.
"I know there is other stuff I have done in the past, but for me personally I attach this to River Queen because it was the hardest film that I have ever worked on, yet remain proud of the end result."
River Queen, released in January, was beset with problems during filming around the Whanganui River in 2004.
Lead actress Samantha Morton fell ill, delaying shooting for eight weeks. Ward was fired and then reinstated.
Once his holiday is over, Ward will return to the Ureweras to continue work on a mixture of drama and documentary film that he has been working on off-and-on for four years.
"The stories are really exciting and though I don't want to talk too much about it, it is extraordinary true-life adventures of a Maori woman."
The film will be finished about September. In Ward's tent yesterday were a couple of scripts, one from Canada, that he was reading over. "I need to finish what I have started and I have my second son due to be born in February so we will just wait and see what grabs me."
His first feature, Vigil, was the first New Zealand film to be shown at the Cannes Film Festival, in 1984. He also directed The Navigator, Map of the Human Heart and What Dreams May Come and was an executive producer on The Last Samurai.
Actress Jennifer Ward-Lealand has also been made an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit for her more than 20 years' work in theatre, film, radio and television. Her feature film appearances include Desperate Remedies and Fracture and she has numerous television credits.
Film Commission chairman Barrie Everard is one of 13 people made a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to the film industry. A leading film distributor for many years, he also became involved in cinema ownership through the Berkeley Cinemas business in the Auckland region. He has been a member of the commission since 1998 and its chairman since 2002.
News clipping courtesy Shy Fan.
Click to enlarge.
The Good Samaritan
December 2, 2006
Celebrities Gone Wild -- Part 2
Top TV critics once again share tales of Tinseltown terrors that left them licking their wounds.
Neal Justin, Star Tribune www.startribune.com
Last update: October 13, 2006
Bill Brioux, The Toronto Sun: "Years before Sam Neill did 'Jurassic Park,' I interviewed him in Los Angeles. He had just wrapped a historical miniseries in Toronto, and I thought I would get the scoop. I got to him at the end of the day after he had just been interviewed by at least 20 other writers.
"I asked him how he liked shooting up north. No response. Did he like portraying historical characters? A grunt. I asked him about his costars. Nothing. The guy wouldn't even look at me half the time. I literally stood up at one point and faced the wall. Finally, exasperated, I said to him, 'Look, I've got to file some sort of story for my editors. What do you want to talk about?'
" 'Whales,' he said."
Put It Away, Sam...
Monday July 24, 2006
After almost 30 years in the movies, Sam Neill still gets the odd sex scene. But nowadays directors prefer him to keep his pyjamas on. How does that feel, asks Chrissy Iley.
It's the most sweltering day of the year and I'm having breakfast with Sam Neill in London's Charlotte Street Hotel. He's wearing a dark suit and striped shirt, which gives you an idea of how buttoned-up he is. I've always had quite a thing for him, though. He's so utterly comfortable to be with, yet so edgy at the same time. Sometimes his whole face is expressionless except for one eyebrow that raises like a little whip. He speaks so slowly, sometimes like a tape recorder on half speed. You wonder: is that because he's so laid back, or because there are so many wheels whirring in his brain?
He has come to London for the premiere of his latest film, Little Fish. In the Q&A session that followed it, his performance as Sam Neill was as compelling as his performance in the movie. He was dry, languid, meticulous. When a punter told him he looked like Terry Wogan, he was unfazed except for saying, "A little unfair on Terry." Another asked him a long question which ended "... how do you feel as an Australian actor?" "I don't know. I'm from New Zealand," he said, with a chill that iced the room, although he was actually born in Northern Ireland, in Omagh, and lived there till he was seven.
Now 58, he has worked thoroughly and prodigiously since taking up acting at 30. He is most noted for his parts in Jurassic Park, My Brilliant Career, The Omen, Plenty, The Piano and Dead Calm. But he's always turning up in unexpected places. In Little Fish he plays a drug baron about to retire. He brings to it an exquisite, sophisticated sleaziness and an excruciating kiss with a junkie played by Hugo Weaving.
"Kissing blokes is deeply unappealing," he says. "A bit like kissing an alsatian's arse. Horribly hairy. It gives me a new respect for women."
But there's nothing respectable about his character. He lives in the wealthy Sydney suburb of Sylvania Waters, which offers a respectable veneer for an extremely seedy life. Sexually ambivalent and harsh, he is a cold antidote to the desperate energy of the other characters, a recovering addict (Cate Blanchett), her one-legged brother (Martin Henderson), and their junkie father figure (Weaving).
Today Neill is depressed. He orders tea, toast and marmalade. He rests his head on to the pillowy cushions of the sofa, cosies into them. He looks like a large indolent cat, although he says he is a dog person. "It's just so bad to get up and see the news," he says. "The Middle East descending into more chaos than one can possibly ... What are you going to do when the west has no moral authority any more? Where's Ian Dury when we need him with his reasons to be cheerful?" When pushed, of course, he can come up with many reasons to be cheerful. "I won 1,000 euros betting on Italy in the World Cup. The corollary is that the World Cup is finished. It gave meaning and structure to one's life for a few weeks, although now I've got the Tri-Nations and I'm an All Blacks supporter."
He's filming in Ireland at the moment, so he goes to the rugby pub at 8am. "The first time I went I made the mistake of thinking, 'If I'm in a pub I should drink.' I'd had three Guinnesses by 10 am. It rather de-energises the rest of the day. Now I realise I am under no obligation to do that, and lime and soda will do just as well.
"How sad it is that we turn to sport for morale reasons," he says, deeply pained.
There is a long pause where I imagine he might be thinking of how sport bonded him with his father, how sport made him overcome his shyness when he was an effete little boy in a New Zealand playground. Nigel, as he was, overcame his stammer, changed his name to Sam and developed one of the most gorgeously rich voices since James Mason, who was at one time a mentor. Maybe he saw a little of himself in there?
"Bill Nighy," he says, seemingly out of nowhere. "He's a reason to be cheerful. Did you see him in The Girl in the Cafe? Immaculate bastard. His detail was so exquisite. He's droll, isn't he? I just saw him on the TV. He was at the Windbreaker premiere last night."
Windbreaker is what he calls Stormbreaker, which had a much bigger-deal, higher-profile party than Little Fish. "We got a pompous room in Australia House and a gift bag that contained a spider catcher and a jar of Vegemite. You used to go to Australia House and buy your combi [camper van] and head off for Europe. I bought a van there once for 410 quid, went round Europe, came back and sold it for 430. I should have been a capitalist."
Although his life has taken him all over the world, and he has spent large chunks of time in Britain, Australia, New Zealand and Ireland, he does not appear rootless. He adores his farm, nestled between lakes and mountains in New Zealand. He feels at home in Ireland. "I don't know whether generations ago I was Irish and it's a DNA feeling that's been put back in place, or whether it's those formative years."
His stepdaughter Maiko Spencer, a rhythm and blues singer, lives in London, so he's happy to be here too. "I used to live up the road from Bill in Kentish Town in an old piano factory. I sold it before the property boom. It was a nice loft but there were a couple of attempts to burn it down from youths.
"Anyway, after they set fire to newspaper and shoved it through the letterbox I met my wife, so I went to live in Australia."
It seems odd to me that he's only had one wife. She is the makeup artist Noriko Watanabe, who won a Bafta for Memoirs of a Geisha. They have a 15-year-old daughter, Elena, "who is into boys, a social life and skirts that are rather too short. When I'm not working I'm in New Zealand. My family come and go."
Did you meet your wife when she was powdering your face? "Yes. We met on Dead Calm. It was on an island with plenty of time on our hands, so I leapt out in pursuit of her. I met with tremendous resistance for a long time. I got there in the end with dogged persistence."
Neill also has a 20-year-old son, Tim, who is the product of an on/off relationship with a New Zealand actor, Lisa Harrow. He speaks warmly of Tim, who has just left university and doesn't know what to do with his life. "And I can't tell him," he says.
He met Harrow on the set of The Omen. He can easily whip up a steam when filming. When he was in Sirens with Elle Macpherson, he once said, he used to have erotic dreams about her. At the moment Neill is filming Henry VIII in Ireland - he plays Cardinal Wolsey. "The good thing about the part is I can put on as much weight as I like for reasons of historical veracity. It's not hard in Ireland. The Guinness is so good. I see paintings of Wolsey and he really was a fat bastard, and conflicted. Dealing with the whims of a prince - it's a man's job."
He scrapes the marmalade on to his toast. "He's got a mistress, you know," he says, savouring the "stress" of mistress. Does he have sex scenes? "We had a bed scene the other day. There was activity but I won't call it sex. She was beating my back." "She" being Lorna Doyle, a young actor in her first part. Was she beating him in a lascivious way or like a masochistic monk? "I'll leave that for you to decide." His eyes suddenly seem very round and pin me into my chair.
"Mostly when I do bed scenes these days I'm in my pyjamas and reading glasses." Then he excitedly refers to Frances Barber, who had a small part in his TV series Reilly: Ace of Spies. "We were introduced and the director said, 'Now, you're three in a bed in this scene and you're going topless.' She went ashen and then to her credit said, 'Fine,' and we boxed on. What a great sport."
When he talks about his sex scenes his voice accelerates to almost normal speed, his inner heat palpable. By now he's taken off his jacket. Yet he is also happy to talk about his pot-bellied pigs and his sheep. "I don't think the pigs are fond enough of me to be called pets. They like me to feed them but they don't show any particular affection like a dog. They can't be bothered, whereas dogs are craven. That's why we love them. I have a staffie, Fire. A heart from hell. So adorable."
If you were a dog, would you be a staffordshire? "No, their temperaments are far too sweet for me. I'd be some lugubrious depressed-looking dog that hides under a sofa when the news comes on. A borzoi." He ignores what I am asking him and goes on: "I have very attractive black-faced sheep." Do they make chops? "No. They make other sheep. I have one ram called Bryan Brown, after my friend the Australian actor. They have similar interests. I have a goat but he can't bear the sheep. He's a racist. He feels they are unspeakably below him. I need to get a goat whisperer. Maybe from Wales."
He met some Druids once in Wales who came to prep him for his part as Merlin. "A young couple with no shoes came to my hotel with all sorts of interesting observations about the old religion. They gave me a crystal. I've never believed in crystals. I've always been cynical and jaded but I got them to sew it into my costume. Day one chasing around Snowdonia on horses, the crystal was gone. I was devastated. A hundred people were searching for the crystal in 500 acres of national park. There's no way we're going to find it. 'Please stop,' I said. I put my head into my hands and looked down and in the grass between my feet was the crystal, and now I'm never without it. It's always in my roly-poly bag."
After he has rolled back to Ireland he says he will be very cheerful. He says he wants to go home. The main thing that goes on on his acres is wine-making. "The finest pinot noir in the world - but I would say that, wouldn't I? I miss it, but if that's all I did I'd be bored, claustrophobic. If all I did was acting, I'd go out of my mind."
I try to compliment him on The Piano, on the power of his performance, but he completely ignores it as if he's uncomfortable with the praise. I have to say it again. "It was very hard to do that movie, chopping off your wife's finger in a rainstorm in the mud. Could have a bad effect on you. Holly Hunter was such a firebrand. She fought back like buggery. After three takes I was absolutely exhausted."
He doesn't look as if he's nearing 60, but one senses that he might be worried about love scenes that only involve pyjamas. Does the ageing process disturb him? "Obviously. Let's be realistic. There are limits to what I can do. I won't be asked to play the sprinter in Chariots of Fire II but I'm always astonished that I work at all."
It seems like he works all the time. "Yes," he says. "The pathetic thing about actors is they don't feel valid unless they're acting."
No More Mr. Nice Guy
By Nina Caplan, Metro
18 July 2006
Even for an actor who has managed to strike a reasonable balance between Jurassic Park-type blockbusters and smaller, artier films, Sam Neill's character in Little Fish is quite something.
'Brad is very different material from the stuff I usually get,' he remarks. 'The role is really off the wall. I mean, an ageing, gay drug-dealing gangster isn't one you'd see on the CV all that often...'
But surely, at 59, with more than 20 years of solid filmmaking behind him - most recently as Kirsten Dunst's ultra-competitive father in Wimbledon and the cuckolded husband in Sally Potter's oddball romance Yes, spoken entirely in rhyme - nothing can phase him?
'These things make you anxious,' he says. 'You worry about whether you're suitable for the part. But you have to take the punt, don't you?'
Brad is certainly one to take risks. He's the linchpin of Rowan Woods's oddly tender thriller Little Fish: a married, closeted homosexual who, for years, has been having an affair with Lionel (Hugo Weaving), a former Aussie rules football star - and supplying his heroin habit as a twisted love offering.
The upshot of Lionel's addiction was that he turned young Tracy (Cate Blanchett) on to drugs. As the film opens, Tracy is clean and struggling to rebuild her life. In an odd parallel, Brad, too, is trying to tidy things up: getting divorced, closing his business and finishing his relationship with Lionel - a double blow to the crumbling ex-athlete's heart and thirsty veins. 'Before it all goes terribly wrong, Brad is working towards some sort of resolution,' Neill points out.
The film's drama stems from a bad deal but, unusually for a drugs flick, Little Fish is very warm-blooded. This has a lot to do with the actors' calibre and with Neill and Weaving taking such unexpected parts.
'It's a very ambitious piece of writing,' explains Neill's co-star Weaving. 'Lionel is so far removed from where my life is but I was instantly excited by the prospect of playing him because he exists in a number of different worlds.
'The football player was the base. Then I needed to have some understanding of what heroin does to someone over a period of 20 years. His sexuality was not really important to me but, in terms of the film, it is because one of his many relationships is with Sam Neill's character.'
Neill, too, feels great sympathy for the person he plays. 'There's something desperately lonely about him,' he muses. 'He has certainly lived in a very duplicitous way for a long time.'
Still, like Weaving, he's keen to stress the gulf between himself and this brutal, conflicted man: 'Perhaps he's happy with rent boys, although I don't see the attraction myself.'
Weaving and Neill are almost unrecognisable in the film: while Weaving has a full complement of face fuzz, Neill is overweight, with an unforgiving jawline. But despite the occasional need to pile on the pounds, acting has been good to Neill, as he's happy to acknowledge.
'My life is itinerant but interesting,' says the Northern Ireland-born Kiwi, who grows wine ('very agreeable wine of which I drink far too much') when not on set. He claims to take whatever work is offered, though adds modestly: 'I'm always slightly startled to be in work at all.'
I ask him if Kiwis suffer from what Australian writer Peter Carey describes as 'the rage of the periphery' - resentment at feeling on the cultural sidelines.
'There's not a lot of rage in New Zealand,' he laughs. 'We're a mild lot, the All Blacks aside.' Mild? I've just watched him portray a man (an Aussie, admittedly) who feeds his lover heroin and sleeps next to a loaded gun. It's a good thing Sam Neill can act.
Sam Neill and Dame Kiri To Head Actors Fund
04 July 2006
Successful performers Sam Neill and Dame Kiri Te Kanawa were last night announced as patrons of an actor's fund set up to support New Zealand performers who are yet to make it big.
The Actors Benevolent Fund (ABF) was launched at the Auckland Art Gallery at the same time as the establishment of the union, Actors Equity, which will represent performers.
"The ABF is a wonderful and practical initiative providing performers with a chance to help each other while they build their community," Equity president Simon Burke said.
"Performers are thrilled that performance icons such as Sam Neill and Dame Kiri Te Kanawa recognise the importance of the fund for all performers."
Speaking by video from a film set in Dublin, Neill said that while life was uncertain, the life of a performer was even more uncertain and he encouraged performers to get involved with the ABF.
Dame Kiri congratulated the establishment of the fund in a message saying: "The fund's objective is as sensible as it is simple: To provide good, sound, practical help to performers who need it."
Mr Burke said ABF would be administered by a committee of performers and would start with a series of fundraising initiatives.
"So when you see a bucket with the ABF logo passed around at a theatre, or you're asked to buy a raffle ticket, or to come along to a fundraiser you'll know you're being asked to support performers who really need your help."
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