The every­man

SAM NEILL on some of the stand­out roles of his in­cred­i­ble ca­reer

Empire (UK) - - PROMOTION -

SAM NEILL IS the master of act­ing with­out draw­ing at­ten­tion to him­self. Over a ca­reer span­ning al­most 50 years, the Kiwi ac­tor has qui­etly built one of the most im­pres­sive ca­reers around, his ver­sa­til­ity stand­ing him in good stead. From grumpy di­nosaur ex­perts to de­ranged doc­tors, he can pretty much play any­thing. We asked him about some of his sig­na­ture roles and scenes.


(1979) Neill’s big break — the start of his bril­liant ca­reer, you could say — came as Judy Davis’ lovelorn suitor in a Gil­lian Arm­strong-di­rected drama

“I was very taken with Gil­lian Arm­strong. She was ter­rific. But I had a dog that didn’t like me, and the horse that they gave me wasn’t re­ally much of a film horse. It was a thor­ough­bred, a re­tired rac­ing horse that had ob­vi­ously failed on the race­track. In Pre­to­ria, for some rea­son, they go anti-clock­wise around the track, and as a re­sult the horse could only turn left. It was a bug­ger of a thing. But that gave me the faith to ac­tu­ally think, ‘I could do this as a liv­ing.’ That had not oc­curred to me be­fore I did My Bril­liant Ca­reer.” THE HUNT FOR RED OC­TO­BER (1990)

In a movie dom­i­nated by pow­er­house turns from Sean Con­nery and Alec Bald­win, Neill hits big with his quiet, dig­ni­fied Rus­sian first of­fi­cer, whose oft-stated de­sire to visit Amer­ica re­sults in his dy­ing words, “I would like to have seen Mon­tana...” “Peo­ple are al­ways yelling that at me. ‘Have you seen Mon­tana yet?’ Yeah, I went there with Robert Red­ford, ac­tu­ally! [Neill made The Horse Whis­perer, di­rected by Red­ford, there.] Ed­die Mur­phy was do­ing an­other film on the lot at that time, and the word came through that Ed­die was go­ing to visit the set. These huge se­cu­rity guys ap­peared, and in the mid­dle of them was Ed­die. And I was near the en­try, and one of his guys, with his great big hand, went, ‘BAM!’ and flat­tened me against the wall, like I was some sort of mad fan. Which was a bit weird, be­cause I was wear­ing a Rus­sian naval uni­form at the time. That’s Hol­ly­wood!”



As Dr Alan Grant, Neill pro­vides a pleas­ingly hu­man face, and per­son­al­ity, that grounds Spiel­berg’s di­nosaur epic. He dis­plays im­pres­sive sto­icism amid over­whelm­ing odds, not least when he comes face to face with a T-rex… “We were wet and cold for a lot of that. That flare I was hold­ing, a blob fell un­der my hand and went un­der my watch and stuck there. That’s the Juras­sic scar. And the T-rex, al­though

an ab­so­lutely ter­ri­fy­ing crea­ture, gave us cause for amuse­ment. When it came down on the car, some­times it wouldn’t be ter­ri­bly ac­cu­rate. Some­times it would hit the car and its teeth would fall out. They’d have to take the T-rex away and put his teeth back in, like an old man!”



As Alisdair, the cuck­olded hus­band of Holly Hunter in Jane Cam­pion’s dark love story, Neill found him­self go­ing to places he hadn’t vis­ited be­fore, par­tic­u­larly in a scene where he had to cut off Hunter’s fin­ger

“I have very strong mem­o­ries of that. Holly said, ‘I want Sam to have a rub­ber axe in this scene!’ So when I pick her up, it’s ac­tu­ally a rub­ber axe. I said, ‘Holly, there’s no way in the world I would ac­tu­ally cut your fin­ger off!’ I’m still slightly hurt by that. It’s only now that I re­alise the sig­nif­i­cance of his hor­ri­ble line, be­fore he drags her to the chop­ping block. He says, ‘Look what you’ve made me do.’ That is ap­par­ently of­ten a line in sit­u­a­tions of real do­mes­tic abuse that peo­ple say, and I never knew that un­til about a year ago. That was re­ally up­set­ting.”


(1995) Neill’s sec­ond col­lab­o­ra­tion with John Car­pen­ter is a glo­ri­ously de­mented fu­sion of H.P. Love­craft and Stephen King, in which Neill plays an in­sur­ance ad­juster who in­ves­ti­gates the dis­ap­pear­ance of a hor­ror nov­el­ist, and goes quite, quite mad at the end of the world

“I love John. He’s such a cu­ri­ous char­ac­ter. All he eats is break­fast food — ba­con and pan­cakes. He just lives on that shit! I had one ma­jor con­tri­bu­tion to that film. When I’m in the loony bin, orig­i­nally he had the Stones play­ing, and I said, ‘I wouldn’t mind the Stones on re­peat. But it’s the Car­pen­ters that’s guar­an­teed to drive you mad. That would be the worst pun­ish­ment of all…’”



Neill is un­for­get­table in Paul W.S. An­der­son’s cult clas­sic sci-fi hor­ror as Dr Wil­liam Weir, a prag­matic scientist and de­signer of su­per­space­ship the Event Hori­zon who, by the end, gets pos­sessed by an evil force, rips out his own eyes, and runs around in the nip “What I re­mem­ber most about that film was the ca­ma­raderie of the cast, and the sets were so phe­nom­e­nal. But the de­mon scenes, the sheer dis­com­fort of the spe­cial-ef­fects make-up, was in it­self a hor­ror. Eight hours of be­ing cov­ered in blood and rub­ber. I didn’t have to try hard to be deeply, de­mon­i­cally un­pleas­ant!” HUNT FOR THE WILDER­PEO­PLE (2016)

The role per­haps clos­est to Neill’s own heart is Hec, a gruff farmer who goes on the run with his adopted son, Ricky Baker, in Taika Waititi’s won­der­ful com­edy. Neill’s fed-up ex­pres­sion as his wife sings Ricky a happy birth­day song is worth the price of pur­chase alone

“That song was re­ally made up on the spot. Rima [Te Wi­ata, who played Hec’s wife, Bella] was go­ing to play ‘Happy Birth­day’, but the pro­ducer said we can’t sing that song be­cause we don’t have copy­right. So we all got our heads to­gether, and within half an hour it had come to­gether. She cred­its me with the line, ‘Me and Hec­tor, tri­fecta!’”


screen­ing. When she comes for Arthur, the crew were sit­ting in a row in the front, and they all leaned over in the other di­rec­tion. They all had such a scare. I don’t think they were ex­pect­ing it. I was help­less with laugh­ter.

Rawl­ins: It never oc­curred to me that it was a hor­ror film. I just thought I was do­ing the drama. It’s a rev­e­la­tion to me, and such a bonus, that it’s a clas­sic.

Ny­man: The best [hor­ror sto­ries] aren’t schlock, and just a silly jump-fest. If you take the scares out of it, it’s about a man who has to work away, and the im­pact of that on his mar­riage.

Mo­ran: Our ver­sion goes to show that you don’t need to throw money at some­thing for it to work. I’m re­fer­ring to the re­cent ver­sion with Dan Rad­cliffe. To my mind, their Woman ap­pears too of­ten. Our Woman ap­pears only five times. And you re­mem­ber ev­ery sin­gle one of them.

Rawl­ins: She casts a whole pres­ence over the film. Once you’ve seen her, she’s ever-present.

Ny­man: When we were mak­ing the film of Ghost Sto­ries, there was a moment in it that is a di­rect in­flu­ence from

Clock­wise from top: 1997’s Event Hori­zon; As cuck­olded hus­band Alisdair in The Pi­ano; With Judy Davis in My Briliant Ca­reer; In­spect­ing di­nosaur eggs in Juras­sic Park; Go­ing, um, mad in In The Mouth Of Mad­ness; Dream­ing of Mon­tana in The Hunt For Red Oc­to­ber; As gruff farmer Hec in Hunt For The Wilder­peo­ple.

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