SAM NEILL, chuckles as he says that he is having what he
calls a "bad rash".
But the Jurassic Park
star won't be reaching for the calamine lotion - he just means he's had a
series of roles in which he's been cast as utterly loathsome characters.
He's soon to be seen as a crooked cop in Australian movie
Dirty Deeds and then in Perfect Strangers he's a weirdo who kidnaps a woman he
meets in a pub.
But evil roles are water off a duck's back to the man who
shot to fame playing the devil himself as the adult Damien in The Final
Conflict, the last part of The Omen trilogy.
And next Sunday he'll be seen as yet another baddie, playing
despicable lawyer Victor Komarovsky in Zhivago, ITV's £8.5million remake of the
1965 Oscar-winning movie, Dr Zhivago, which starred Julie Christie and Omar
In this three-part TV epic, which stars 19-year-old Keira
Knightley and Scots newcomer Hans Matheson, 27, as the doomed lovers Lara and
Komarovsky was originally played by Rod Steiger in David
Lean's story of doomed love spanning the Bolshevik Revolution.
The film won five Oscars despite lasting a bum-numbing three
Sam, 54, had no hang-ups about playing the rotten Russian
who seduces and corrupts the teenage Lara, having already bedded her mother.
Normally, he tries to find something to like about his
characters, no matter how wicked they appear. This time, though, Komarovsky had
"It's hard to put your finger on any redeeming
qualities," he said "Komarovsky clearly has a very unhealthy
relationship with Lara.
"He becomes utterly obsessed by this girl. It's not
good for him - and it's much worse for her."
But Sam admits that it's fun to play a villain, even when
he's as thoroughly hateful as Komarovsky. "The more horrible, the more fun
they are to do," he said, laughing.
The real Sam Neill, who lives with his make-up artist wife
Noriko Watanabe and their family at their homes in Beverly
and New Zealand,
is a quiet-spoken, unassuming man who blushes when I point out he's something
of a sex symbol.
''I hope I am a gentle person," he said "It would
be hard to sleep at night if I thought that I had anything in common with
Sam has been a fan of Dr Zhivago since he first read Boris
Pasternak's novel as a student.
"It's one of the great books of the 20th century,' he
said. ''It's an extraordinary story set against some of the greatest events of
He also adored the David Lean film but isn't at all
concerned about the TV version being compared unfavourably with the big-screen
"If we were making another movie, that would be
something else," he said. "But television is different.
"In addition, people of my age probably have Julie
Christie indelibly stamped on their central lobes.
"And it's probably fair to say that there are a great
many people who have never seen the movie because it's more than 30 years old.
So there is a whole new audience.
"There is a lot more of the story that has never been
told and it's one of those books that lends itself terribly well to
The actor also reveals that he first thought the time was
right to return to the story of Dr Zhivago and create a TV version 12 years
He said: "It was after the Iron Curtain blew to pieces
and it seemed to me that there were great opportunities to have a look at all
these great Russian novels - and the first one that came to mind was Dr
He got in touch with a producer and pitched his idea but
nothing happened and the plan fizzled out.
But when the makers of Zhivago came along, he grabbed the
opportunity with both hands.
He said: "I thought, 'it's not just me, let's do this.'''
Sam was very impressed with his two young co-stars in
He said: ''It's the first time I have done something where
the two leading characters are young enough to be my grandchildren, but I am
not fazed by that. I am very fond of both of them. Keira and Hans are both
great. We got on really well."
Of the sex scenes that he and Keira had to act out, he
added: "That could have been potentially awkward if she wasn't a mature,
sensible and humorous person. It's really been a pleasure to work with her."
The role of Lara also led to embarrassment for teenage star
Keira - but it had nothing to do with the sex scenes.
Her dad was so proud of her that he'd hum the famous Zhivago
theme every time she came into the room.
The haunting Lara's Theme brought the balalaika to the
masses. The role is the latest stage of a soaring success story for Keira,
whose mum is Scots writer Sharman Macdonald.
Since starring in the hit movie Bend It Like Beckham, she
has been in big demand and she's set to star with Johnny Depp in The Pirates Of
One of her biggest challenges in Zhivago was playing Lara as
she ages from a teenager to her 30s.
"That was quite a stretch for me and I was quite
petrified but so excited," she said "But I stopped watching the David
Lean movie because I was falling into the trap of doing Julie Christie instead
of playing Lara."
The stars recreated the sweeping, dramatic world of Zhivago
in Prague which has become
something of a home from home for Stomoway-bom Hans Matheson, 27, who plays the
"In the last five years, I have spent a year filming
different roles in Prague, which I
have enjoyed very much," he said. And he hopes that viewers won't make
unfair comparisons between the TV series and the David Lean movie.
"I would say this version is more daring
emotionally," said Hans. "Films have moved on since Lean's version.
There is something more real about this production."
filming moved to Slovakia
for the snow-filled scenes that are so vital to create the atmosphere of Dr
The winter chills were certainly a far cry from Sam's native
where he has his own vineyard and wine business.
He said: "The wine we produce is Pinot Noir. Initially
I just planned to grow wine for the family and to give away to friends and have
plenty to lavish on myself. But it turned out to be much better wine than
expected and we now produce about 1000 cases a year and hope to increase it to
Interestingly, wine buff Sam was once in line to play
Martini-swigging secret agent James Bond.
He said: ''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."
So who knows, maybe Sam Neill's "bad rash" of
baddies is set to continue.