SAM NEILL, the handsome star of this month's featured video The Piano, has been one of New
Zealand's finest exports for years. Yet in
reality he was born Nigel Neill to a British Army father and English mother in Ulster.
The family moved to the Antipodes for a new life, and it was
only when he was at university that young Sam (as he now called himself)
decided 'for a laugh' to dabble with acting. Within a comparatively short time
he found himself starring opposite Judy Davis in the prophetically titled and
critically acclaimed My Brilliant Career.
Since then his movie successes have included the role of
Michael Chamberlain in the 'dingo baby' story Cry in the Dark opposite Meryl Streep, the husband of terrorised
Nicole Kidman in the Philip Noyce thriller Dead
Calm, and the underhand government agent trying to ensnare Chevy Chase in Memoirs of an Invisible Man.
To millions of TV viewers he's still best remembered as Reilly, Ace of Spies, and as well as his
sterling roles as Holly Hunter's husband in The
Piano, he was palaeontologist Alan Grant in Spielberg's monster hit Jurassic Park. Yet the man who's had so many
plaudits guards his privacy fiercely, and despite his rugged good looks he
confesses to being very awkward around women.
"I've always been in love with someone or other as long
as I can remember. In the '50s I had little crushes on the females in pin-up
magazines. As for being a heart-throb or a hunk, I'm actually not very good in
bed. It's the rare man among us who's a barefaced Rudolph Valentino, who can
pull these things off with extraordinary grace and style."
For a while he lived with actress Lisa Harrow who was his
co-star in the supernatural chiller Omen
3. Although they never married, they had a son, Tim, who now lives with his
mother in Melbourne: "We
didn't marry because we weren't quite right for each other. I always knew that
when I did meet the right woman that would be it, over and done with."
That woman turned out to be beautiful Japanese make-up
artist Noriko Watanabe, with whom he's since had three children. They've also
worked together on four movies, including the Spielberg film during which they
had to survive a hurricane: "Fortunately they'd left Hawaii
by the time Hurricane Iniki struck, but I and the crew were battened down
underneath the hotel in Kauai when the eye of the
hurricane passed overhead. The noise of the thing was incredible - like being
under a train. If it had gone on much longer, the hotel would have been
destroyed. The water was already pouring in..."
Despite his lashing from the typhoon, Sam has for some time
been involved in environmental issues: "I worry about the planet and have
been involved in Greenpeace and CNQ. I suppose both these organisations are
pretty political, but I think if you're alive today you have to be political.
In addition I've got my kids to think about."
He makes a point of avoiding violent films and admits that
he is not very organised: "I've never charted a career course. I just sort
of bumble about from one job to the next. I've had some wretched moments in
some wretched places but I'm quite firm these days. I never attend a first
night or a showbiz function. I suppose I've tried to live as obscurely as
possible in the most high profile and noisiest of industries."