LOS ANGELES - Sam Neill had just finished speaking with Kevin Costner, who was staying at the same hotel.
On this summer day, Mr. Neill was doing a round of interviews to promote Country Life, a small but delightful Australian version of Chekhov's Uncle Vanya. Mr. Costner was going the same publicity route, but for the megabucks Waterworld.
"I couldn't help thinking about the differences between us," Mr. Neill says. "He controls his own destiny. I'm much more adrift.
Even if Waterworld should not do well, he's lined up for the next two years. I never know at any one time what I'll be doing six months from now. Anything can happen. It's liberating, but scary."
Nevertheless, Mr. Neill has put together a far-reaching career.
In 1993, for example, he starred in the world's highest-grossing film ever, Steven Spielberg's dino-powered Jurassic Park, and in the year's biggest art-house success, The Piano.
"I could never do one without the other," he says. "I love Hollywood films, but they're not the only films on the Earth. And I have great fun making small pictures."
In Country Life, which opened Friday in Dallas, he plays a rural doctor whose interest is piqued by a beautiful, bored, married London woman played by Greta Scacchi.
"The character has wry, satirical ways that are true to the character in Chekhov's Uncle Vanya. My character probably has had countless love affairs, but at heart he's a solitary, lonely modernist. Chekhov always thought of his works as comedies, and I feel Country Life is a romantic comedy."
Yet Mr. Neill sounds equally enthusiastic when recalling how Steven Spielberg directed Jurassic Park. "He cared about character more than many directors would have had they been directing the same film. Yet he's very fast and thinks six times more quickly than I do. He did 60 percent of the camera operating in Jurassic Park. I'd never seen a director actually operating the camera before."
The New Zealand-born actor has a distracted, casual manner and occasionally fumbles when discussing his films. ("Did I really make a film called Sirens? What was it about? . . . Oh, yes, now I remember.")
Starting opposite Judy Davis in My Brilliant Career, he has often played roles that were subordinate to the lead actress.
"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?"
He grows more animated when discussing Holly Hunter, who won an Oscar for The Piano.
"She has this fierce determination. It's unbelievable to see such power coming from a peanut. You know instinctively to get out of her way. Whew! But I adore her."
He almost shivers when discussing the finger-amputation scene in The Piano.
"Holly made a point of struggling with me in that scene. She would not go without a fight. Ultimately I think my character in The Piano throws himself off a cliff one day. I don't think I'm a pessimist by saying that. I'm a realist. I'm just not unnecessarily optimistic.
"But I never really liked that character anyway. I could empathize with him, but I didn't really like him. He was a terribly lonely man. I felt that way when I played the anti-Christ in The Final Conflict (the last of the Omen trilogy). I didn't like the character but felt that being the anti-Christ must be the loneliest job in the world. You can't go around telling people you're the anti-Christ. Only a few people would want to sit at the same table with you."