Filmink - November 2003

 

 


 

Sam Neill scarcely needs an introduction. We saw him recently on Australian screens in Dirty Deeds, and even while he sojourns Down Under for cracking roles, Neill is a proven box-office superhero in America - notably as the star of the Jurassic Park trilogy. His new film Perfect Strangers, however, is a remote journey oddly rendered. It's Neill's first New Zealand role since The Piano in 1993, and it returns him to perhaps the only country where his popularity is greater than in Australia.

FILMINK is introduced to the beguiling Sam Neill as he draws from a cup of tea, scanning the local newspaper in a superbly crinkled suit and striped polo shirt. The handshake is immediate and warm, the laser-focus of his eyes welcoming. With the air of a true gentleman, Sam is alternatively wistful and boyish discussing his return to New Zealand for filming. In the film his character is a brooding, animalistic enigma, a charming and attentive surface belying a brutal swine within.

Despite the heaviness of the material, Neill was excited to be working at home. "I've divided my time fairly unequally between the land of the long white cloud and America. I have spent more than my share of time in Hollywood, and that is a town where, unfortunately, bad behaviour is rewarded. Stardom means pushing the boundaries of taste. The big boys are quite bad. You ask about stardom - there's no such thing. Reputation and status are the currency in Hollywood. There's something that George Miller said and it's awfully true - 'in Hollywood, the more demanding you are, the more respect you earn'. I haven't ratcheted my status up by being more demanding than I have a right to be. You hear some of those La La horror stories - requests for gold-plated trailers! I'm happy with a little room and a ukulele. Unfortunately when it comes to the Jurassic Park films you end up getting some of those gold-plated things without asking. It's bad for the soul."

But Perfect Strangers must be a few universes shy of Jurassic Park? "I love to take a punt on something like Perfect Strangers. Many people will go and see Jurassic Park, but there's also a responsibility that comes with that. With this film I could take risks, gamble, play with fire. It was a joy."

FILMINK asks Sam about the rehearsal process. Was this where he and Rachael Blake grew closer, forging the palpable chemistry seen on screen? "The rehearsal process brought Rachael and I together. I think the whole process for her was much more intense. She tackled some of the tensest moments in the whole film. Her shoot was extremely tension-filled. Mine had more breathing room. I truly admire what she did and what she put herself through. It was torture, but when audiences see her performance it will be exquisite torture. Do you want to know the truth? She brings out the juvenile in me. On a set that was full of strain, she cracked the ice with her bizarre sense of humour."

What is next for Sam Neill? "I'm doing Wimbledon! It's a brilliant change of pace alter some very serious work. I can't divulge too much at this juncture I'm afraid, but suffice to say I'm the tennis dad from hell, and Kirsten Dunst plays my daughter."

And so from the depths of the oozy Antipodes to the acme of clarion Hollywood - the career of Mr. Neill beckons again...

 

 

 

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