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...