Sam Neill in real life, as on screen, is tall, dark and
handsome - devilishly handsome, you might almost be tempted to say. For there's
no denying that Sam's satanic good looks made him ideally suited to portray
Damien Thorn, Satan's son in human form in The
Final Conflict, third and final part of the demonic Omen trilogy.
When we talked recently, Sam reminded me that during the
past eighteen months he's played such diverse roles as a Roman Catholic priest,
a Russian KGB chief and a mediaeval knight all in a concentrated effort to get
away from his Damien image.
Our planned meeting in London's
West End was switched abruptly to Pinewood at the last
moment - but for the best of reasons. Sam had just heard that he'd been cast as
Brian de Bois-Guilbert in Norman Rosemont's lavish production Ivanhoe, and was urgently required to
join costars Anthony Andrews and James Mason at the studio for rehearsals.
"I was scared when I first started work at Elstree for The Final Conflict," Sam began,
"because it seemed as though the success or failure of that film rested
all on my shoulders. When I think back on it now, I realise that I loaded
myself with a lot of unnecessary pressure on account of that feeling.
"One of the reasons I took the role of a priest in
another film I made soon after, caned A
Man From A Far Country, was that it was the other side of the spectrum from
The Final Conflict. Playing Damien
had been a lot of fun, but I gather it's being sold to the Christians in America
as a kind of heavy warning. I'm a little concerned about these
'born-again-back-to-God' people, and I didn't feel like being set up in a big
way and used as a target for anything.
"But, despite that, Damien was the most difficult role
I'd ever played up till that time. He was the incarnation of all of man's
worst, most destructive impulses, yet he hides all that behind a charming and
"Damien is a man with a mission sent to save the world
from the Christian philosophy of love and kindness. As the film's poster
paraphrases it, the power of evil is no longer in the hands of a child. Damien
is grown up in our story. He's 33, and my task was to capture the essence of
Damien's soulless character and at the same time make him seem human.
"He is the human son of Satan, fully and totally
committed to his Father. I tried to convey in my performance that compelling,
consuming dedication to the powers of evil. I had to make Damien an amiable
kind of man but, at the same time, I had to let his inner nature show through.
It was a very delicate balancing act, the kind of acting challenge I enjoy
It's hardly surprising that, after completing The Final Conflict, Sam went looking for
a subject that would offer him a completely different change of pace. He found
it in Possession, a
psychological chiller made in English by the renowned Polish
director Andrej Zulawski. Making that film took Sam behind the infamous Berlin
Wall, which he describes as a very depressing experience.
"The Wall is the central image the whole time," he
told me, "and for much of the time on Possession
we seemed to be filming in its shadow. There's an extremely claustrophobic
atmosphere about the place, even when filming in the Western sector. There were
occasions when we asked for co-operation from the East German authorities when
filming right up close to the Wall, just in case they got jumpy at what we were
"I got very interested in the idea of the East during
the making of that film, and that's when I was first approached by another
Polish director, Kryzsztof Zanussi, to make A
Man From A Far Country. I flew to Poland
from East Berlin after being searched by guards carrying