InStyle (Australian Edition) - November 2000



Sam Neill


Sam Neill keeps you guessing. And it's not just because of his penchant for playing characters who offer something other than surface tension. His intense blue eyes, measured speech and off-kilter smile-the kind that says "we share the same secret"-have earned him the title of thinking woman's sex symbol. Neill shrugs this off with a laugh and suggests: "It's because I'm often seen in the company of Bryan Brown and, by contrast, I seem very quiet." Actor, art collector, political activist-he campaigned as part of the Arts for Labor movement in 1994-vintner, father ... the 53-year-old New Zealander can't be defined by national boundaries or professional genre. It's the ease with which he moves between Hollywood blockbusters (Jurassic Park) and local fare (Death in Brunswick, The Piano) that makes him a local icon and a global star. Neill currently stars in The Dish, which is based on the true story of three Australians who wound up responsible for broadcasting to the world-from rural NSW-man's first steps on the moon. As Cliff Buxton, director of the Parkes radio telescope dish, Neill smokes a pipe and sports homely cardigans. In real life he's somewhat more style savvy, although he prefaces his remarks on the subject with: "You realise you're talking to a style-free zone."

How would you describe your style? Scrappy and disreputable. I was described once, rather patronisingly, as "can scrub up". I'm pretty conservative; I tend to look for something that's not going to make me look too stupid. On the other hand, I love a bit of Mambo-love the loud shirts. Those terrible dog T-shirts. You make friends all over the world with those.

Do you have a style philosophy? I think understatement is the trick. Not underdressed, but understated. You don't want to draw attention to yourself. Or maybe you do, maybe it's a good idea in some cases. It can make up for other deficiencies.

Do you think your style has changed since you were younger? I suppose I've been through a lot of stuff-unlike my father, who wore the same sort of from the day he left school to the day he died. But he was very stylish. He was a Savile Row man, but he was never neat. He was a bit disreputable, too.



How do you feel about tuxes? They're sort of a cop-out, but there's a marvellous simplicity in putting on a dinner jacket, singlebreasted with three buttons. Women go through torture about 'What am I going to wear?' and 'Does my bum look big in this?' Men don't have to worry about any of that stuff, which is very liberating.

Is there anyone whose style you admire? I can't think of anyone whose got style any more. You've got to be suspicious of people on best-dressed lists. Some bloody stylist has got hold of them. They have consultants who come along and buy their suits and ties. What sort of world is that? It's the kind of world where you have a dog and someone else walks it for you.

Do you find you dress differently abroad? Yes, you'd wear something different in LA than you would in London or Paris. Then again, I tend to wear a jacket if I'm in LA out of sheer bloody-mindedness, to sort of set an example for the natives. They're just too bloody casual. In London, I'll make a point of dressing more casually than the natives.

Do you know what you're going to pack before you start? No, I throw stuff in and hope for the best. But you don't want to travel with too many things you value. I got my travel wallet stolen once, and a whole section of my life was gone-passport, my grandfather's gold cufflinks.

What can't you be without? I've got to have a razor, a comb, my Filofax-I'd be dead without my Filofax. Travel clock. You need one dark jacket; you can't get away without one. My trainers. I go to the gym everyday. I do about 35 to 40 minutes on the runner, some      weights, a lot of stretching. I feel like a slug if I don't.

I was reading some articles about you . . .They're all lies . . .

I read that art is one of your passions. I'm a serious collector of art. When I say serious, it's more like a serious gambler. It's kind of an affliction-I lie about it, I sneak off and buy things without telling anybody. I need therapy. I think I have a very good collection of New Zealand painting and a smaller quite good collection of Australian painting. I tend to buy contemporary art.

You paint as well, don't you? I do. I am a really bad painter. I paint the sort of watercolours I would never buy. But it's a good thing to do when you're on a movie set waiting around.

And you own a few vineyards. I'm on to my third now. If you go to the site ( you can see photos of it. The grapes are planted from scratch. I'm a fan of pinot noir and [Central Otago] is really one of the two main pinot areas in New Zealand.

What about architecture? I'm sort of addicted to architecture and I'm always building something. For my house in Queenstown, the brief to the architect was to be contemporary, but absolutely timeless. I told him the things I like-Georgian architecture, Italian farmhouses, Irish cottages. It's a completely modern house, but it has those overtones.

You are often in LA. How do you feel about living there? If you spend too much time there you start thinking all that matters is show business, and nothing could be further from the truth. It's of little consequence in the world wide scheme of things and in the map of your own happiness. But it's fun to go there and dip your toe in once in a while. If I'm around, I like to go to the Oscar parties: put on a bow tie and step out.

-Alexandra Drosu


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