New Idea - March 23, 1991




For actor Sam Neill 1991 has already been an exciting time. He has a new baby and he has moved into a new house in Beverly Hills.

"It's our intention to live in America for two years at least," says the versatile New Zealand star, best known for his role as Michael Chamberlain in Evil Angels, playing opposite Meryl Streep, and TV series such as Reilly, Ace Of Spies, Amerika, and Kane And Abel.

''I've always liked being in Hollywood," Sam says. "I know a lot more people and I'm more comfortable living here. It doesn't seem as alarmingly alien as it used to be."

Sam, born in Northern Ireland, has homes in New Zealand and Sydney. He is currently shooting the romantic thriller Fever, opposite Armand Assante and Marcia Gay Harden, star of the recently released Miller's Crossing.

In 1989 he married Japanese actress Noriko Watanabe and they had their first child, Elena, in late January.

The taciturn 43-year-old Sam got his career break in Margaret Fink's My Brilliant Career, and established himself as an international leading man. He has a son Henry, 7, who lives with his mother, New Zealand actress Lisa Harrow, in Britain. Noriko has a daughter from a previous marriage.

Relaxing in his dressing-room, Sam says: "I got married in 1989 . . . it seemed like a good idea at the time. And it still seems like a good idea. We've been together for three years."

In 1989 he played Sean Connery's faithful Soviet submarine second-in-command in the box office hit The Hunt For Red October. He also received good reviews for his role in the Phillip Noyce-directed thriller Dead Calm, opposite Nicole Kidman.

In Melbourne he made Death In Brunswick, a low-budget, quirky black comedy for director John Ruane opposite Greek actress Zoe Carides and (fellow Kiwi) John Clarke.

"I play a short-order cook in the story set in the working-class area of Melbourne which is full of immigrants, drug dealers and ne'er-do-wells," he says. "My character, a hapless innocent named Carl Fitzgerald, is surrounded by corruption. He murders someone by mistake and also falls in love with a Greek girl very much his junior."

He is very keen about that film, calling it "part of a new wave of lower-budget, 'offbeat pictures which are being made in Australia".

On the opposite end of the spectrum are two other big budget films he has also finished. There's the $50-million mini-series about the French Revolution which took him all over the world.

"I played Lafayette and spent a lot of time riding around on a white horse. It was great fun," Sam says. "But I don't know what's happened to the film. It hasn't come out yet."

Then there's Until The End Of The World, another big-budget picture.

"I spent most of the year going around the world on that film," Sam says. "For 21 weeks we went from France to Portugal, to Italy, Japan, America and Australia."

The movie co-stars William Hurt; Max Von Sydow and Jeanne Moreau. "It's part science fiction set in the future, part road movie and part apocalyptic vision," he says.

The film, which cost more than $30 million, was made with Australian, Japanese and American money. The screenplay was by German director Wim Wenders and Australian novelist Peter Carey.

Now Sam is looking at work in Hollywood - and job offers in England. His role in Fever enabled him to stay close to his wife in the weeks before the birth.

"I play this lawyer who is a nice guy - he's so nice you wanna kick him."

The move to California, he insists, is not a carefully designed career strategy.

''I've never been able to plan a damn thing. I find it difficult to organise a shopping trip. But it seems to make sense.

"New Zealand is my home, but Hollywood is where the work is. I'd like to try a comedy film next, with a light Cary Grant touch. And I haven't played a decent bad guy lately."

He laughs. "It's about time I got to play a really unpleasant heavy!"

Ivor Davis



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