New Idea - March 8, 1986



Sam Neill: 'I have no desire to be a celebrity'


International star Sam Neill has consciously avoided having anything to do with Hollywood during his career.

With attitudes like, "American television is disposable culture here today, gone tomorrow" and "it evaporates like a pool of water in the desert", his decision is not surprising.

But, with the offer to star in the mini-series based on Jeffrey Archer's bestseller Kane And Abel - which screened recently on Network 10 - all that changed.

Sam couldn't resist the offer to play William Kane and star opposite Peter Strauss.

Sam says that before the Kane And Abel offer, he had been turned off by the way Hollywood treated its stars.

"I get plenty of offers of work from all over the place. However, I can walk down the street without being rugby-tackled or have helicopters buzzing - problems my peers have to put up with.

"I'd like to be a successful actor in America, but I have no desire to be a celebrity."

Sam 37, attracted a huge following through the Australian film My Brilliant Career, and the television mini-series Reilly, Ace Of Spies.

"I've had a remarkable amount of fan mail," he acknowledges modestly, "mostly from women. Quite a number of them tend to confuse Reilly, the character, with me. I think a lot of women like cads. There's something about a cad that's irresistible."

Sam denies he was typecast as Reilly. "None of us is perfect, but I like to think I'm one of nature's good guys. But it's a great deal of fun playing against type.

"Reilly was a marvellous part because I got to play a villain and a hero at the same time. He would do anything necessary to serve his purposes. Kane was another bag altogether. I don't think he would be as attractive to women as Reilly. He's a much more moral man. He never strays off that course."

Sam enjoyed playing a character like Kane.

"I'm not an apologist for snobbishness or the class system, but I think some of the values these people adhered to have a lot to recommend themselves. They led spotless lives. Kane isn't ruthless. He just does what he sees as right.

"Part of me sees life in a very similar way to Kane. I don't believe in inherited wealth or dynastic families, but there is a part of me that's puritan.

"Kane isn't too far removed from my experience. My family were merchants. I was supposed to be one of them, but it all went terribly wrong and I became an actor."

Sam's father was in the British Army. He retired when Sam was eight and took the family to New Zealand.

Before he decided to be a professional actor, Sam considered studying law.

"But it was dull," he remembers. So he joined a repertory company in New Zealand and then, after a year, moved into film. His leading role in My Brilliant Career in 1979, introduced Judy Davis and Sam Neill to the rest of the world.

The following year, he went to England. Since then he has appeared in numerous small British and Australian films.

And last year he appeared in Fred Schepisi's film Plenty with Meryl Streep.

"I'm very happy with my current position," Sam says. "My girlfriend and little boy are firmly entrenched in London, and the rest of my family is in New Zealand. I have homes in London and Sydney, and I'm building a house in New Zealand. They're very modest homes, I hasten to add.

"I'm spread a little thinly, but that's not to say I'd never come to live in America. What I love about Americans is they're still enthusiastic about things."

Nancy Mills



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