RadioTimes July 21-27, 2001



Sam Neill

Virtual spaceman


Perhaps it was written in Sam Neill's stars, but by cosmic coincidence two of the Jurassic Park star's most recent projects have both concerned man's attempts to understand the universe. Recently, he starred in antipodean comedy The Dish, as the boss of a remote radio telescope with responsibility for beaming back live pictures of the first Moon landing. Now he's presenting BBC's groundbreaking Space.

Although, at 53, he's comfortably old enough to remember the Moon landing, he is at a loss to explain how he became involved in either project. "I'd say space has always been an interest of mine," he ponders. "But I've never by any means been authoritative. I don't quite know why they picked on me'"

But he's clearly an articulate enthusiast. "I think the sixties were a very heroic time," he says, "and the Apollo missions were the last of man's great adventures. They'd never do that nowadays, they'd send up a robot or a computer, something that would do the job. It was the beginning of the computer age."

Although he confesses to having no affinity with computers-"I don't know how to turn one on, actually" - he is impressed by the approach of the series. "What distinguishes this from similar projects," he reasons, "is that there is a tremendous amount of computer generated work, very much in the vein of Walking with Dinosaurs. I get to wander through galaxies and look into a black hole. That was amazing for me and helps to make the series, I hope, incredibly accessible."

The series was shot in Neill's native New Zealand, enabling him to stay close to home, his family and his beloved pinot noir vineyards. And he admits there have been other benefits, too.

"I have trivia that I can now produce at dinner parties," he laughs. "The thing that I'm trying to get to grips with is that not only is the universe infinite but it is expanding. That seems contradictory, but there are all kinds of contradictions at work in space.

"An astrophysicist recently told me that the only possible logical conclusion that one can come to is that not only is the universe infinite but there are an infinite number of universes - it's mind-boggling!'

Neill doesn't pretend to have all the answers, but you sense he will certainly enjoy asking the questions.

John Naughton




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