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