The Times Magazine - October 11, 2014

 

 

What I've learnt

Sam Neill

Sam Neill - The Times Magazine

 

Actor Sam Neill, 67 was born in Northern Ireland but grew up in New Zealand. He starred in Jurassic Park and The Piano. He lives in Central Otago, New Zealand, with his wife, make-up artist Noriko Watanabe, where he produces wine under the name Two Paddocks. He has a daughter and stepdaughter, and two sons from previous relationships.

There is a glass ceiling for Nigels. I was christened with the unfair handicap of Nigel and I smartly changed that, aged ten, when I adopted my nickname Sam. I found I moved more easily in the world as a Sam. Nigel is an awkward fit in most circumstances. Imagine being a movie actor called Nigel Neill. This is why I'm not concerned about Farage - no one's ever going to give a Nigel the top job.

No one has all the answers on how to be a good parent. I've got a slightly unusual family; it's more extended than most. My first son, Andrew, was given up for adoption when he was very small. I was quite small, too - in my early twenties. I didn't see him for 25 years and then we went looking for each other. These reunions are portrayed as sentimental and grisly, but there is nothing sentimental about it. No one sobs in anyone's arms; it's much more grown-up.

You're more capable than you think. If I could give my 20-year-old self any piece of advice, it would be that.

Time speeds up, the older you get. You never see "the end" when you're young. But now I've had a few close friends die, it feels as though it is approaching with increasing velocity. And the older I get, the less I realise I know. But you get to a point where you think, "There's only so much I can absorb."

Acting helped me to lose my childhood stutter. Whenever I was on stage, I never missed a beat.

Boarding school makes you self-sufficient. You might become a bit emotionally self-sufficient, too. I don't know if that's a good or a bad thing. There is a part of everyone who has been to a boarding school that is a little bit remote. I see that in myself.

Daughters start as angels and then they turn into complete Frankenstein monsters. When you despair at the unrecognisable creature in your house, know that one day it will turn into an angel again.

I wish I had talked to my dad about "his war". I regret that I didn't, but then he never talked about it himself. I'd really like to ask him how he found being a parent, what he and my mother saw in each other when they married, what their relationship was like with their parents, how they saw the world and what they learnt.

I'm still working out what screen acting is. I wasn't formally trained, so I think I have some aptitude for it, but all of us can be better. I have had to overcome prejudice. The perception of actors is that we are creatures of little brain and that we're a pain in the arse. That's untrue.

My wine has many more dimensions than I could possibly aspire to have. I don't expect people to take me seriously, but I'm determined that they respect my wine. A few weeks ago it won a trophy and two gold medals in London. I call that the "up yours" factor.

I can't bear people who are certain of their convictions. I feel self-doubt. What other rational state of mind is there? Alpha males who go through life in a state of overweening self-confidence are intolerable.

Golf is for people who have nothing better to do. It's a miserable game.

Retirement is asking to die. Once you retire, you're just counting down the years. Life is - in my case - pretty good; death is crap. And what do you have left after retirement? Golf.

FIONA WILSON

Sam Neill stars in Peaky Blinders, on Thursdays on BBC Two

PORTRAIT Jeff Vespa

 


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