TV Magazine (The Sunday Age) - April 8, 1990







IT has taken him slightly longer than 80 days but Sam Neill has been around the world in a career which is still nothing short of brilliant.

In just the past year, the charismatic actor dubbed "The Scarlet Pimpernel of the Outback" and "The Quiet Kiwi", has worked on films in America, France and Australia.

However, luckily, the star of My Brilliant Career; The Omen III; Reilly, Ace Of Spies; Evil Angels and Dead Calm is still proud to call Australia home - some of the time.

Neill, 42, wrapped up his latest Aussie film, Death In Brunswick, three days ago.

Tomorrow he flies out to London to co-star with William Hurt and Ernie Dingo in director Wim Wender's Until The End Of The World.

But, in between, he's jumped on the phone to talk exclusively about The Big One.



Neill's latest film, The Hunt For Red October, co-starring Sean Connery, is the dark horse smash of the American film year.

Although most had predicted solid success for the modern thriller adapted from Tom Clancy's best seller, nobody could anticipate the mammoth $17 million take over -the opening weekend or the staggering $40 million in the first fortnight

Now tipped to be one of the biggest blockbusters of 1990, the film is wowing audiences with its mixture of hi-tech military hardware and glasnostian human drama.

The seeds of success had already been sown with the book's record six million sales, and the presence of an author whose first four novels all became best sellers.

Clancy, the insurance agent and war games buff turned writer, based his story on a 1976 incident involving a Russian frigate attempting to defect to Sweden. In just six months he had completed the story of a mysteriously missing Russian nuclear-powered submarine, The Red October, which is being hunted by both the Americans and the Russians.

The movie version is directed by John McTiernan (Die Hard; Predator) and stars Connery as the Russian submarine commander, with Neill as his loyal right-hand man.

Hot new American sex symbol Alec Baldwin (Beetlejuice; Great Balls Of Fire) co-stars as the CIA analyst called in to determine whether The Red October incident is a decoy stunt designed to trigger off World War III.

Much of the movie's $30 million budget was spent in painstakingly recreating the interiors of the missile-carrying attack submarines.

With its references to sonar surveillance systems, submarine propulsion systems, CIA analysis procedures, Russian military operations, electronic intelligence gathering and the elaborate - and top secret - naval war games staged regularly by both the US and USSR, Clancy's book had impressed the public and American intelligence experts.

The film apparently went one step further, flabbergasting the Yanks with its accuracy.

"The navy had advisers on the set all the time," said Neill.

"They actually had the producers change equipment on the movie's US submarine.

"Apparently, what had been designed for the control room was a bit too close to the bone."

It was an eye-opening experience for Neill to spend a week on the submarine USS Huston.

"We were submerged most of the time, except for a couple of blows. This was not a missile-carrying sub, it was what they call a hunt-and-kill sub.

"We went very deep. It was rather claustrophobic but the most striking thing was that "it was completely calm, there is no sensation that you're moving.

"The really scary thing was the amount of hardware. It's as scary as hell to think that while you sleep..."

It was the film's chilling depiction of the power of the Typhoon submarines, the latest class of attack subs, which impressed Neill.

This sophisticated attempt to give audiences an accurate picture of modern subs which weigh 30,000 tonnes, are 150m long, house a nuclear reactor, torpedoes and 26 Seahawk missiles with enough firepower to destroy 200 cities, persuaded Neill to re-think his initial refusal.

"I was in Paris doing The French Revolution with Klaus Maria Brandauer. He had been offered the Connery part but had to turn it down. I had been hesitant to do it because I had less to do than normally.

"Klaus talked me into it. He's Austrian so he's right in the middle of the European squeeze and I knew he would have been anxious that this wasn't another dumb Cold War movie.

"He convinced me that it wouldn't be like that."

There were other attractions, all of which Neill pinpoints as the reasons for the film's success.

"First, the book. Then there was a very strong cast with great actors in even small parts. People like Scott Glenn, James Earl Jones, Joss Ackland.

"And Sean Connery. He's very hot at the moment. He walked onto the set and it was like, the grand old man had arrived. People treated him with a tremendous amount of respect. Well deserved."

Considering his previous co-stars, the fact that Neill is impressed is impressive enough. He's worked with the best on nearly every continent.

His accent - a clipped, slowly delivered, somewhat metallic mix of Irish and Australian - reflects a restless traveller.



Neill was born in Northern Ireland and lived there until the age of eight. Later the family moved to New Zealand.

Neill's voice is one of his most distinctive features. He says that he likes to think of his accent as being "somewhere in the middle of a triangle drawn between Australia, England and New Zealand".

After starring in the New Zealand hit, Sleeping Dogs, Neill's first big Australian film was My Brilliant Career with Judy Davis.

Its worldwide success quickly saw him hired overseas. However, Neill managed to tread a careful path between megabuck productions like The Omen III ; The Final Conflict and Ivanhoe and smaller, more intimate European films like From A Far Country and Possession.

In London, he began a five year live-in relationship with Lisa Harrow, his Omen co-star and the Nancy Astor actress. Now married to Japanese make-up specialist Noriko Watanabe, Neill tries to spend as much time as possible with Tim, his and Harrow's eight-year-old son.



In 1985, Plenty established his winning relationship with Meryl Streep and director Fred Schepisi. The trio would later team up for the controversial biography of Lindy Chamberlain, Evil Angels.

"It was scary initially to work with Meryl. Once you get over that stupidity, it's very invigorating.

"I don't think most people realise how funny she is. She's a thoroughly organised human being. She has a very satisfactory family life and a very funny disposition."

Neill hasn't worked exclusively in films. He has also made mini-series, such as Kane And Abel for US television, and the British TV series Reilly, Ace Of Spies.

Reilly earned him a Golden Globe nomination and the award of Most Popular Actor in the UK. Kane was a disappointment: "I didn't think it was my finest hour."

However, there's always the lure of the big screen, although Neill would like a change: "I think I've played too many nice people recently. It's time to playa mean, bad person!"




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