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
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,"
"They actually had the producers change equipment on
the movie's US
"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
"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
His accent - a clipped, slowly delivered, somewhat metallic
mix of Irish and Australian - reflects a restless traveller.