TV Magazine (The Sunday Age) - October 11-17, 1992

 

 


Sam

CONQUERS THE BIG, BIG SCREEN

 

NOT even a hurricane can stop a true professional. Sam Neill, the Irish-born, New Zealand-bred and Australian-based star whom we're so pleased to call our own, proved once again why he's everyone's favourite heart-throb.

After walking off with the most coveted role in Hollywood - the lead in the new Spielberg adventure thriller, Jurassic Park - Neill was caught in the middle of Hurricane Iniki, the most devastating to hit Hawaii this century, while he was shooting the film there in mid-September.

Like a true pro, Neill survived the storm, exited to Los Angeles and, a day later, was telling us all about. That puts him on par with the equally supremely professional Patrick Swayze, who once spent 36 hours trying to dial out from a Mexican desert town to honour an interview commitment with us.

If anyone deserves Swayze-like superstar success, it is Neill.

The past 13 years have seen him steadily and confidently building up an impressive resume - from the leads in the 1979 Australian hit, My Brilliant Career, and 1989's Dead Calm, to quirky comedy (Death In Brunswick) and solidly supporting Sean Connery in the American blockbuster The Hunt For Red October, and the upcoming globetrotting drama Until The End Of The World with William Hurt.

The next step was obviously a lead role in a big US movie. Neill has scored it with Jurassic Park, a lavish adventure thriller based on Michael Crichton's book about DNA experiments to clone dinosaurs. Neill plays the chief dinosaur expert of a team which also includes Jeff Goldblum, Laura Dern, and director-actor Richard Attenborough.

The mind-boggling budget (reported in US trade papers as $A70 million) resulted from the ambitious special effects, supplied by Spielberg's pal, George Lucas, and others.

The four-and-a-half month shoot is long by Hollywood standards. "So the strength of the director is absolutely critical," said Neill. "A lot of the choices I make are director-oriented. Every shoot takes on the character of the people involved - the essential part of the patchwork is the director.

"Every day I go to work, I know I am on a Spielberg film. The set has a widescreen kind of clarity. He's galvanising, very energetic, very enthusiastic."

Apart from his supreme courtesy and measured, rather hypnotically lulling way of talking, the other reason why Neill is so appreciated by journalists is that his hard-working approach means that there's always plenty to talk about!

 

 

In the 18 months since Death In Brunswick Neill has completed:

  • A four-hour American television series, Family Pictures, with Anjelica Huston, about a family over 30 years.
  • He played the lead in One Against The Wind, an American television movie which was based on a World War II true story and co-starred Judy Davis, who won a Golden Globe Award and was nominated for an Emmy for her performance. On his reunion with his Brilliant Career co-star, Neill said: "I'd work with Judy any day. We're both older and wiser but we still argue about the same things."
  • He has also completed The Sinking Of The Rainbow Warrior, a US version co-starring Jon Voigt, as well as playing a lead role in The Piano Lesson, a new film from Jane Campion, who directed An Angel At My Table. The Piano Lesson is a romantic drama co-starring Holly Hunter (Broadcast News) and Harvey Keitel (Taxi Driver, Thelma & Louise) and is set in 19th century New Zealand. Campion is still editing the film but the Cannes Film Festival has apparently already asked for it to headline next year's Festival. Neill, too, is clearly thrilled about working with Campion. "Jane is really one of the world's great directors - very strong, disciplined intellectually and also extraordinarily in touch with the emotional side of human nature," he said.
  • Somewhere in this hectic schedule, Neill also spent four months shooting Until The End Of The World for Paris-Texas director, Wim Wenders. William Hurt, Max Von Sydow and legendary French actress Jeanne Moreau co-star in this travelogue-drama epic about a group of characters at the end of this century. Novelist Peter Carey co-scripted. "I've had more challenging roles, I suppose, but I was very interested to see what kind of bus ride this would be," Neill said. "And I'd shoot the phone book to work with Jeanne. It's interesting - her sister was brought up in England, Jeanne was brought up in France. Her sister is completely different: very tweedy, very chipper, whereas Jeanne is this sultry Parisienne. "Bill (Hurt) is very good, I find it easy to work with good actors. He has an idiosyncratic approach to things, it's only later that you realise what he was doing on the floor."

As for the future, Neill still calls Australia home and says that he is more than optimistic about the talent in our film industry. He just doesn't know when he'll be back, although he'd like to take time off after Christmas.

"My family seem reasonably relaxed about being moved around. They're very patient with me and my walking shoes," said Neill, who was celebrating his birthday. ("I'm a little over 20," he said mischievously - in fact he's a little over 40!)

"I suppose I have been working more in America lately, partly because of dear old Bill Shanahan [agent to stars like Neill, Davis and Gibson] who died last year and whose company I deeply miss. His last advice to me was 'You must work more in America'.

"I'd like to do more comedy. John Clarke and John Ruane (from Death In Brunswick) and I are talking of doing another one soon. So I hope Ruane pulls his finger out smartly'"

ROB LOWING

 

 

 

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