TV Times (Sydney) - September 1-7, 1979




Introducing New Zealander Sam Neill, who has a coveted role in The Sullivans, playing the man who wins Kitty's heart


WHEN Sam Neill arrived in Australia for the first time he was a movie star no one wanted to know. Today he is a TV star everyone wants to interview for he is the latest heart-throb of The Sullivans.

Neill plays mystery man Ben Dawson, the man who brings Kitty Sullivan (Susan Hannaford) into her first adult love affair.

Neill's first experience of Australia was in 1978 when he arrived to promote a movie called Sleeping Dogs, a New Zealand film in which he starred.

He recalled: "There was a press conference and hardly anyone turned up."

But, far from feeling unwelcome, the occasion didn't worry him unduly, because he wasn't expecting the locals to make much of a fuss about him.

He said: "With the Australian film industry booming the way it was, who wanted to know about a film and an actor from New Zealand?

"In a way I was pleased I didn't get too much publicity, because I have always preferred to stay as anonymous as possible. I like my privacy."

But, unsuccessful as his trip was, it did one important thing - it gave him the chance to take a good look at what was happening here and to decide that he wanted to stay in Australia.

The film also gave Australian producers the chance to see Sam Neill in action on the screen and they were impressed.

Earlier this year he was invited to play a key role in the new movie My Brilliant Career, which in turn led to his involvement in The Sullivans.

"I've been lucky," Neill said. "I've had a wonderful introduction to life as an actor in Australia through a good quality film and a top rating, top quality TV show.

"Really, I am more a film and TV actor than stage person. I enjoy the intricasies of both mediums - and I love the technical side and directing. I have done a lot of directing in New Zealand; in fact I think I am known as much as a director as an actor. I've had a very stimulating time on The Sullivans and found it totally different from TV work at home.

"When I began work I found the pace incredibly hard and wondered how on earth anyone could cope with the work-load, but after a few weeks I began to get into the routine and ended up enjoying every minute. I got a taste for hard work and thrived on it.

"I like the Ben Dawson character; he's a New Zealander and a bit of a mystery man and a charmer. It's a good role to play."



Although he is still on air, weaving his romantic older-man spell over the dreamy-eyed, teenage Kitty Sullivan, Neill has actually ended his work on The Sullivans for the time being. He admits he wouldn't object to being called back. He said: "There's no doubt at all in my mind. I'd love another sequence in the show. I don't think I've enjoyed a job so much before, both for the work and the cast.

"They are all dedicated to the show and they are all very friendly."

The atmosphere in fact was so like a family that Neill had to force himself to keep completely away from anything about The Sullivans at weekends.

"It was the only way to keep a perspective," he said. "I kept right away from anything to do with the show over the weekend to recharge for the next week.

"I don't do much at the weekend though. I have a few beers and relax, and I've become an Aussie Rules fan. It's still a peculiar game to me, being brought up on rugby, but' soon became hooked on the game.

"I don't follow any specific team, but I live in Richmond, close to the MCG, so I just go along and watch whoever is playing there. I've always had a feeling for the underdog, so I suppose the nearest thing I have to a favourite team is St Kilda.

"I haven't travelled around the countryside as much as I would want, maybe I'll have the time when I get back from New Zealand next time."

Neill is taking a short holiday at home but will be back to help promote My Brilliant Career. By then his face will be familiar through The Sullivans, but he will still keep his privacy because of the length of time he has been away from the show.

"My hair will have grown," he said. "I won't have a World War II short back and sides any more, so people in the street won't associate me with Ben."

Despite having chosen a career like acting, which relies on public acceptance for success, Neill maintains that he does not seek stardom.

He said: "I know It's hard to understand, but I don't want to be recognised in the streets. I'm not interested in that sort of fame. I look on acting as a craft, one in which I want to improve constantly.

"Remember I am also a director and interested in the techniques of production: To me acting is only part of the craft.

"I like to get totally involved in the medium and I do love film; In fact; I sometimes feel guilty because I don't spend enough time on the stage.

"I feel that it is necessary for any actor to do his share of stage work, because it gets back to the basics, to the roots of acting. After a long spell in film or TV I think an actor needs to get back to basics."

The future for Sam Neill isn't clear at the moment, but he has "several things in the wind."

He said: "I can't really say what I will be doing except that, whatever it is, it will be in Australia."

Story: Eric Scott

Photos: Barrie Bell




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