Who - December 1, 2003

 

 


Play It Again, Sam

Celebrating 25 years in the movies, Irish-born Kiwi Sam Neill, 56, scoops up the dish on some of his most memorable roles


SLEEPING DOGS (1977)
MY BRILLIANT CAREER (1979)

Dogs was Neill's first feature film, and he and director Roger Donaldson remain friends, with neighbouring vineyards in southern New Zealand. But it was his next film, Gillian Armstrong's My Brilliant Career, that started his "love affair with Australia" and established him as a sensitive leading man who looked great in a saddle. "They gave me a beautiful looking horse that was completely out of its mind. It was a racehorse from Victoria and it could only turn left because it was used to going one way around a racetrack. It couldn't turn right. If you wanted to turn right you had to revolve 270 degrees."

OMEN III: THE FINAL CONFLICT (1981)

A "flattered" Neill thought he'd struck Hollywood gold when British actor James Mason recommended him for the role of adult Antichrist Damien in Omen III. "Oh lordy lord," says Neill now. "egre egretted rien, but I shouldn't have done it." The experience, he says, set his career back 10 years.

PLENTY (1985)

Neill made his world mark in this post-WWII drama. On the first day of shooting with Meryl Streep, awe got the better of his actor's instincts. "Plenty has without doubt the worst sex scene I've ever done. Meryl thought we should do it with all our clothes on, which I was entirely comfortable with. Because I was so scared of Meryl, I thought it would be poor form to actually initiate any pelvic contact. So if you look at that scene, I'm kind of sliding up and down her in this rather ineffective way."

EVIL ANGELS (1988)

Teaming again with Streep, Neill played Michael Chamberlain to her Lindy in Fred Schepisi's dramatisation of baby Azaria's disappearance. "It required more personal commitment than I think anything else I've done. You see, we knew the Chamberlains. I felt a kind of responsibility towards Michael."

DEAD CALM (1989)

The ocean thriller that brought Nicole Kidman to Hollywood and Tom Cruise is also a landmark for Neill, who met his wife, make-up artist Noriko Watanabe, on-set. "I fell in love with her when I first spotted her and I followed her around like a pathetic dog for months, hoping that she'd throw me a bone. And eventually, after months of pathetic persistence, of debasing myself, she took pity on me. We were on Hamilton Island, which was good because she couldn't get away." They married in 1989 and have a daughter, Elena, 13 (Watanabe has another daughter, Maiko, 22, and Neill a son, Tim, 20, with actress Lisa Harrow).

THE PIANO (1993)

"There's something about me and an axe that still makes women flinch as I walk down the road," says Neill of the Jane Campion classic. "I tell you what, that little Holly Hunter, she's only the size of a flea but she's strong as an ox. I had to drag her out to the chopping block through that mud and she conceded nothing. I had to drag her for real. By Take 2, I cannot tell you how tired I was. I said, 'Look, I'm not really going to chop your finger off, Holly. Give us a break!' The funny thing is even though I'd trust her with my life, when we were doing those scenes Holly insisted I have a rubber axe ... Fred Schepisi always says, 'Christ, I would've taken off the whole hand!' "

JURASSIC PARK (1993)
JURASSIC PARK III (2001)

Neill appeared twice as Dr Alan Grant in Spielberg's blockbuster franchise. If only he knew the first time what he knew the second. "I was required to be the guy in the hat. There's a way to be the guy in the hat and no-one does that better than Harrison Ford. He's nailed it, but I worked that out after we finished the film. I'm not actually very good in Jurassic Park. But when it came to Jurassic Park III, I'd worked out how to be the guy in the hat. You need to have a kind of ironic detachment."

RESTORATION (1995)

Neill was Charles II opposite Robert Downey Jr in the lavish Restoration. "I was very fond of Downey; he's an incredibly charming guy, but I'm a little naive, you know. I could only understand about one thing in every three that he said. It never occurred to me that actually he needed to be in rehab. But now I know."

THE DISH (2000)

Following box-office hits The Horse Whisperer (1998) and Bicentennial Man (1999), Neill knew he wanted to do the Australian comedy The Dish from the moment he read the script. But that wasn't enough for its director. "Rob Sitch rang me and said, 'We've sent you the script and we'd really love you to do it.' And I said, 'Yeah, I'll do it.' And he said, 'No, I'm coming up to Sydney because I really want to talk you into doing it.' And I said, 'No, Rob, don't, because I want to do it.' He sat in my garden for a whole afternoon, trying to talk me into it. I kept saying, 'Rob. Rob. Don't say anything more, because I want to do the film.' And after a while, I got so bored, I got out my water pistol and let him talk on while I squirted mynah birds with the Super Soaker. Hours and hours. He just wouldn't stop!"

ALISON BOLEYN

 

          

 

 

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