Sam Neill is mysterious, enigmatic, handsome - and in
He is also almost painfully shy, an intelligent actor who
apparently finds it easier to express great emotion on film than to talk about
to sign for his role as the glamorous Captain Starlight in the $7 million
feature film and television mini-series "Robbery Under Arms", being
made by the South Australian Film Corporation, the New Zealand-bred actor could
be pardoned if he were flushed with success.
Apart from winning the role of Starlight, Sam Neill portrays
the master of espionage in "Reilly - Ace of Spies", a 12-part series
from Thames Television which begins on ABC this month.
But Sam, who looks like an English gentleman, was born in
Northern Ireland, raised in New Zealand, and moved to Australia in his late 20s
to star in "My Brilliant Career" opposite Judy Davis, is far from
acting the "star", even though he now leads an international life.
He has agents on three continents, his family in New
Zealand, a house in Sydney's eastern suburbs, and a son, by New Zealand actress
Lisa Harrow (star of "Nancy Astor" and "Under Capricorn"),
Following his acclaimed performance in "Career",
he went on to star in "Omen III - The Final Conflict";
"Enigma", a Polish film; "Ivanhoe", as a baddie who becomes
a goodie in the end (opposite Anthony Andrews); and, more recently, "The
Country Girls" (from Edna O'Brien's story), made in Ireland, and "The
Blood of Others" (from Simone de Beauvoir's novel), in France.
Sam Neill, until now, has mostly played period roles. Chris
Burt, his producer in "Reilly", said he has a good period face.
Simply stated, this means Sam Neill looks like men used to
look - tall, capable, broad-shouldered and slightly dangerous.
Sam puts it slightly differently. "I've been trapped in
period roles (which means a lot of Brylcreem), but the parts have all been very
Playing the bigamous Reilly, a man who claimed hearts across
Europe, was a high-profile job for Sam Neill.
"I had done a lot of work before, and got good reviews
for 'Enigma', but not many people saw it. Everyone watched 'Reilly' in England.
. . it was good to have my work seen by a lot of people for a change." (He
was recently voted Britains
most popular TV actor for his Reilly portrayal.)
"Reilly wasn't particularly likeable," added the
eminently likeable Sam Neill, settled a trifle uneasily in his kitchen.
"His story was that he was born the illegitimate child
of a Russian upperclass, military family. At 16, he had discovered the reality
of his birth - his mother had had an affair. . . his father was actually
Jewish, and he had been raised in an anti-Semitic household. So at 16 he faked
his own suicide and ran away.
"He ended up in South America
where he was recruited by the English Secret Service. There was a school of
thought that he was a double agent, also working for the Russians," said
Sam, warming to his subject.
"He seems to have been a man who loved meddling with
history. That was his great kick. He was this far" (his forefinger and
thumb make a small space) "away from deposing Lenin. An accident stopped
him. He was lethal, manipulative - it's a great role."