The Australian Women's Weekly - June 1992

 

 

 

Sam tells why he liked his 'Death in Brunswick' sex scenes, why he likes Hollywood and why he's out of a job

Sam Neill would like, understandably, to set the record straight. "Someone just showed me an article in one of your competitors," he says, more in sorrow than in anger, "reprinted from an interview in England in which I said I liked the bed scenes I did in 'Death in Brunswick' because they seemed to me to be realistically amusing. They were fumbly, shy, awkward, fearful - all those things people actually go through. And I said these are some of the things I recognise."

But Sam Neill isn't meant to feel like that. "And the interviewer said," 'So is this what you're like? But you have this image!' So it came out in a large quote: 'I AM NOT VERY GOOD IN BED', which was a crude misrepresentation of what I was really trying to say."

The article's original appearance had sent, if not shock waves around the world, at least ripples around office water coolers. But now it's official- Sam Neill never said he was hopeless in bed.

When I suggest that people, these days, actually learn their sexual behaviour from movies - after all, where else do you see how people do it? - he looks pained. "Isn't that interesting," he says, as though he hopes fervently it's not true. "So people are actually expecting to go to bed with Daryl Hannah?

"Well, I think their lives are going to be somewhat impoverished as a result because, you know, human relationships and sexual relationships are much more varied and interesting and complex than anything I've seen on the screen."

So scenes like those in "Death in Brunswick" are healthier because truer? "Yes. I like that moment of terror poor Carl [Sam's character] has when Sophie [Zoe Carrides] whacks down the sofa bed. I think most men, if they're honest, recognise that fear sometime in their lives." Fair enough. The man who says he has never felt like that is either a liar or a virgin. But then most men don't have Sam Neill's image, or as Sam points out, Richard Gere's.

"You'd never see that fear in one of, say, Richard Gere's parts. Not that he would be unwilling to play that, but it's not the sort of thing his public likes to see him do, or his people like him to do - it's out of the question."

(Not everyone shared Sam's enthusiasm for "Death in Brunswick": "Certain members of my immediate family thought it was a little rough. Bits and pieces of it they found pretty distasteful. My sister walked out.")

Behind Sam's comments lies his enthusiasm for recent films such as "Death in Brunswick", the low-budget hit "Proof' and his latest project, an historical New Zealand drama by Jane Campion, director of "Sweetie" and "An Angel at My Table".

"I'm very interested in what it is to be human. Being human involves things we're usually shown in the cinema - courage, love, all those splendid things, as well as more vile things, like violence. But there are other aspects of human behaviour I think are touching, lovely and, above all, funny. There've always been film-makers who have looked at those areas, but the big studios in Los Angeles are incapable of examining those oddities of human life because they have to make big commercial products to make big bucks."

Not that Sam has anything against big studio, LA films. "I enjoy going to work at the same time as most people go to work and coming home at the same time as most people come home - there's something to be said for making a studio-based film."

Sam Neill, nine-to-five star, recently made one such film, "Memoirs of an Invisible Man", with Chevy Chase and the aforementioned Daryl Hannah, for director John ("Halloween", "Escape from New York") Carpenter.

"I haven't seen it yet," Sam says, hopefully not punning intentionally, "and I don't really know what it's like. I certainly enjoyed making it. Chevy was a great deal of fun, and I've always liked John Carpenter. But it's not, by any means, a typical John Carpenter film, nor a typical Chevy Chase film. It's like one of those Hitchcock films where an ordinary bloke suddenly finds himself in extraordinary circumstances, running for his life. I play the guy who's after him - if he doesn't work for me, he's dead meat. It's great fun doing one of those really bad buggers.

"My mother always sighs and her eyes roll to the ceiling and she says, 'I know you will be another baddy.' But it's under-rated how much fun you can have playing bad characters."

For Sam and family - his make-up artist wife, Noriko Watanabe, her daughter, Maiko, and their daughter, Elena, 16 months - Los Angeles is home.

Sam can seem laid-back, but there's nothing casual in his approach to acting. "No matter how foolish or misguided the characters you play," he says, "you have to have love and respect for them; otherwise, they would be less than actual."

A look at Sam's credits shows the highlights - "My Brilliant Career", "Plenty", "Evil Angels" - balanced by films which could kindly be described as "obscure". So if I felt bad at not having seen some of his films, I needn't have - neither has he. Does that mean there have been jobs on which he has felt, in the middle of production, that it would have been really much better not to have got involved in the first place? "Oh several, " he says, rolling his eyes.

Is it hard to keep going in that situation? "To an extent. But I've actually been very annoyed with one or two people I've worked with on those things who've stopped caring. I don't think that's right. You just do your absolute best on everything."

Sam admits, after this job in New Zealand, he's, well, unemployed. "When I get to this stage at the end of a film and I don't know what I'm doing next, I always get slightly anxious. Every actor has the background fear this may be the last job ever."

Fear not. If Sam Neill doesn't have a job lined up, it's only because "there's nothing I've read that I want to do".

This interview has proceeded on a very sane, rational level, when a fleeting reference to actor John Lithgow launches Sam into a story which is straight out of "The Twilight Zone".

"Did you ever see 'Twilight Zone: the Movie'? There's a segment about a guy, played by John Lithgow, on a plane, sitting in the window seat. They're flying through an electrical storm. He sees a demon on the wing and it starts to dismantle the wing. No-one can see it but him. Well, I was flying into Hawaii once, on my own. I had a window seat. And we were flying through an electrical storm. I looked out the window - I didn't see any demons, but it was just as bad. The plane was all over the show, and I thought we were going to be hit by lightning. It was really horrible. People were screaming' and I thought immediately of that film and I felt like John Lithgow.

"Well, we land all right and I go straight to the lounge for a nervous pee, still in a terrible sweat. There's one other person in there. I look over and it's John Lithgow, also having a nervous pee. He'd been on the same plane."

- PAUL LITTLE

 

 

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