New Zealand Women's Weekly - May 28, 2001



Sam's a dish

Kiwi actor Sam Neill on his latest big-screen outings


His highest profile role so far was in Jurassic Park. This year, Kiwi actor Sam Neill is back on the big screen in two new movies - the blockbuster Jurassic Park III and a smaller budget Australian movie called The Dish, based on the true story of the Aussie who had the responsibility of beaming around the world the very first pictures of man landing on the Moon. Sam Neill (53) talks to Jordan Miller about space travel and coming home.

The Dish is set during Neil Armstrong's moonwalk in 1969. What memories do you have of that event?
Everybody asks me this and I'm completely appalled to say I have no recollection at all. I can tell you where I was when Kennedy was shot - which was in the common room at school. I heard about it on the old valve radio. At the time of Armstrong's landing, I was at university. Given that I failed everything that year, it's unlikely I was in the library doing an essay at the time. I was probably playing cards in the cafeteria or doing the crossword.

What attracted you to the film?
It's a curiosity, this film. There's no ghastly bloodletting or hideous sexual assaults or things which have become the vocabulary of modern film. It's a reminder of what a wonderful thing it is to be a human being, what marvellous things human beings are capable of. Not just spectacular, if meaningless, things like sending a rocket to the Moon but also the commonplace achievements of, for instance, performing a kindness.

You've also just done a six-part series for the DDC called Space. Do you have a fascination with the cosmos?
Not at all really. I knew bugger all about space prior to this. I still know very little but I have a few nuggets of information I can bring out at dinner parties. That's about the extent of it.

Why did you do it - the money?
I don't think anyone works for the BBC for money! I wondered if I could do it and pull it off - whether or not I could maintain the impression of being brainy for six half-hours.

You've also just shot Jurassic Park III. Why did you go back to play a character you've already played?
I wasn't quite happy with what I'd done with the character in the first film. I was so over-awed by Steven Spielberg, I think I didn't quite look after my guy as well as I might have. I was rather stung by one New Yorker review. It said, "The first film in history where the special effects are more real than the actors." Hopefully, we got it right this time.

You were born in Northern Ireland and brought up in New Zealand. Do you consider yourself British or a Kiwi?
I'm decidedly a Kiwi. I'm very pleased with my British connections but my father was a New Zealander and that's where I live now. I'm always very happy to get home. We're now planting our third vineyard and we just picked the grapes from our fifth vintage. I travel too much so it's very satisfying to be back on one's own soil.

You called New Zealand films "a troubled reflection" of its people. Why?
The thing about New Zealand is that it's a troubled paradise. We have a lot of unresolved things from our history. There's a lot of blood in the soil. There was a lot of conflict and we are trying very hard to come to some sort of accommodation. The dark and brooding ghosts from our past tend to be present when we're making cinema.

Do you think you're in a good position with your career now?
I think I'm in a very lucky position. I work at pretty good levels in cinema but my life is still my own. A lot of my friends can't leave the house without being pursued but I can do what I want and move freely.

Jordan Miller




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