Off-Cut Thirty Two

Sam Niell quietly spoken New Zealand actor of "The Piano", "Death in Brunswick", "My Brilliant Career", "Jurassic Park", "The Horse Whisperer", "The Hunt for Red October", "Sleeping Dogs", "Children of the Revolution", "Dead Calm", "Cinema of Unease", "Riley Ace of Spies", "The Dish" etc. spoke to John Campbell of National Radio NZ just prior to the release of "Jurassic Park III".

So when he was asked "Why do Jurassic Park III?" he replied that "Part of me, to be perfectly honest, wasn't all that happy with my performance first time around (although that's true of everything I do) so to be asked to come back and do a part a second time does sort of give me the opportunity to come back and have another crack at it." So the quest for perfection appears to be part of Sam Neill's process, although it was also implied that it is something you can't really expect to achieve. He said, "I did it to try and get it better." He would like to think he has succeeded at this goal - although he can't really tell he said until he sees some reviews. Why he saw reviews as being so important was not explored.

Sam did however talk about how nice it is to be "greased up" by the Americans. All the time over there they tell you that "You were really great" which, he said, was not the way New Zealanders approached things. New Zealanders are a "little bit mean with praise" he suggested which comes from their sense of "insecurity and a fear of being chopped of at the knees". In the school grounds he reflected the worst thing you could be was a "skite" - a show off. He believed it was a national characteristic which he was guilty of, too. "I am always under selling myself," he said. "If I say 'Oh, it wasn't too bad, you know' it means it was absolutely fantastic." Sam felt that as a national characteristic this could be improved on. It's OK to recognize that you are doing well and particularly to tell others if they are. And although he said he still undersold himself he was getting better at telling other people they had done well - especially people from our part of the world who don't hear praise that often.

He also reflected on what he also described as a New Zealand characteristic of hurling abuse at your friends. "I know I have made a friend when someone starts being horrible to me" he said.

On Set with Judy Davis
He reflected upon his experience working with Judy Davis whom he described as being "a little bit tricky - because she's never entirely sure whether she wants to make films at all. She is more inclined to the view theatre is where the real art is."

"Do you agree with that?" asked John.

"No I don't," replied Sam with a chuckle and continued "but she is an absolutely wonderful actress. As I said we have done three films together but our relationship is always slightly fraught, perhaps." This description appeared to be given with his previously referred to New Zealand penchant for understatement. "She has done a mini series in which she plays Judy Garland and I am told she is absolutely phenomenal in that so I am looking forward to seeing it," he said.

Keeping Your Feet on the Ground
"If we start with people like Judy Davis, you have also worked with Sean Connery, Harvey Keitel, Holly Hunter, Meryl Street, Nicole Kidman, you have been 'greased up' by Steven Spielberg - this is a highly unusual life you are living, do you ever take it for granted?"

"I am surprised at all of it," said Sam. "And I have never quite shaken the feeling that when someone sends me a script that they must have meant to send it to someone else."

John recounted a story how once a lady had come up to Sam in the street in Dunedin and said "I have looked at you again and again, and you do look like that chap in the films ... Sam some-one-or-other." To which Sam had smiled and replied "A lot of people say that." This is what it's like to be famous in New Zealand where people generally leave him alone because, he chuckled, "I suspect they don't know who I am and if they do they are completely indifferent anyway."

August 2001


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