“As much as possible, I try to encourage people to use stunt men because that is really their job.”
Nigel John Dermot “Sam” Neill was born on this day in Omagh, County Tyrone, Northern Ireland in 1947. He is 65 years old today.
His father, a New Zealander, was stationed in Northern Ireland when Sam was born. The family lived there until Sam was six when they returned to Christ Church.
Sam stuttered badly as a child, and shied away from talking to people. He would refrain from raising his hand because he was afraid that he wouldn’t be able to say anything if he was call on.
“My fear was nothing would come out at all … and I would just be left with a face that was going redder and redder and more purple. The upside of that was I probably learned to listen better than most of my contemporaries… I’m still fairly economic with words and I think that’s a good thing.” [ The British Stammering Association]
He says his stammer gradually became less pronounced. As he became involved in debate and acting, at University of Canterbury, he gained self-confidence. The more self-confidence he had, the less he stuttered. Occasionally you can still hear a snippet of it. Neill actively supports several stammering support associations like the British Stammering Association and the Australian Speak Easy Association.
After graduating from university he worked with the New Zealand National Film Unit directing, editing and writing documentaries. He also worked on stage with the New Zealand Players at that time.
His first real film role was in 1977’s Sleeping Dogs, a N.Z. based drama. He got a much wider audience as Harry, the romantic lead in the period drama My Brilliant Career opposite Judy Davis.
Neill in My Brilliant Career [Image Courtesy: HD-Sensei]
After a few television roles he landed quite a different kind of leading role in Omen III: The Final Conflict. Sure, Neill always had a bit of a devilish grin, but …. On a scale of 1 to 10, with My Brilliant Career as a strong 10… I’d give Omen III a weak 6.66. The Omen brought Neill to the London film making scene under the mentorship of James Mason.
For a New Zealander, he played a lot of Soviets. Some were good Russians, like Vassili in Hunt for Red October
. Other times he played “A strict Eastern European autocrat” [TalkTalk
] as he did in Enigma
While in England he took on the title role in the BBC mini-series Reilly: Ace of Spies, ” The epic adventures of Britain’s greatest spy” [IMDB: Movie Database — Reilly: Ace of Spies]
He teamed up with Academy Award winner Merle Streep for the drama A Cry in the Dark (it was released originally as Evil Angels in Australia and New Zealand.)
Next he starred in the taunt (essentially) three person horror film Dead Calm with newcomer Nicole Kidman and Billy Zane…
“Here Neill played her distressed husband, desperately trying to save the day when nut-job Billy Zane kidnaps both Kidman AND Neill’s boat. It was a superb thriller, boosting its stars big-time…” [TalkTalk]
I don’t know that I’d go so far as to call it “superb”, but…the scene where Neill is stuck inside the quickly sinking second boat (the one Billy Zane was on) is more than worth the price of a Netflix rental.
In 1993 he was the, angry, odd-man-out in a love triangle between mute Holly Hunter and Harvey Keitel the beautiful made The Piano
So… if you’ve never heard of any of the movies I’ve written about so far in this blog, I’m betting your heard of this one…Neill played Dr. Alan Grant the Jurassic Park franchise. I thought J.P. the book was wonderful, the movie? Not so much. The dinosaurs were cool, REALLY cool, but the acting, script, and direction was flat — except for my boy Sam. I thought he pulled off the requisite wonder and reluctance needed for the role.
Back on the small screen he’s played Merlin
, Komarovski in Doctor Zhivago,
and Cardinal Wolsey in The Tudors.
One of my favorite Sam Neill movies is The Dish. In it “A remote Australian antenna, populated by quirky characters, plays a key role in the first Apollo moon landing.” [IMDB: Movie Data Base]
DVD Cover for The Dish. [Image Courtesy: Amazon.com]
Neill currently he enjoys relaxing by making wine at his Two Paddocks Winery
on New Zealand’s South Island. Here he shows a bit of his trademark deadpan humor in a promotional video for the vineyard.