Nationality: Irish/New Zealander. Born: Nigel John Dermot Neill in Northern Ireland, 14 September 1947; raised in New Zealand from age seven. Education: Attended University of Canterbury, New Zealand. Family: Married 1) Lisa Harrow (divorced), son: Tim; 2) the makeup artist Noriko Watanabe, 1989, daughter: Elena, stepdaughter: Maiko. Career: 1970s—member of New Zealand's National Film Unit as documentary filmmaker; 1977—feature film debut as actor in Sleeping Dogs ; 1983—enhanced leading man status with PBS series Reilly, Ace of Spies ; 1985—in TV mini-series Kane and Abel ; 1987—in TV mini-series Amerika ; 1996—returned to documentary roots with his film Cinema of Unease . Awards: Order of the British Empire, 1992. Agent: Ed Limato, ICM, 8942 Wilshire Boulevard, Beverly Hills, CA 90211, U.S.A.
Films as Actor:
Landfall (Maunder); Ashes (Barclay) (as priest)
Sleeping Dogs (Roger Donaldson) (as Smith)
My Brilliant Career (Gillian Armstrong) (as Harry Beecham); Just Out of Reach (Blagg) (as Mike); The Journalist (Thornhill) (as Rex)
Lucinda Brayford (Gauci—for TV) (as Tony Duff)
Attack Force Z (Burstall) (as Sgt. Danny J. Costello); The Final Conflict ( Omen III: The Final Conflict ) (Graham Baker) (as Damien Thorn); Z dalekiego kraju ( From a Far Country: Pope John Paul II ) (Zanussi—for TV) (as Marian); Possession (Zulawski) (as Marc)
Enigma (Szwarc) (as Dimitri Vasilkov); Ivanhoe (Camfield—for TV) (as Brian de Bois-Guilbert)
The Country Girls (Desmond Davis—for TV) (as Mr. Gentleman)
Robbery under Arms (Crombie and Hannam—for TV) (as Captain Starlight); Le Sang des autres ( The Blood of Others ) (Chabrol—for TV) (as Dieter Bergman)
Plenty (Schepisi) (as Lazar); For Love Alone (Stephen Wallace) (as James Quick)
The Good Wife ( The Umbrella Woman ) (Ken Cameron) (as Neville Gifford); Strong Medicine (Guy Green—for TV) (as Vince Lord)
A Cry in the Dark ( Evil Angels ) (Schepisi) (as Michael Chamberlain); Leap of Faith ( Question of Faith ) (Gyllenhaal—for TV) (as Oscar Ogg)
Dead Calm (Noyce) (as John Ingram); La Révolution Française ( The French Revolution ) (Enrico and Heffron) (as Lafayette)
The Hunt for Red October (McTiernan) (as Capt. Vasily Borodin)
Death in Brunswick ( Nothing to Lose ) (Ruane) (as Carl Fitzgerald); Bis ans Ende der Wett ( Until the End of the World ) (Wenders) (as Eugene Fitzgerald); Fever (Elikann—for TV) (as Elliott Mandel); One against the Wind (Elikann—for TV) (as Capt. James Leggatt); Shadow of China (Yanagimachi) (as TV reporter, credited as John Dermot)
Hostage (Robert Young) (as John Rennie); Memoirs of an Invisible Man (Carpenter) (as David Jenkins)
Jurassic Park (Spielberg) (as Dr. Alan Grant); The Piano (Campion) (as Stewart); Family Pictures (Saville—for TV) (as David Eberlin)
Sirens (Duigan) (as Norman Lindsay); Rainbow Warrior ( The Sinking of the Rainbow Warrior ) (Tuchner) (as Allan Galbraith); The Jungle Book (Sommers) (as Col. Brydon)
In the Mouth of Madness (Carpenter) (as John Trent); Victory (Peploe) (as Mr. Jones)
Restoration (Michael Hoffman) (as King Charles II)
Snow White (Cohn) (as Lord Friedrich Hoffman); Event Horizon (Paul Anderson) (as Dr. William Weir)
The Revengers' Comedies (Mowbray) (as Henry Bell); Merlin (Barron—for TV) (as title role); The Horse Whisperer (Redford) (as Robert MacLean)
My Mother Frank (Lamprell) (as Professor Mortlock); Bicentennial Man (Columbus) (as Sir); Molokai: The Story of Father Damien (Cox) (as Walter Murray Gibson)
Numero Bruno (La Hood) (as himself)
Films as Director:
Telephone Etiquette (doc) (+ sc, ed)
Four Shorts on Architecture (doc) (+ sc, ed)
On the Road with Red Mole (doc); Architect Athfield (doc)
Cinema of Unease ( A Personal Journey by Sam Neill ) (doc) (+ ro as presenter, co-sc)
By NEILL: articles—
Interview, in Films Illustrated (London), October 1981.
"Sam Neill's Megalosaurus Talent," interview with Graham Fuller, in Interview (New York), June 1993.
"Sam Neill and the Cinema of Unease," interview with Brent Lewis, in Cinema Papers (Fitzroy), October 1995.
On NEILL: articles—
Castell, D., "Will Sam Play It Again?," in Films Illustrated (London), February 1980.
"Sam Neill," in Film a Doba (Czech Republic), January 1984.
Gillivray, D., "Sam Neill," in Films and Filming (London), February 1984.
Murray, Scott, Australian Film 1978–1992 , Melbourne, 1993.
Natale, Richard, "Jurassic Spark," in Harper's Bazaar (New York), June 1993.
Clark, John, "Sam Neill," in Premiere (New York), July 1993.
Thompson, Anne, "Who the Heck Is Sam Neill?," in Entertainment Weekly (New York), 23 July 1993.
"Sam Neill," in Film Review (London), August 1995.
McDonald, L., "A Road to Erewhon," in Illusions (Wellington), Winter 1996.
Atkinson, M., "Sam Neill in 'A Cry in the Dark'," in Movieline (Escondido), November 1996.
* * *
Self-effacing thinking woman's sex symbol, Sam Neill is the closest commodity resembling James Mason that we have in contemporary cinema. That is high praise indeed. As a vis-à-vis for magnetic actresses round the world, Neill is in the business of making Meryl Streep, Holly Hunter, and Judy Davis look good; it could be argued that these unshrinking violets have given their finest performances opposite him. Only a few quietly authoritative film actors (such as Neill, Arliss Howard, and David Straithairn) can support female powerhouses without being burned up by their reflecting glory. Whether Neill packs the kind of attention-getting virility that will make him a household name is in doubt; he certainly did not stand out as the heroic centerpiece of Jurassic Park , in which he is dwarfed by state-of-the-art special effects and juvenile thrills befitting a theme park methodology. He does, however, exhibit a charisma that sneaks up on you unlike the bravado of such superstars as Bruce Willis and Mel Gibson; he is sort of the boy next door whom you wish would move back in as a man.
Beginning his cinematic career in the fledgling New Zealand film industry as a documentary filmmaker (a pursuit he has reactivated with 1996's Cinema of Unease ), the boyishly appealing Neill stood out immediately but garnered international attention as the liberal-minded plum that feminist author Judy Davis lets slip through her fingers in My Brilliant Career . In his own neck of the woods, Neill's unaggressive masculinity was equally at home in the trenches of Attack Force Z and the glorious outback of Robbery under Arms as well as in the boudoirs of For Love Alone and The Good Wife . What is remarkable about these down-under vehicles is that the Australian industry allowed Neill to tackle some robust hero roles, whereas Hollywood second bananas him in its macho free-for-alls such as The Hunt for Red October and The Jungle Book .
If television has typecast him as a generic sensitive type in a slew of mini-series and movies, he can point with peacock pride to the PBS series Reilly, Ace of Spies , which contains his sexiest performance as he fills out evening clothes better than anyone since Cary Grant. Reunited memorably with Judy Davis in the haunting One against the Wind , he subtly underplays the high-voltage Anjelica Huston right off the television screen in the bitter breast-beating of Family Pictures , as a family man scrambling like Houdini to free himself of domestic chains. Varying his range previously with a villain role in Ivanhoe failed for the simple reason that Neill cannot camouflage his innate decency. Even when his characters disappoint or betray, Neill's likable persona blunts the impact of the transgression.
On the big screen, Neill always distinguishes himself except in roles requiring over-the-top flamboyance; on the evidence of The Final Conflict , Possession , and In the Mouth of Madness he would be wise to check out of horror venues forever. Because Neill has never disgraced himself with a bad performance, he often gets overlooked in the distribution of kudos in favor of more obvious performers. Not only is he the only actor keeping the audience from snoozing during the ten-ton, asleep-in-the-deep thriller, The Hunt for Red October , he also is so irresistibly bewildered in the pretentious The Piano that one loses all patience with Holly Hunter's intransigent mute. In Fred Schepisi's tricky media attack, A Cry in the Dark , Neill brilliantly complements Streep with a heartrending display of stoicism. This portrait of a grieving father vilified by the press and public is his finest performance to date. Lest the misconception persist that Neill is only a stalwart support system for bigger egoed film stars of both sexes, consider his exemplary work in the flawed Death in Brunswick , a searing delineation of an irresponsible man imbibing to drown out a surfeit of self-doubt (an acting turn even more noteworthy because it exists in a vacuum of a black comedy film). In a 360-degree reversal, Neill charmed audiences with his freethinking artist who admires female flesh as religiously as he loathes hypocrisy in the colorful fable, Sirens . In that movie's hothouse atmosphere, Neill's sex appeal has its most expansive workout since his womanizer role in The Good Wife. Neither extinct dino-monsters nor formidable female stars can cow this pliable performer who rarely gets his proper due. Neill is one of the rare male stars able to unapologetically make emotional expressiveness not seem like a challenge that real he-men must meet and rise above. In all of his performances, psychological openness and virility go hand in hand. The contemporary cinema is richer for having nurtured a male star who confronts crises with intelligence before resorting to violence and who unabashedly admires women even when he cannot fathom their mysteries.