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Why Sam Neill is itching to get home

The Kiwi film icon opens up about life on the farm and his “tribe” of grandchildren

It’s lunchbreak on the set of The Twelve and Sam Neill is huddled with other cast and crew, escaping the rain. He picks up his dessert – cake and ice cream on a paper plate – and strolls over for a chat.

The screen legend has had roles in two of the biggest movies in the world this year, Jurassic World Dominion and Thor: Love And Thunder, but in the new TVNZ+ drama series, he’s just one of an ensemble cast and he couldn’t be happier.

“The bigger the cast, the better for me because there’s nothing I like more than being with a bunch of actors,” he enthuses.

“Actors are the best company in the world. They’re funny, they get me and they’re easy company. We have a lovely bunch of idiots on this one.”

The Twelve runs for 10 episodes and when we visit the Aussie set, it’s the final days of shooting. Due to work and COVID restrictions, it’s been a long time since Sam has been back to his beloved farm in Central Otago.

With Kate Mulvany in The Twelve.

“I haven’t been home for a year,” he says in between bites of cake. “Tuesday I get to go home.”

The 74-year-old has “quite a tribe” of grandchildren, most of them living in Aotearoa. “Seven and counting. There’s no stopping them! I’m looking forward to getting run over by those kids again.”

The actors seven grandchildren are dear to him.

Sam’s acting career began in New Zealand in the 1970s and he’s worked nonstop since, even making short comedy films with actor mates like Hugo Weaving during the 2020 lockdown.

“It was such a strange period,” he remembers. “None of us knew whether it was the end of the world. I just thought, ‘Look, I’ll just entertain myself,’ and I thought, ‘Let’s make some really s**t films with my friends.'”

So is he interested in producing more comedies, now lockdowns are a thing of the past? “Not at all!”

With his impressive list of film and TV credits, Sam has his pick of roles. When he was offered the chance to appear in Jurassic World Dominion alongside Jeff Goldblum and Laura Dern, nearly 30 years after the original Jurassic Park, the part had to be good.

“Once we were assured that we weren’t just going to be doing cameos, then yeah, we were all extremely happy.”

Sam shot the sequel in the UK in 2020, spending a lot of time with Jeff and Laura “all locked up in a hotel together, out in the Buckinghamshire countryside” due to COVID restrictions.

“Jeff and I would have singalongs sometimes,” he shares. “It was a lovely, unexpected reunion.”

As for The Twelve, Sam was attracted by the diversity and the strength of the cast, including A Place To Call Home’s Marta Dusseldorp, and his “windbag” character, top lawyer Brett Colby.

“I’ve got two or three very good friends in New Zealand who are Queen’s Counsels just like him and he’s based on those guys. I told them, ‘Look, you horrible old windbags, I’m playing you now.'”

When COVID’s not disrupting things, Sam likes to split his time between the world of acting and his farm “up an obscure valley in the mountains”, where he grows the grapes for his winery, Two Paddocks. “I like to get my hands dirty – unless it’s pruning in the winter, which nobody enjoys”.

His South Island farm is dear to the actor.

The idea of retirement doesn’t appeal to him. “The sad fact is not only do I hate golf, but I’m really bad at it. That seems to be the thing people do in retirement. So I may as well keep acting. I have no plans to retire ever.”

That doesn’t mean he won’t take a break. And after making three films and two TV series in the past two years, he’s ready for one.

“For the first time in my life, I’ve decided to sit down, put my feet up and just not do anything. I might get itchy feet in a few weeks, but we’ll see.”

The Twelve is now streaming on TVNZ+.

Sam on screen

My Brilliant Career (1979)

My Brilliant Career helped announce Sam as a star.

Sam starred opposite Judy Davis as the handsome Harry Beecham. “That opened a lot of doors for me and I feel very lucky, not just to have made that film, but to have been invited to come to Australia at all.”

Jurassic Park (1993)

Jurassic Park was a stomping success.

Even as he was shooting the role of Dr Alan Grant in Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park, Sam had “a fair idea” it was going to be huge. “I mean it was Spielberg and dinosaurs. People seem to find them pretty interesting.”

The Simpsons (1994)

Molly, the “Springfield Cat Burglar”.

Sam voiced cat burglar Molloy in an episode of The Simpsons. He says it was half a day’s work, “so it’s hardly a work milestone”, but describes it as “a compliment” to be asked to be on the show.

Peaky Blinders (2013-2014)

Campbell proved a brutal enforcer.

Born in Northern Ireland himself, Sam played Belfast’s Inspector Campbell in the long-running BBC crime drama. Sadly, Campbell was shot dead by Polly (Helen McCrory) at the end of season two. “That was a great part.”

Thor: Love and Thunder (2022)

Sam plays the Odin actor, as he did in Thor: Ragnarok. “I don’t know what’s going on in them, but it’s nice to work with those guys, Chris Hemsworth and Taika Waititi, just to say I’ve been there.”

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