"If all I did was acting, I'd go out of my mind." Sam Neill
Starting out as a film director, editor, and scriptwriter of documentaries with the New Zealand National Film Unit in the early 1970s, Sam Neill made his feature film debut in the political thriller "Sleeping Dogs" (1977). He has since starred in such films as "My Brilliant Career" (1979), "Omen III: The Final Conflict" (1981), "Plenty" (1985), "Evil Angels" (1988; aka "A Cry in the Dark"), "Dead Calm" (1989), "The Hunt for Red October" (1990), "Death in Brunswick" (1991), "Memoirs of an Invisible Man" (1992) and "The Piano" (1993). Neill is perhaps most famous for his portrayal of Dr. Alan Grant in the Steven Spielberg blockbuster science fiction film "Jurassic Park" (1993) and "Jurassic Park III" (2001).
The multiple Golden Globe nominee also played key roles in "Restoration" (1995), "The Horse Whisperer" (1998), "The Revengers' Comedies" (1998), "Bicentennial Man" (1999), "The Dish" (2000), "The Zookeeper" (2001), "Wimbledon" (2004), "Little Fish" (2005), and "Dean Spanley" (2008). He will next be seen in the upcoming films "In Her Skin," "Daybreakers," "Under the Mountain," and "Telepathy," and is rumored to be starring in "The Last Dragon: Search for the Lost Pearl."
On the small screen, Neill first caught attention while playing the title role of Sidney Reilly on the PBS drama series "Reilly: Ace of Spies" (1983). He has starred in the miniseries "Amerika" (1987) and "The Triangle" (2005), as well as in the TV movies "One Against the Wind" (1991), "Family Pictures" (1993), "Merlin" (1998), "Sally Hemings: An American Scandal" (2000), "Submerged" (2001), "Doctor Zhivago" (2002), and "Jessica" (2004). He recently co-starred as Cardinal Thomas Wolsey in the historical fiction television series "The Tudors" (2007) and now plays Jeremiah Blackthorn in the NBC adventure drama series, "Crusoe."
This 6' actor, who was involved with actress Lisa Harrow in the early 1980s and has one son with her, has been married to Noriko Watanabe since 1989. They have one daughter together.
Ireland-Born, New Zealand-Raised
Childhood and Family:
"I got an Irish passport the other day. I love it. It's the best thing in my pocket." Sam Neill
Born on September 14, 1947, in Omagh, Northern Ireland, where his father was stationed, Nigel Neill moved to New Zealand in 1954 when he was 7 years old. The second son of Dermot Neill (died in 1991), a New Zealand army officer who served in the British Army, and his English wife Priscilla, Neill has one younger sister named Juliet (born in 1950) and one older brother named Michael (born in 1943). The family owned the largest liquor retailers in New Zealand, Neill & Company, which is now Wilson Neill & Co.
Neill first took to calling himself "Sam" in school in New Zealand. He went to the Anglican boys' boarding school Christ's College, in Christchurch, New Zealand. He then studied at the University of Canterbury before moving to Wellington to continue his education at the Victoria University, from which he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature.
Around the early 1980s, Neill was involved with his co-star in “The Final Conflict” (1981). Together, they have one son, Tim Neill, who was born in 1983.
On the set of “Dead Calm” (1989), Neill met Noriko Watanabe, a make-up artist. They were married on September 2, 1989, and have one daughter, Elena, who was born on January 10, 1990. Neill also has one stepdaughter, Maiko Spencer (born 1981), from Noriko Watanabe's first marriage.
“I enjoy being a winemaker of sorts, even if my choice of wine means cultivating a very tricky and elusive grape. More and more of my friends at home and on film locations are after the Two Paddocks label, so I need this third vineyard. But I really do enjoy the commitment away from my real job, the one that pays all the bills. It's good for your soul to balance your work and life.” Sam Neill
Neill has homes in Beverly Hills, Sydney and New Zealand. He also has vineyards in the Gibbston Valley, in Otago. His wine is called Two Paddocks.
"I’d like the vineyard to support me but I’m afraid it is the other way round. It is not a very economic business. It is a ridiculously time and money-consuming business. I would not do it if it was not so satisfying and fun and it gets me p***ed once in awhile." Sam Neill
Neill is one of the three founders of Huntaway Films, along with his good friends John Clarke and Jay Cassells. In 1993, he was awarded the O.B.E. for Service to Acting.
Neill is a supporter of the Australian Speak Easy Association, the British Stammering Association (BSA), Greenpeace, Oxfam, and the World Wildlife Fund. He is also on the Sustainability Council, which is a watch dog for Genetic Engineering (GE) and Genetic Modification (GM) in New Zealand. Additionally, he is on the board of National Parks and Conservation.
A Cry in the Dark
While at boarding school, Sam Neill began to participate in school drama productions. After graduation, he worked with the New Zealand Players Drama Quartet and other theater groups. He also worked with the New Zealand National Film Unit in Wellington for 6 years in the early 1970s, serving as a film director, editor and scriptwriter of such documentaries as "The Seal Hunters" (1973), "Telephone Etiquette" (1974), "Four Shorts on Architecture" (1975), "On the Road with Red Mole" (1977), "Flare: A Ski Trip" (1977), "Architect Athfield" (1977), and "Surf Sail" (1978).
In 1977, Neill made his feature film debut as a man drawn into a revolutionary struggle between guerrillas and right-wingers in New Zealand, in director Roger Donaldson's first feature film, “Sleeping Dogs,” a political thriller based on the book “Smith's Dream” by C. K. Stead that became the first New Zealand production ever released in the United States. The following year, he landed his breakthrough feature role as the suitor to writer Sybylla Melvin in Gillian Armstrong's Oscar-nominated film adaptation of Miles Franklin's 1901 novel, “My Brilliant Career” (1978), which marked his first of three projects (to date) with Judy Davis.
Entering the 1980s, Neill made his first U.S. film with “The Final Conflict” (1981), the third film in “The Omen” trilogy in which he portrayed Damien Thorn, the Antichrist and the son of the Devil. That same year, he also read the audio cassette version of British-Australian author Nevil Shute's 1957 post-apocalyptic end-of-the-world novel, "On the Beach," which was published by Listen for Pleasure.
In 1983, Neill played the title role of Sidney Reilly on the PBS drama series, “Reilly: Ace of Spies,” for which he was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for TV and named Most Popular Actor in the U.K.
The mid 1980s saw Neill acting opposite Meryl Streep in Fred Schepisi's British drama film “Plenty” (1985), which was adapted from David Hare's play of the same name. He then portrayed Colonel Andrei Denisov of the KGB in the ABC acclaimed miniseries “Amerika” (1987), alongside Kris Kristofferson, Mariel Hemingway, Robert Urich, and a 17-year-old Lara Flynn Boyle in her first major role.
In 1989, Neill won an Australian Film Institute (AFI) Award for Best Actor for his role as Seventh-day Adventist Church pastor Michael Chamberlain (Meryl Streep played his wife Lindy), in the Australian/American docudrama film directed by Fred Schepisi, “Evil Angels” (aka “A Cry in the Dark). Meanwhile, he also starred opposite Nicole Kidman and Billy Zane in Phillip Noyce's thriller film, “Dead Calm” (1989), which was based on the 1963 novel of the same name by Charles Williams.
In the early 1990s, Neill was credited as John Dermot for his cameo as a TV reporter in “Shadow of China” (1990), a Japanese production in which his wife was the make-up artist, and played Captain Second Rank Vasily Borodin in John McTiernan's Oscar-winning film version of Tom Clancy's 1984 best-selling novel, “The Hunt for Red October” (1990), starring Sean Connery.
He went on to act with William Hurt in Wim Wenders' “Until the End of the World” (1991) and star opposite Judy Davis in CBS’ Hallmark Hall of Fame production of “One Against the Wind” (1991), which earned him a Golden Globe nomination for Best Performance by an Actor in a Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for TV. Also that year, he received a second AFI (Australian Film Institute) Best Actor nomination, this time for his role as a humble chef who gets a job at a sleazy nightclub in the dark comedy “Death in Brunswick” (1991; aka "Nothing to Lose").
"Of all the characters I've played, I think I have more in common with that guy than with "Reilly: Ace of Spies" (1983)" Sam Neill (referring to his character Carl Fitzgerald in “Death in Brunswick,” 1991)
In 1992, Neill worked with director John Carpenter for the first time for “Memoirs of an Invisible Man,” which is based on a 1987 novel of the same name by H.F. Saint. His portrayal of the less-than-ethical David Jenkins, opposite Chevy Chase and Daryl Hannah, earned him a Saturn Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor at the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films.
Neill subsequently appeared as a paleontologist who encounters dinosaurs in Steven Spielberg's blockbuster science fiction film based on the novel by Michael Crichton, “Jurassic Park” (1993; with Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum). He also starred as the New Zealand farmer who enters an arranged marriage with a Scottish woman in Jane Campion's “The Piano” (1993), for which he was nominated for an Australian Film Institute (AFI) Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role.
“It was very hard to do that movie, chopping off your wife's finger in a rainstorm in the mud. Could have a bad effect on you. Holly Hunter was such a firebrand. She fought back like buggery. After three takes, I was absolutely exhausted.” Sam Neill (when complimented on “The Piano”)
Still in 1993, Neill starred opposite Anjelica Huston in the ABC miniseries inspired by Sue Miller's novel, “Family Pictures,” and voiced the character of a cat burglar on the Fox animated sitcom “The Simpsons.”
1995 saw Neill portraying the charismatic King Charles II in Michael Hoffman's take on Rose Tremain's novel, “Restoration” (with Robert Downey Jr., David Thewlis, Meg Ryan, Ian McKellen, and Hugh Grant), and teaming up again with Carpenter for the horror “In the Mouth of Madness,” the third installment in what Carpenter calls his "Apocalypse Trilogy" in which Neill delivered a terrific performance as an investigator hired to find a reclusive horror writer. He also returned to documentary filmmaking with “Cinema of Unease: A Personal Journey By Sam Neill,” an autobiographical account of the New Zealand cinema.
During the following years, Neill was reunited with Davis for the historic comedy written and directed by Peter Duncan, “Children of the Revolution” (1996), and had a lead in “The Revengers' Comedies” (1997; co-starring Helena Bonham Carter and Kristin Scott Thomas. He also had a title role in the acclaimed NBC two-part special “Merlin,” for which he received an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie and a Golden Globe nomination for Best Performance by an Actor in a Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for TV.
Neill spent the rest of the decade playing Scott Thomas’ husband in Robert Redford's Oscar-nominated romantic drama film based on the 1995 novel by Nicholas Evans, “The Horse Whisperer” (1998; alongside Kristin Scott Thomas), which earned him a Blockbuster Entertainment Award nomination for Favorite Supporting Actor – Drama/Romance, and appeared in a TV commercial for MCI (1998). He also had a supporting role in “Molokai: The Story of Father Damien” (1999), a biopic of the 19th century priest (portrayed by David Wenham) who volunteered to go to the island of Molokai in Hawaii to console and care for lepers. He was then cast as a wealthy man in Chris Columbus' sci-fi drama film starring Robin Williams based on the well-known 1976 novella by Isaac Asimov, “Bicentennial Man” (1999).
Hitting the new millennium, Neill appeared as a disillusioned ex-communist left behind to take care of the animals in the capital's zoological gardens in the Scandinavian drama “The Zookeeper,” which won him a Jury Award for Best Actor at the Ft. Lauderdale International Film Festival, portrayed U.S. President Thomas Jefferson in the CBS miniseries “Sally Hemings: An American Scandal,” and starred as Cliff Buxton in the Australian film about the first Apollo moon mission, “The Dish.” He also voiced a character in the animated Australian feature based on Norman Lindsay's Australian children's book, “The Magic Pudding,” and received an AFI (Australian Film Institute) Award nomination for Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role for his performance as Professor Mortlock in the multi award-winning Australian film “My Mother Frank.”
In 2001, Neill had a lead role in the based-on-fact NBC movie “Submerged” and reprised his role as Dr. Alan Grant in “Jurassic Park III,” alongside Tea Leoni and William H Macy. He was then cast opposite Keira Knightley in the mini series adapted from a 20th century novel by Boris Pasternak, “Doctor Zhivago” (2002), and played the father of Kirsten Dunst's character in the romantic comedy “Wimbledon” (2004; also starring Paul Bettany).
Neill won a Silver Logie for Most Outstanding Actor in a Drama Series and was nominated for an AFI Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role in a Television Drama or Comedy for his role in the miniseries “Jessica” (2004). He also received an AFI nomination for Best Direction in Television for his work in the novel-based TV movie “The Brush-Off” (2004; starring David Wenham), and starred as Joan Allen's British husband in Sally Potter's expressionistic 2004 film, “Yes.”
Neill then starred in the miniseries “The Triangle” (l2005), which earned him a Saturn Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor on Television, and co-starred with Cate Blanchett and Hugo Weaving in Rowan Woods' Australian film, "Little Fish," which handed him an FCCA (Film Critics Circle of Australia Awards) nomination for Best Actor in a Supporting Role. He also appeared in a TV commercial for Meat and Livestock Australia (2006).
Recently, Neill was nominated for a Gemini Award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Supporting Role in a Dramatic Series for his portrayal of Thomas Cardinal Wolsey, The Lord Archbishop of York, in the historical fiction television series starring Jonathan Rhys Meyers, "The Tudors" (2007).
Neill now plays Jeremiah Blackthorn on the NBC adventure drama based on the novel by Daniel Defoe, "Crusoe," which premiered on October 17, 2008. Meanwhile, he also played the title role in the New Zealand and British film "Dean Spanley," which is based on Irish author Lord Dunsany's short novel "My Talks with Dean Spanley." He also co-starred with Sophie Okonedo in the biographical film about Sandra Laing, "Skin," which premiered at the Toronto Film Festival on September 7, 2008
Neill has completed his newest films, "In Her Skin," a dramatic thriller by Simone North featuring Guy Pearce and Miranda Otto, and "Daybreakers," a futuristic thriller by Michael Spierig and Peter Spierig in which he will team up with Ethan Hawke and Willem Dafoe. He will soon wrap up a new TV miniseries called "Iron Road," alongside Peter O'Toole, and Jonathan King's fantasy adventure film based on Maurice Gee's novel, "Under the Mountain."
He is currently filming "Telepathy," a sci-fi thriller by Lesley Manning in which he will co-star with Miranda Richardson, and is rumored to be playing the lead in an upcoming action film helmed by Mario Andreacchio, "The Last Dragon: Search for the Lost Pearl."
"The pathetic thing about actors is they don't feel valid unless they're acting." Sam Neill
Logie: Most Outstanding Actor in a Drama Series, “Jessica,” 2005
Ft. Lauderdale International Film Festival: Best Actor, “The Zookeeper,” 2001
Australian Film Institute: Best Actor in a Lead Role, “A Cry in the Dark,” 1989