To The Ends Of The Earth
William Golding's 'To The Ends Of The
Sam Neill plays Mr Prettiman
Whether he's fighting dinosaurs in Jurassic Park, or behaving
badly to Kiera Knightly in Dr Zhivago, Sam Neill's distinguished
career has spanned over 25 years: encompassing blockbuster movies,
numerous television series and award-winning independent films.
A versatile and talented man - actor, director, writer
and producer - Neill continues to be as in-demand as ever, travelling
the globe for his work, but always happy to return home to New Zealand,
to be with his family, his friends, living in the beautiful house he built
15 years ago and tending to his vineyards.
As an international film and television star, he could
have chosen to live anywhere in the world. He says: "I decided some years
ago that New Zealand is where I live and I would work out of there, rather
than live where I work.
"And I think that's been a good decision. Not necessarily
from the point of view of work, because you are a long way away from things,
but certainly for my own and my family's wellbeing, it's been a good decision."
With a prolific output, Neill has notched up roles in
over 73 films and television dramas, as well as eight stints as a director,
three as a writer and two as a producer.
It takes a lot to lure him these days from the beautiful
mountains and lakes of his home town of Queenstown, but the opportunity
to play Mr Prettiman, the radically thinking Republican in To The Ends
of the Earth, was too good to resist.
"I don't think I'd ever quite played anything exactly
like this before," he says. "It was probably more the project than the
character which attracted me to the role. It is such a rich and interesting
piece of writing and to be part of that fabric, that very colourful tapestry,
is a nice idea.
"Personally, I have nothing in common with Mr Prettiman.
He is cantankerous, idealistic, blinkered, thin-skinned, romantic, a man
of the 'enlightenment' but curiously unenlightened himself. A funny character,
I don't think he's got much of a future in the new world.
"I hadn't read the books until I was sent the project
and they are very beautiful books. Surprisingly hilarious, Golding is
a very funny writer and it's an extraordinary sort of ship of ill-sorted
people. It's not unlike isolating people in a country house, although
this for nine months rather than weeks.
"We see what happens to those characters, given that
there's no escape. All sort of things: wonderful, terrible, murderous
and extremely funny."
Neill came late to acting, at the age of 29, but he's
made up for it since.
"It's been fairly busy," he says, "But I'm still keeping
my options open and if another job comes along that looks great I'll jump
at it: hard to think of a better job though."
He has delved into directing and writing, but he's not
about to forsake the screen for a new full-time career behind the camera.
"I've just directed a 90 minute film for Australian television,"
he says, "called The Brush Off, which I enjoyed immensely but I was completely
knackered at the end of it. I love directing but it's awfully demanding
and I wouldn't want to do it on a regular basis. My bread and butter,
the core activity is acting. I'm an actor not a director - I was an actor
pretending to be a director."
Although he refuses to be drawn into which screen role
he's most proud of, he's clearly happy to talk about the other passion
in his life, Two Paddocks, his own brand of Pinot Noir wine which he grows
in his three small vineyards in New Zealand, close to where he lives.
"It's a huge commitment and an equally massive investment
to start a vineyard. Much more than a hobby, but far less of a profitable
business concern, at least for the time being."
Asked what inspired him to start producing his own wine,
he exclaims: "Terrible, terrible thirst! I liked the idea of it, I still
like the idea of it. The reality is more banal, but lots of fun. We do
three different Pinot Noirs. I make a little white wine, but only for
drinking at home.
"My father's firm imported and exported wines and
spirits. I just developed an interest in wine and the interest got out
of hand." Quality more than quantity is the key
word for Neill's Two Paddocks, which is now available in the UK.
As well as his love of fine wines, he also cares deeply
about environmental issues. "I got caught up in one or two environmental
matters in the last few years." he says. "I've campaigned against GM food
crops in New Zealand; hopefully we will prevail but I'm not overly optimistic.
"Rather against my better sense, I've also got involved
with the area that I live in. It's under tremendous pressure from over-development
so there's a struggle to at least ameliorate that if we can."
Neill's wife, Noriko Watanabe, is a renowned movie make-up
artist, whose credits include Kill Bill, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless
Mind and the forthcoming Memoirs of a Geisha. He regrets that his chosen
career means sporadic separation from her and their daughter Elena, although
they travel together when they can.
After shooting finished on To The Ends of the Earth, Neill
spent a week on safari in South Africa and then travelled to Australia,
where he played the more contemporary role of a drug dealer in an Australian
film entitled Little Fish. After that, it was back to the mountains and
the vineyards, but undoubtedly not for very long.