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24 September 2014
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To The Ends Of The Earth
Sam Neill plays Mr Prettiman

William Golding's 'To The Ends Of The Earth'


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.



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