Sam Neill, star of Jurassic Park, The Piano and Peaky Blinders, is one of the best known screen faces of the last 30 years. Yet the actor finds the idea of fame ridiculous and spends much of his time now laughing at celebrity culture, he told the Observer.
“I take great care to avoid anything to do with it and then no one troubles me if I go out to get a sandwich or something,” he said.
Neill, a New Zealander, spoke from Australia of his joy in making fun of the fuss around VIPs and the wider publicity industry ahead of the release tomorrow of the DVD of the popular British television series Flack.
“I have never regarded myself as a celebrity, and I don’t feel I have ever been massively famous over here, on my side of the world. The only thing that really blindsided me was the huge Comic-Con gathering of fans for Jurassic Park. People went ballistic. There is a big concentration of a certain type of people. Very nice people, but one type.”
The actor and his latest team of Jurassic co-stars were due to start filming in England on Jurassic World III this month, until the pandemic struck, but he said there is still hope that some work can resume in July.
“I should be going into Pinewood at 6am. All the sets are there, waiting,” said Neill, adding that Britain holds a big place in his heart, and that he is yearning to eat out again in London after seeing a stage show in the West End.
“I miss the company of friends and the conviviality around a table in a restaurant, sharing some good wine together. I can’t wait to get back to it. One hopes that people haven’t got used to being without it.”
Neill has come to unexpected prominence during the last few months with a series of quirky solo ukulele performances that he has uploaded from his home of well-known yet unlikely tunes, such as the Bruno Mars hit Uptown Funk and Radiohead’s Creep.
“I have always found social media quite involving, and so I’ve been taking the mickey out of myself recently on Twitter and Instagram. It is an amazing diversion,” he said.
Other actors, like Patrick Stewart, have been reading Shakespeare, but if I feel like singing badly, I will
“Commenting on current affairs on social media has always been a draw for me, but with the lockdown, I decided to stop being political. We could do with a little less shouting in the world. Initially it was just a distraction for me, and then I realised people were very fearful. Some people are under a lot of pressure now, or afraid and alone. It is a very unusual set of circumstances, so I felt anything anyone can do to make it easier was worth trying.”
Neill, a wine enthusiast, has also hosted wine-tasting and cooking sessions online. “Rather than seeing this as an imprisonment, it’s good if people can view it as an opportunity to reconnect and take up something new. Or play the ukulele. I know other actors, like Patrick Stewart, have been reading Shakespeare, but if I feel like singing badly, I will.”
Performers, he suspects, are better prepared for a lonely life at home than many: “I have been talking to two or three friends, and agreeing that we have been rehearsing for this for decades; living in hotel rooms on our own in isolated places during filming, often far from the people we love.”
In the second series of Flack, set in London, Neill, 72, plays the wily “sleeping partner” of a PR and reputation management company, and he clearly relishes the chance to make fun of the trickery that drives much of the perception and interest in public figures.
“The claws are really out in this show,” said Neill. “It is a real-life world that may look different soon if there is some sort of reset following the pandemic crisis. There seems something even more tin-eared about this behaviour now.”
The drama series, streaming on Acorn, also stars Sophie Okonedo as his ex-wife, and reunites Neill with the American actress Anna Paquin, recently seen in Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman, who plays the unscrupulous executive at the centre of the story. When Paquin was nine, she appeared alongside Neill in Jane Campion’s much-loved film The Piano in 1993, for which she won a best supporting actress Oscar.