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Twelve Questions: Sam Neill

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Irish-born Nigel Neill grew up in New Zealand and became one of our most famous and best-loved actors, Sam Neill. He is currently playing a policeman in TV3's local drama Harry and is rehearsing for an Australian series with Bryan Brown, where he plays another cop, though this time retired.

1.Did you always think the name Nigel was a bit of a liability?

Are you kidding? You might as well call a boy Cyril or Carol or Nancy. I met a bloke called Nigel Lythgoe once [creator of American Idol and So You Think You Can Dance], and asked him the same question. He looked at me for a few beats and then said "Try growing up in Liverpool called Nigel. And being a dancer." I understood.

2.Whose idea was the moustache for your character on Harry?

I had been supporting the moustache for a while already so it came with the package. It had taken up residence on my face about six months prior to Harry. It struck me as kind of harking back to a simpler time, when unreconstructed All Blacks and cops wore the mo with brutal pride.

3.What convinced you to do a non-leading role on a small Kiwi TV show at this stage of your career - and what is this stage of your career?

This feels like a trick question. I mean - why not? I enjoyed it, and Harry is good. I'd like all New Zealanders to see it. This stage is, without question - Salad Days.

Next up - Pudding. Or more Main Course, we'll see. If it is Pudding Days, I'd like plenty of caramel sauce and cream thanks. I'll leave room for the cheese for when I get to my 90s.

4.Can you describe the joy owning the Two Paddocks winery in Central Otago has brought you?

Not just joy for me, let it be said, but the unutterable pleasure it brings to others. I feel like a missionary bringing enlightenment and joy to darker places. No, please ... you're welcome.

5.You must have seen a lot of the foibles of Hollywood over the years: what stopped you from getting carried away with it all?

Not living there helps. The first time I went there I was already maybe 32 or 33, so I was at least semi grown up. Possibly. Bit late in the day for foibles.

6.How surreal does the celebrity machine get?

You don't have to be a celebrity unless you really want to be, and if you become one you may well live to regret it. I never have been one so it has never troubled me at all. I pick up celebrity magazines in the doctor's waiting room sometimes and I am totally mystified: who on earth are these people? What exactly is a Kardashian?

7.Your older brother Michael was interviewed for this column some months ago as he prepared to tackle King Lear: did you ever feel upstaged by his academic success?

It was clear from the get go that only one of us had the brains and it wasn't me. It was always a cause for anxiety in the holidays that my sometimes stern father would twig on to how slack I really was at school. My school reports went pretty much unremarked, however, as in fact no one expected much of me. My brother's reports were uniformly glowing, and continue to be so to this day. It was completely astonishing to my Dad when I got my first job and a great relief too. I have always been proud to have such a brother - he's the bee's knees.

8.What was the best lesson learned from your parents?

My Mum used to say when we were blubbing or something like that - "Pull yourself together. And buck up." And that's pretty sound, really. I imagine that therapy, rehab and so on - maybe even religion - they all pretty much boil down to that - pull yourself together. And for heaven's sake - buck up!

9.What do you hope to teach your own children?

Buck up kids. And be kind.

10. How would you change New Zealand, if you could?

For one thing I would eliminate that outrageous new law making it illegal to protest at sea. My God, that's a slippery path to totalitarianism right there. John Key should be ashamed.

11. Can you recall a time you felt truly lonely?

I love being solitary - swimming out a long way out and just staying there for ages, for instance. But lonely, that's not at all good. We all feel that way sometimes, me too; it's the human condition. And a sense of community is ever diminishing in the modern city. We need to say 'hello, how are you', more often. And mean it.

12. What is the greatest role of your career, thus far?

I have no idea but the one people seem the fondest of is that silly old cleric inDean Spanley. I was fond of him too. If I might say so, I think I may have given my part in The Peaky Blinders [a BBC historic crime drama where Neill again plays a cop] a reasonably good crack; with luck someone might buy it for New Zealand later this year. You decide.

©Copyright New Zealand Herald

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