March 2023: The first chapter of Sam Neill’s memoir would be a tremendous shock to someone who had no prior knowledge of it. It starts out funny enough: a great yarn about his daughter Elena being questioned about her father’s job at school when she was younger. The actor then goes on to describe a life spent on film sets: sitting in trailers, reading the paper, drinking cups of tea, and waiting for the magic moment when someone comes and says: “We need you on set, Mr. Neill.” She replies, “My dad sits in caravans,” a response that is “both perceptive and entirely accurate,” according to the actor.
The voice becomes reflective. The book begins with a rambling preamble on what it means to live a happy life, setting the tone and topic for the book. He then muses on why he is even writing a book and who will read it, and he begins to sound a little swan-song-like. But there’s this: “The fact is, I’m a criminal. maybe passing away. I may have to move more quickly now.
As far as narrative hooks go, it works well. Is he alright? There are so many questions. How will he fare? Where will we be at the end of the book? Should you … cheat and jump to the last chapter to find out what happens?
On the other hand, Neill, 75, is his own own spoiler alert here on a clear February day in Central Otago, New Zealand. He appears to be in excellent health, though he does acknowledge that he is a little feeble as he converses on a porch in the sun about what he has thought about not existing while taking in everything that is present. Rows of pinot noir grapes for his wine, vegetable beds, herb gardens, heritage apple trees, gooseberry bushes, the occasional clutch of chicks and ducks, black-faced sheep and cows in the distance, and newly planted trees he wishes to see mature are just a few examples of the farm’s beautiful wealth.
He declares, “I’m not afraid to die, but it would aggravate me. So, you know, I’d really enjoy another decade or two. I want to live to watch it all develop, including the beautiful terraces we’ve created and the olive and cypress trees we have. I also have my adorable tiny grandchildren. They should grow to be quite huge, please.
And what about the dying? I don’t give a damn.
Sam Neill has accumulated more than 150 acting credits over the course of five decades, including his early acting debut in Judy Davis’ My Brilliant Career (1979), his breakout performance as dinosaur detective Dr. Alan Grant in Jurassic Park (1993), Jane Campion’s The Piano (1993), and most recently, his portrayal of the evil Chester Campbell in Peaky Blinders on television. He has a reputation for being a sincere Mr. Nice Guy, and his friends are numerous, steadfast, and not only stellar — he can be seen on his popular Instagram account, which has 541k followers, singing along with Jeff Goldblum and Laura Dern as they reenact Jurassic Park — but he also leads a parallel life in which farmers and winemakers are his entire world.
He has purposefully avoided celebrity because it doesn’t particularly impress him. Heads don’t turn much in his hometown of Clyde, the one-cop town five minutes from his farm where he gets his daily coffee. He enjoys informing people who he thinks might recognise him that he is Matrix actor Hugo Weaving in Sydney’s Surry Hills, where he has a residence and divides his time. He likes to talk to strangers; he doesn’t care if they know who he is or not.
“Even though they are extremely wealthy and well-known, I have a lot of friends who are true celebrities; you would know who they are. But, I wouldn’t trade places with them for anything in the world.
“Privacy is extremely, very, very important. I can stroll down the street in Surry Hills and buy my coffee and no one bothers me, you know? But there’s a complete lack of privacy for one thing. There are also no paparazzi. My life is my own.”
Some of it he joyfully posts on social media since, in his opinion, entertainment is an honourable endeavour. He does entertain with his winemaking, ukulele playing, farm life, and japery with Jeff. He frequently makes appearances with his farm animals, many of whom are rescue animals that have been lovingly named after celebrities and friends. He has his charming Dr. Dolittle act. Bryan Brown, Kylie Minogue, Helena Bonham Carter, and Laura Dern all play animals (pig, female). Bryce Dallas Howard, a radiant ginger hen, pecks her way past during the interview. Later, Michael Fassbender, a regal rooster, emerges from around a corner chest-first, followed closely by three hens. Neill chuckles, “Fassbender, you enormous cock. “He’s so full of himself, and his females always follow him. Yet, he is quite attractive.
Was This Ever Told To You? Neill divulges a lot more personal information. He has truly exposed himself, and like the majority of performers waiting for the reviews, he is curious to hear how he fared. As far as autobiographies go, it is really hilarious and incredibly entertaining with a subtle hint of melancholy. There is no room for self-pity here. He is an exceptionally talented raconteur, and some of his stories are delectably impure (co-stars behaving badly, take note). He still takes care with his personal life, though. Past relationships are either not discussed in detail, like in the case of his most recent romance with Canberra press gallery journalist Laura Tingle, or are briefly mentioned, as was the case with his weddings to actors Lisa Harrow and Noriko Watanabe. His four children and eight grandkids serve as thoughtful allusions to the love and joy in his life.
It is a compilation of the actor’s stories, which he began writing down while sequestered in his Sydney apartment for cancer treatment. These stories are about family, friends, love, and pleasure. The shocking incident occurred in March of last year, while he was in Los Angeles for publicity appearances for Jurassic World Dominion and having fun with his “idiot buddies.” He noticed swollen glands. Within weeks, he was receiving chemotherapy for angioimmunoblastic T-cell lymphoma, a stage three blood malignancy.
For a while, the therapy seemed to be working, and writing served as a soother while the memories kept him company.
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“I found myself with nothing to do,” Neill adds. I am accustomed to working. I adore my job. I adore my job. I adore spending time with individuals every day, taking pleasure in their company, friendship, and all these other things. And all of a sudden, I was without that. What am I going to do, I wondered?
“I never had any plan to publish a book. Yet, as I continued to write, I realised that it was truly giving me a reason to live, and I began to think, “I’ll write about that tomorrow… it will interest me,” as I went to sleep. Hence, it truly saved my life because, you know, I couldn’t have made it through it without anything to do.
He is adamant that it is not a book on cancer (“I can’t tolerate them. I am never in my life going to read another bloody book about cancer,” but he refers to the subject as a “spiral thread” that runs through the memoir and holds the story together. Then it’s back to humorous coming-of-age anecdotes, tales from the set of movies, and sentimental memories of his early life as Nigel Neill, the quiet youngster with a stutter who went to boarding school at eight and changed his name to Sam at twelve. He writes these passages in the present tense.
Thinking on his life has surprised him by bringing up so many memories, but it has also given him comfort by reminding him of his parents’ love, whose affection he still feels all around him. And he claims that every decade of his life has been better than the previous one. He has walked a narrow line between seclusion and loneliness over this decade, even though he has been so ill.
“I mean, I can’t pretend that the past year hasn’t had its bad moments, but those dark moments, you know, bring the light into stark relief and have made me extremely grateful for every day and for all of my friends. Simply grateful to be alive.
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