Sam Neill, DCNZM, OBE was born Nigel John Dermot Neill on 14 September 1947 in Omagh, County Tyrone, Northern Ireland. Sam Neil is a New Zealand film and television actor.
Sam Neil has had a number of high-profile roles including: the lead in Reilly, Ace of Spies, the adult Damien in Omen III: The Final Conflict, Merlin in the miniseries Merlin, the executive officer, Capt 2nd Class Vasily Borodin in The Hunt for Red October and paleontologist Dr. Alan Grant in Jurassic Park and Jurassic Park III.
Most recently he played Cardinal Wolsey in the Peace Arch Entertainment production for Showtime, The Tudors.
Sam Neil is the 2nd son of Dermot Neill, a Harrow and Sandhurst-educated army officer and 3rd generation New Zealander, and his English wife, Priscilla. At the time of Sam Neill’s birth, his father was stationed in Northern Ireland, serving with the Irish Guards. The family were the owners of Neill and Co., the largest liquor retailers in New Zealand.
Sam Neill returned with his family to New Zealand in 1954, where he attended the Anglican boys’ boarding school Christ’s College, in Christchurch. Sam Neil then went on to study English literature at the University of Canterbury, where he got his first exposure to acting. While at Canterbury University he resided at College House, where he held the position of Chief Castigator and Crime Crusher (CCACC). Sam Neil then moved to Wellington to continue his tertiary education at the Victoria University, from which he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature.
Sam Neil first took to calling himself “Sam”, in school in New Zealand where there were other Nigels, and the phrases “a real Nigel” and “Nigel No-mates” were commonly used to refer to a sad loner.
After working at the New Zealand National Film Unit as a director and actor, Sam Neil was cast as the lead in the New Zealand film Sleeping Dogs. Following this he appeared in the Australian classic, My Brilliant Career (1979), opposite Judy Davis. This appearance led to his being selected to play Damien Thorn in Omen III: The Final Conflict in 1981, one of the sequels to The Omen. In the late-1970s his mentor was the notable British actor James Mason.
After Roger Moore made his last James Bond movie in 1985, Sam Neil was seriously considered for the role in The Living Daylights. Sam Neil impressed people with his screen test and was the preferred choice of director John Glen. However, Cubby Broccoli was not as impressed by Sam Neil, and the role eventually went to Timothy Dalton instead. Since then, Sam Neil has played heroes and villains in a succession of film and television dramas and comedies. In the UK, he became well-known in the early-1980s, starring in dramas such as Ivanhoe and notably in the title role of Reilly, Ace of Spies.
Sam Neil is known for his leading and co-starring roles in major films including Dead Calm (1989), La révolution française (1989) playing the famous Lafayette, The Hunt for Red October (1990), Memoirs of an Invisible Man (1992), The Piano (1993), Jurassic Park (1993), Sirens (1994), Event Horizon (1997), The Dish (2000), and Jurassic Park 3 (2001). In Hunt for Red October, Neill uttered the film’s most memorable line: “I would like to have seen Montana,” as the dying Vasily Borodin.
The film Cinema of Unease: A Personal Journey by Sam Neil(1995)was written and directed by Sam Neill and Judy Rymer. In it Neil narrated his personal recollection of New Zealand film history. Sam Neil was asked to play the role of Elrond in The Lord of the Rings by Peter Jackson, but turned it down because of his contractual obligations to another film, namely, Jurassic Park III (2001). Sam Neil hosted and narrated a series of 2002 documentaries for BBC entitled Space (Hyperspace in the United States).
In 2006, Sam Neil also lent his voice to a series of radio ads for 5th 3rd Bank in the midwestern U.S.
Sam Neil also appeared in Merlin (1998), a film based on the legend of King Arthur and the Lady of the Lake, portraying the legendary wizard. Sam Neil also reprised his role as Merlin in the film’s not-so-well received sequel, Merlin’s Apprentice
(2006), in which Merlin learns he fathered a son with the Lady of the Lake.
Sm Neil is currently starring in the historical drama The Tudors, playing Cardinal Wolsey, on the Showtime Network. “I have to say I really enjoyed making The Tudors”, Neil said. “It was 6 months with a character that I found immensely intriguing, with a cast that I liked very much and with a story I found very compelling. It has elements that are hard to beat — revenge and betrayal, lust and treason, all the things that make for good stories.”
Sam Neil has said that he has not yet been asked to reprise his role as Dr. Alan Grant in the possible 2009 movie, Jurassic Park IV.
Sam Neil resides in Sydney, Australia and has 1 son, Tim (born in 1983), by New Zealand actress Lisa Harrow, and 1 daughter, Elena (born in 1990), by makeup artist Noriko Watanabe, whom he married in 1989. Sam Neil also has a stepdaughter, Maiko Spencer, (born 1981) who is from Noriko Watanabe’s 1st marriage. Sam Neil is a supporter of the Australian Speak Easy Association and the British Stammering Association (BSA). Sam Neill also supports the Australian Labour Party, Greenpeace, Oxfam, and the World Wildlife Fund. Sam Neil is a patron of the National Performance Conference. Sam Neil also donated a pair of jeans to the Jeans for Genes auction; they were painted by artist Merv Moriarty and auctioned off in August 1998.
Sam Neil’s hobby is running a vineyard, the 2 Paddocks winery in Central Otago on New Zealand’s South Island. “I’d like the vineyard to support me but I’m afraid it is the other way round. It is not a very economic business”, says Sam Neil. “It is a ridiculously time and money-consuming business. I would not do it if it was not so satisfying and fun — and it gets me pissed once in awhile.”
Sam Neill is friends with New Zealand musicians Neil Finn and Tim Finn (of Crowded House and Split Enz) and with Australian musician Jimmy Barnes.
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