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Sam Neill on wine making and movies

Well-known kiwi actor, Sam Neill, is still enjoying making movies but in his spare time, he likes to dabble in ‘making the world’s finest pinot noir’ at his winery in Central Otago on New Zealand’s south island, writes Pamela Connellan.

With more than 70 films under his belt and many TV series, Neill is well-known for his understated but prodigious acting style. He has starred in Jurassic Park, The Piano, My Brilliant Career, Hunt for Red October and Dead Calm. Alongside these films, he has starred in many TV series including Peaky Binders, The House of Hancock and The Tudors.

The Retiree spoke with Neill when he was in Australia recently and he said he’s still working hard because, like many of us, he can’t afford to retire just yet.

“I can’t live off my super and like a lot of people my age, I’m probably going to end up helping my kids. Things are a lot different now and it’s become extremely tricky for young people to get started, so I know I’ll end up pitching in,” he says.

On the topic of the high-priced housing market, Neill worries it’s too hard for young people looking to buy their first home.

“It’s exactly the same in New Zealand as it in Australia. Have a look at the house prices in Auckland. It’s become a very expensive place to live. And Sydney is just crazy – the prices there are astronomical!”

Life on the winery
Two Paddocks - Sam Neill ShootNeill points out that acting is only half of what he keeps him busy.

“When I’m not doing my day job of acting – I’m making probably the world’s finest Pinot Noir – and I say that without a trace of irony!” he laughs.

He owns four vineyards on New Zealand’s south island at the winery he calls Two Paddocks. “That’s where I live a fair bit of the time,” he says. “Our biggest market is Australia – we’re tiny but sustainable.”

“I’m very proud of what we’ve achieved,” he adds. “We’re going to be reclassified as organic again this year. We also have pigs, plus 50 sheep and we make lavender oil and olive oil. The sheep are very important for us – they graze the grass and they’re part of the virtuous circle of life.”

Neill says his vineyard is an ‘all absorbing’ part of his life. “I planted my first vines 20 years ago and it’s been a learning curve the whole way – finding out about the care of the animals. It’s been an extraordinary journey for me.”

He says being a vineyard owner has given him a whole new range of roles to play in his everyday life and this is something he cherishes. “I’m an employer and I’m a work mate – all of these things are entirely different for me and it’s all just so different to what I do in film or TV,” he says.

It’s in no way remunerative

Sam Neil
Sam Neill as Hec, in Hunt for the Wilderpeople

But while Neill loves being a vineyard owner and making fine wines, he says that without a doubt, “it’s in no way remunerative!”

“I always say it’s more of a public service than an enterprise. But when I drive up the drive and I see what I’ve built there I get an enormous sense of achievement.”

So what does he do to keep fit?

At 68, it’s probably necessary for Neill to have some sort of fitness regime, so we ask him what he does to keep in shape. His answer – Pilates!

“Bryan Brown has got me onto Pilates and it seems a very sensible exercise regime for someone of my age,” he says.

Apart from acting and making wine Neill is also interested in keeping abreast of current issues.

“I’m very interested in politics and the environment. I would also say I’m in support of voluntary euthanasia – I’d sooner make a graceful exit. It’s no business of anyone else but you and your family if you decide you want to move on.”

No plans to retire just yet

Hec 2

Neill says he likes to keep busy and engaged with the outside world and he never wants to be “… watching cooking shows with my slippers on.”

“I just don’t want to be sequestered away from life. I don’t ever want to be not involved in the hurly burly of life,” he adds.

Well, that’s the way things are for Neill right now. Last year, he worked on four movies – Hunt for the Wilderpeople in New Zealand, plus two other movies in the UK and one in South Africa.

Interestingly, back in the 70s, Neill started out as a film director in New Zealand but it’s not something he plans to do in the future.

“I’ve directed the odd thing along the way but I probably won’t do it again. Ten years ago I directed The Brush Off and I loved doing it but it was very hard work. It took up a year of my life.”
Latest movie a smash hit

Neill’s most recent movie, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, was a comic drama showcasing the north island of New Zealand’s spectacular scenery, alongside Neill’s superb acting talent.

As New Zealand’s highest-earning local film ever, it’s also done well in Australia, probably because it appeals to people of all ages.

“It’s not a kids’ film – but they love it,” Neill says. “It’s not just for adults either – it’s had an intergenerational response. People go and have a bit of a laugh or a cry. My job in the film was to keep it real – I’m surrounded by some of the best comedians in New Zealand and these people are incredibly funny.”

When we ask Neill what he particularly likes about the movie he says he likes its “undercurrent of poignancy” and the fact it deals with some very serious topics such as “abandonment and grief, love and attachment.”

“It’s a film with heart and conviction,” he explains.

Neill attributes this ‘heart’ to the movie’s success in New Zealand and says it’s all part of the bigger picture where finally, New Zealanders are coming to terms with their cultural cringe of many years.

“There’s a new wave of young comedians who’ve come on the scene in New Zealand in the last ten years or so and they’ve kind of transformed film and TV. A few years ago, no-one would have wanted to see a New Zealand comedy but this has all entirely changed now.

“It’s been a slow process of turning people around,” he adds, but in the end, he feels the movie speaks for itself.

“There are certain jobs you do which have a resonance and you know that people will remember them for many years to come,” he says.  


Sam Neill at Red Bank Vineyard & Farm, Central Otago. Credit: Christopher D Thompson

The Fusilier Vineyard, Bannockbum, Central Otago. Credit: Christopher D Thompson

Sam Neill at Two Paddocks. Credit: Christopher D Thompson

Movie stills: all from Hunt for the Wilderpeople © Majestical Pictures Limited 2016

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Alana Lowes

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