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13 March 2018updated 24 Jun 2021 12:25pm

Sam Neill Q&A: “The world has been run far too long by dull white men“

The New Zealand actor on global politics, his earliest memory, and life on his farm.

By New Statesman

Sam Neill was born in 1947 in Omagh in Northern Ireland, and moved with his parents to New Zealand when he was seven. He made his acting debut in the 1977 New Zealand film “Sleeping Dogs”. Since then, he has starred in major Hollywood films, including “Jurassic Park”, as well as British TV shows such as “Peaky Blinders” and the BBC miniseries “And Then There Were None”.

What’s your earliest memory?

My earliest memory is serious whooping cough aged two or three in a little room in the upper floor of a little house on the rocks off the coast in County Durham.

Who were your heroes?

My older brother. He persists in that role to this day. He’s an academic. He’s always taught English. His sidebar interests are in Jacobean literature and contemporary African literature. He was always interested in drama and music, which eventually became my interests as well.

What was the last book you couldn’t put down?

I just put down Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House. It’s a remarkable read. I haven’t read a single line there that I think would be fictitious. It’s a book for our time.

What politician, past or present, do you look up to?

I’m very encouraged by the New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. She is fierce and compassionate. What she is not, and what we’ve had for far too long in New Zealand politics, as well as politics everywhere, is male, pale and stale. The world has been run far too long by dull white men of a certain age.

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What would be your Mastermind special subject?

I know a little about a lot of things. I’m like a plank of wood, I’m rather thick.

Which time and place, other than your own, would you like to live in?

The Victorians get a bad rep. Prudish, people say. I don’t know how they bred so well, if they’re so prim and proper. They had inquisitive minds. They were inventing types of science!

What TV show could you not live without?

I’m a bit of a political junkie. Though in many ways it can be deeply depressing, current politics is as good an entertainment as we can wish for. In Australia, it is an ongoing soap opera. In America, the problem is that there it matters so much. And Brexit is so compelling to read about and follow.

Who would paint your portrait?

Could you ask David Hockney if he’d like to volunteer?

What’s your theme tune?

Anything with a ukulele. I enjoy a tune by the Penguin Cafe Orchestra called the “The Ecstasy of Dancing Fleas”. If you want a cheer up, I recommend that.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

I actually read it the other day. One sentence that really struck me: Happiness is the feeling you get when you get something done. It could be any number of things. Happiness is getting the dishes not just washed, but dried and got away. I do know when I have five things not done, my mind is in a state of disarray. It’s a pretty simple formula. And it works.

What’s currently bugging you?

I’m addicted to Twitter, but I’m not sure if it’s healthy or a good thing.

What single thing would make your life better?

If the world was run by more sensible people. People with more brain and know-how.

When were you happiest?

I think, probably, a couple of a days ago. I had achieved a couple of jobs around the farm. I felt pretty good about that. I shepherded the sheep by myself. I have an electric bike. I hung a couple of pictures and they look good.

In another life, what job would you have chosen?

I didn’t really choose my job. I wouldn’t choose my job. I’d just wait until one turns up. I think an architect: I enjoy mid twentieth century modernist architecture.

Are we all doomed?

I certainly hope not. Hopefully those with fingers on triggers are surrounded by sensible people.

Sam Neill’s latest film, “Sweet Country”, is out now in UK cinemas.