Sam Neill Says NZ Cinema like Nothing Else on Earth
In a career of almost unparalleled versatility, Sam Neill’s latest role in Taika Waititi’s Hunt for the Wilderpeople finds him returning to his roots. Elle Hunt tracks the New Zealander down in Sydney for a profile in the Guardian.
Hunt for the Wilderpeople, which premiered in competition at this year’s Sundance film festival – couldn’t have come from anywhere else. With its “egg” sledge and “skux” honour, it’s so quintessentially Kiwi as to defy explanation. A comment on a Guardian review of the film asked if it was going to be subtitled.
“We had no idea what was going to happen at Sundance – it was heart-in-throat stuff,” Neill says. “To our surprise and delight, people were laughing from the moment it started.”
In 1974, New Zealand film was “the funniest idea”, remembers Neill – “the stupidest, most ridiculous thing you could possibly consider”.
These days, it has a reputation for well-received, weird comedy, thanks to Brett McKenzie and Jemaine Clement of The Flight of the Conchords, the comedian Rhys Darby, and the filmmaker Taika Waititi, with whom Clement and Darby collaborated on the vampire-mockumentary What We Do In The Shadows.
Neill calls them “the school of cool”. And at 68, he wanted in.
In contrast to the heckles that met his short in 1974, New Zealand has thrown its weight behind Hunt for the Wilderpeople in unprecedented fashion. After the biggest opening weekend ever for a local film, it has made more at the New Zealand box office than Fast & Furious 7, The Avengers or any Harry Potter or Hunger Games movie. The publicist tells me that about one in nine New Zealanders have seen it.
Hunt for the Wilderpeople is Waititi’s fourth feature film, based on the book Wild Pork and Watercress by Barry Crump, a New Zealand author of comic novels about his experiences as a “bushman”.
“So the idea of that kind of blend of cool, strange New Zealand comedy, which is like nothing else on the planet, with the old-school, rough-and-ready stuff that Crump represents – that was fairly irresistible.”
In late April, he shared a link to an opinion piece published in Fairfax New Zealand by Russell Harding, who praised the film’s “nostalgic but authentic” depiction of the country – one he recognised from a time before it became obsessed with house prices and its people turned “soft on the outside, and cold and hard in the middle”.
Harding concluded: “Kiwis aren’t clapping at the end of the movie for no reason.”
Hunt for the Wilderpeople is out in Australia on 26 May and is distributed in the United States from 24 June. Neill also stars alongside Adrien Brody in Backtrack, a psychological thriller from director Michael Pertron.
Original article by Elle Hunt, The Guardian, May 14, 2016.
Photo by Madman Entertainment.