INTERNATIONAL movie star Sam Neill – in Northern Ireland this week to promote his range of New Zealand wines – told the News Letter he is delighted to be back in the country of his birth.
He will be undertaking a busy schedule as he showcases the pinot noirs and Rieslings which he and his team produce from his Two Paddocks vineyards in Otaga, South Island New Zealand.
He is also hoping to spend some time in Omagh, where he was born.
His New Zealander father was stationed in the Tyrone town as an officer with the Irish Guards when Sam came into this world in September 1947. They returned ‘down under’ when he was just seven, and he went on to graduate from Victoria University with a Bachelor of Arts in English literature. Neill lives in Queenstown, South Island and also has homes in Wellington, North Island, and Sydney, Australia.
Neill – the star of blockbusters like Jurassic Park, The Piano, Omen III and The Hunt for Red October – now spends a lot of his time and efforts engaged is his favourite hobby, wine making.
“I’d like to think the vineyard supports me, but it’s the other way round – not very economic, I’m afraid,” he said.
“But it’s all very satisfying. I suppose it’s in the blood. The Neills owned the largest wine importing company in New Zealand, and it’s a wonderful hobby, so different from acting.”
Now in his 60s, he is busier than ever and is currently shooting the BBC TV production Peaky Blinders, a gangster saga which is being filmed in Birmingham, Leeds and Liverpool, set in the days after the First World War.
“Being in England presented a real opportunity for me to visit the country of my birth, and I’m really relishing meeting the local people,” he said.
“I’m inviting them to come along, to chat about films and learn about my wines.”
His wine tour begins this morning at Jordanstown on the shores of Belfast Lough when connoisseurs of the grape will get to taste the wine that Neill proudly states is produced in the world’s most southerly vineyard.
Later today, it is on to the Ivory Restaurant in Belfast’s House of Fraser, in Chichester Street, when the wine tasting will start at 7.30pm.
There are two dates tomorrow – at noon in Londonderry’s Custom House, and Portadown’s Seagoe Hotel for a wine producers’ dinner, preceded at 7pm by a ‘wine signing’ where he will sign bottles for members of the public.
The timetable on Saturday will see Sam travel for an event at mid-day at Lusty Beg in Fermanagh, and an evening dinner at the Moody Boar in Armagh.
Neill revealed to the News Letter that his favourite movie is the lesser-known Dean Spanley (2008), in which he starred with famed hell-raiser Peter O’Toole.
“Tell your readers to be sure and see that one,” he said.
“It’s a comedy-drama with a fantasy twist. Believe me, it was some experience. And, yes, Peter O’Toole is even larger than life than his public image! It’s a super movie and I’m particularly proud of that one.”
The New Zealander is also proud of The Dish (2000), the somewhat fictionalised story of the role of the Australian Parkes Observatory in relaying live television pictures of man’s first steps on the moon during the Apollo 11 mission in 1969. It was the top grossing film in Australia in the year of its release.
But he concedes that the role of Dr Alan Grant in Jurassic Park (1993) was the big one for which he will always be remembered.
Neill’s Northern Ireland agents are wine merchants the Robb Brothers of Portadown.