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Inside Sam Neill’s Life on the Farm: Horny Rams, Duck Sons, and Murderous Ferrets

Dante would have fun playing around with Twitter in one of his Hell circles, but, surprisingly, among the petty feuds and pettier political meltdowns, there might be some good on the social-media platform after all: And we have veteran actor Sam Neill to thank. Because over the past few years, the Jurassic Park star has been broadcasting some quality, wholesome content from his gorgeous New Zealand farm for us to fawn over, with his never-ending parade of cute animal pals always ready for their close-ups. (Most of whom, in another fun twist, are named after celebrities.) Whether you’re more of a pig-video or a sheep-selfie person, Neill’s Twitter is a good-pastoral-vibes-only type of place, so leave your city slicker attitude at the door, okay?

This week, Neill was nice enough to indulge Vulture with a chat about his life on the farm and how it feels that his animals are now bona fide social-media icons. Among the pigs, sheep, ducks, rams, and chickens, Neill has plenty of anecdotes, and only one them involves death-by-boning.

I want to know all about your farm! How long have you lived there and where exactly is it located? And do you get to live there most of the year?
I’d say I get to live there, in Central Otago, New Zealand, about half of the year. I always spend time in Sydney, but I’m at the farm as much as I can be. I’ve got four little vineyards and the farm is the heart of it. My chickens, sheep, goats — the whole menagerie is there. [Laughs.] A couple of them have become unwitting media stars. I used to do a blog on my wine label’s website about farm life and what was going on there. But I got kind of bored of that. Same with Facebook, too. It got really tiresome. I enjoy Twitter because it’s really instant. It’s one thing doing a blog post, but with Twitter and Instagram, you get immediate feedback from people. You know what people are enjoying. I’ve worked out that what I enjoy and what I find funny is what people enjoy, too.

I have to say, like many people on Twitter, there’s a lot to be angry about in the world at the moment. There’s a lot of be anxious about. I used to do a lot more angry posts. But there are enough angry voices as it is! What’s amusing me today? It’s mostly my duck. I really don’t know why people have reacted so strongly to the farm, but it’s definitely a nice thing to have happen.

It seems like an idyllic place, especially when I look at your photos from my tiny New York apartment.
I just love being there, puttering around. I do work there occasionally. It’s not just playing with ducks. But I do have my diversions there. I love to name as many of my animals as possible after my friends. It doesn’t always end well. Meryl Streep was killed by a ferret recently. I found her as a pile of feathers one day.

Oh, jeez. Have you had any other animal demises lately?
Hugo Weaving was another unfortunate end, but he died happy. He was a ram. He was doing what rams do — he fell off the back of a female sheep. We found him with his feet up in the air the next day. They’re very, very, busy boys, those rams. It’s a little-known fact that the most prodigious mammal on the planet is a ram. Rams can service, shall we say, up to 80 females in a day. There’s no other male animal on the planet that has that capability. He went the distance and died on the job.

You famously also name a lot of your animals after celebrities as “insurance policies,” so you won’t be enticed to eat them. But have you ever named an animal after an enemy and then … eaten it?
What a vicious idea, coming from someone from New York! [Laughs.]

How many animals are roaming around at any given time?
I’ll have to think about that. They all serve productive functions. As cute as they are, they’re not decorative. The sheep are used as lawnmowers. The pigs make manure. I believe at the last count I had 25 sheep, about a dozen chickens, a few goats, three pigs, and one duck. Although I got a few new duck friends arriving soon! I’m very keen on native birds, so I’ve planted a lot of native shrubs and trees to entice them to fly to the area and keep predators at bay. They’re all outdoor animals, I should also note. I don’t encourage them to come inside my house.

Do these animals generally get along with each other? Are there any unlikely friendships or feuds among them?
A friend of mine had an older horse that she brought to the farm a while ago. Down the road from the farm, a wild sheep turned up out of the blue about a year ago. It hadn’t been shorn in years! A friend asked if I could look after it, so I said yes. We put the sheep next to the horse, and they’ve become absolutely inseparable. They’re two old men. They’re never more than ten yards apart. They nuzzle each other all day. The horse doesn’t like other horses — through the years, he would fight with them all. But he took to the sheep immediately and they completely love each other. When it rains, the sheep goes under the horse and he stays dry that way.

There’s been some aggro behavior on the farm these past few weeks. I have two male pigs, Angelica and Taika Waititi, who have been fighting for the female pig, Imogen Poots. Taika has another girlfriend down the road, but his job is to, uh, have conjugal responsibilities with Imogen. But Angelica has had his way with Imogen illegally before and has made many other attempts to see her. He’s broken down several fences to see her and has been in contention with Taika, who’s twice his size. They’ve come to blows a lot. Angelica finally lost out and has a lot of scars on his face now.

I want to bring up some specific animals of yours. I’m fascinated how Charlie the duck thinks you’re his dad. How did he waddle his way into your life?
I bought three Muscovy ducks a few years ago, and Charlie Pickering was always the friendliest of them. One of my employees was driving too fast into the farm one day and flattened Charlie’s two friends. They died. Poor Charlie was left on his own after that. There’s something about that duck! He loves being in my company and I love hanging around with him, too. I have a small lake on the farm, and in the summer I like to swim laps, and he likes to swim laps with me. Or rather, I shouldn’t say “he.” I always thought Charlie was a male, and then she laid eggs one day. That was quite a surprise, but then some wild ducks came and destroyed the eggs. That was probably disappointing for Charlie.

We’re getting new friends for Charlie in the next few weeks, so we’ll see how that goes. If they don’t bond, Charlie is No. 1 for me, and they’ll be returned. I really like Muscovy ducks; they’re really sociable. I tried having Indian Runner ducks, but they would always run away. I had to sell them. What’s the point of having an animal if they don’t like you?

How often do you do yoga with The Pig?
I love hanging out with The Pig. He comes to life beside me, but he respects my space if I just want to kick back, relax, and read a book next to him. I took a few selfies of me recently reading Fire and Fury, and he was in the background looking shocked that I was reading it. [Laughs.] I’ll admit the yoga isn’t a daily occurrence.

Has Helena Bonham Carter the cow had any more calves?
Yes, she has! She’s recently been shamelessly flirting with Jimmy Nesbitt, my bull. She’s competing for his favors with another female cow. She’s been at it for days now. I avert my eyes.

How does a cow flirt?
Nuzzling and sniffing backsides. Helena is a piece of work in the love department, I’ll tell you. The real Helena writes me an email once in a while, and I fill her in with what’s going on with her cow. But I try to avoid telling the more graphic details.

Are any of your celeb friends overly invested in their animal counterparts?
Imogen Poots is very invested. She’s filming something two miles down the road from me right now, so she’s anxious to finally meet her pig.

If you could be reincarnated as one of your farm animals, what would you be and why?
All of the animals generally live long, happy, and fruitful lives. If attention is one thing to go by, I’d be one of my rams. They have, at any one time, 30 or 40 girlfriends who just adore them. To be well loved in life is as much as one can hope for, isn’t it?


Source: The Vulture

Interviews - personal

My holiday: Sam Neill

The actor loves crowds while on holiday, as long as they are not in the same place as him. But he’ll make an exception for Harrison Ford

What was your greatest holiday?

Perhaps the time I went to the Isle of Lewis, one of the bleakest places in the world. We were there 31 days, and it rained 30 out of 31 days. But it was a place of unmatched beauty.

And the worst?

The worst holiday I ever had was in Sardinia. It was at a very expensive resort. It was a last-minute booking and it was the only place we could get in to. It was mid-high season and it was up in Silvio Berlusconi territory. I absolutely loathed every minute of it. It was full of the “beautiful people” and I was grumpy for the entire week. I refused to go to the beach until 6.30pm when all the “beautiful people” had buggered off the beach and I’d go for a swim undisturbed. However, one night there was one other couple at the beach and it was Harrison Ford and Calista Flockhart. This guy came striding over and said: “Hi Sam, I’m Harrison.” I said, “oh, yes, you are” and he said, “shall we have dinner?” So, we had two or three nights drinking and he was telling stories, and his stories were better than mine and what was easily the worst holiday I’d ever had turned out to be rather good at the end.

If we bump into you on holiday, what are you most likely to be doing?

Avoiding people and I’ll be anywhere but the beach.

If we could teleport you to one place in New Zealand for a week-long holiday, where would it be?

For me, going home to the farm is a holiday. So it’s got to be that. But if you insist on me not going home, I’m going to say Doubtful Sound on a nice boat, with some excellent food and wine and some pleasant, quiet company.

How about for a dream holiday internationally?

I really want to go to Iran and I’m desperate to go to Egypt. I think it’s probably a really good time to go to Egypt because tourism is down. I look forward to going to the Valley of the Kings with a great absence of people from, shall we say, the Northern Hemisphere.

What’s the dumbest thing you’ve ever done when travelling?

I’ve done it several times, and that is to leave my passport in the safe of the hotel, which means actually going back to the hotel, retrieving the passport, changing your flight and spending a whole day somewhere grim like London Heathrow Airport.

Complete this sentence: I can’t travel without . . . A sleeping pill.

What’s the best travel tip you’ve ever been given?

It’s not a tip I was given, it’s just something I’ve discovered. I’ve discovered that it’s better to go to the places where people are not. There’s no point going to Venice now, you know you’re just going to be overwhelmed by a tidal wave of people looking for fridge magnets. But there are less-obvious cities. I love Italy, and less obvious cities like Lucca are just marvellous and there’s not many people there. It’s not that I’m people-phobic, but even in places like Venice, if you take that little alley there and then turn left and turn right again, you can find quiet spaces.

What was the most memorable meal you’ve had while travelling?

I think probably my father’s last great meal. It was in Paris, it was at a restaurant called Lucas Carton, and it’s all changed now but it was a very traditional place and we ate the 10-course degustation menu with matched wines and we got pretty drunk. We ate duck, which was a 2000-year-old Roman recipe, quite the most wonderful thing to eat, and my father relished every, every mouthful. After that he started to get unwell and he had cancer and that was the end of him. But that was his last great meal and I remember it with great affection.

What’s the best thing you’ve brought back from a trip?

Fridge magnets. I’m now an avid collector, the daggier the better, and I bought some on the Uncharted series we’ve just done around the Pacific. I’ve got magnets with bouncy bears from Alaska and hula girls from Hawaii and you name it, the whole Pacific is on my fridge. I’ve also got a really bad one from Istanbul, which is a sort of bridge, I think it’s probably supposed to cross the Bosporus Strait but it looks like you’d fall off it and plummet to your death. It’s a really bad one — the badder the better really. There’s no such thing as a tasteful fridge magnet.

Favourite airport at which to land?

I don’t think there’s any good airport to land at. But taking off could be a good experience with a good lounge and I’m going to say Sydney is the best for lounges.

What’s the next trip you have planned?

I’m going to England to do a movie, so that’s probably my next trip so the next landing will be Heathrow, which is terrible. Sorry to finish on a bum note!

Uncharted with Sam Neill starts Sunday, September 2, at 8.30pm on Prime.

Source: NZ Herald

Interviews - personal

‘The worst thing anyone’s said to me? Did we sleep together? Really?’

Born in Northern Ireland, Sam Neill, 68, grew up in New Zealand. He starred in My Brilliant Career in 1979, Dead Calm (1989), The Piano (1993) and two Jurassic Park movies (1993 and 2001). His TV apperances include Merlin, The Tudors and Peaky Blinders. The Daughter is his latest film. He is married for the second time, has three children and runs a vineyard in New Zealand.

What is your earliest memory?

Racked with whooping cough, aged four.

Which living person do you most admire, and why?
My brother, Michael. He is an academic and has devoted his life to scholarship; my life seems trivial by comparison. Bastard.

What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
Sloth. No, wait, greed. No, gluttony.

What is the trait you most deplore in others?
Religious intolerance.

Property aside, what’s the most expensive thing you’ve bought?
It took me 30 years, but I finally bought myself the Patek Philippe watch I’d always wanted. It’s ridiculous how much I love it.

What is your most treasured possession?
My father’s war medals.

What makes you unhappy?
Solitude. I crave company.

What do you most dislike about your appearance?
Pretty much all of it. But these weird fat bits on my hips – yuck!

Who would play you in the film of your life?
Tilda Swinton.

What does love feel like?
The very opposite of solitude.

What is your favourite word?

What is your favourite smell?
The top of a baby’s head. My kids smelled delicious.

What did you want to be when you were growing up?
A soldier like my father. I would have been useless.

What is the worst thing anyone’s said to you?
“Did we sleep together? Really? Are you quite sure?”

What is your guiltiest pleasure?
Come Dine With Me. Everything you need to know about the British in one tidy hour.

What do you owe your parents?
All the thanks it never occurred to me to give when they were alive.

Which living person do you most despise, and why?
Those cretins who took us into Iraq. All this crap starts with them.

Who would you invite to your dream dinner party?
All my great-great-grandfathers. And Michael Caine.

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
I’m sorry to say, the word is fuck.

What is the worst job you’ve done?
Everyone says it’s the Fifa film [United Passions], but I had a marvellous time.

 What has been your biggest disappointment?
My complete ineptitude at sport.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Still being in work. And my vineyards; they’re beautiful.

What keeps you awake at night?
Worrying about insomnia.

What song would you like played at your funeral?
I Will Remember You, by Sarah McLachlan. That’ll choke the bastards up if nothing else will.

Tell us a secret
I was christened Nigel. It set me back for years.

Source: The Guardian



Interviews - personal

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