“Jane is a very caring director with her cast and she was always there to hug me when I was at my lowest,” Neill said of the Oscar winner.
Jane Campion had to comfort Sam Neill on the set of ‘The Piano’.
Neill wrote in his forthcoming memoir, “Have I ever told you that?“, that working with Campion was one of the highlights of his career, as Angel at My Table “was, for me, without a doubt the most important film in New Zealand.”
“Of course I’d work with Jane at the drop of a hat,” Neill wrote, calling Campion “a wonderful collaborator” on the 1993 film The Piano. However, the production proved particularly “lonely” for Neill, given his character’s relationship with the rest of the cast, as Neill’s Alisdair had a rocky marriage to Holly Hunter’s Ada and her young daughter, played by Anna Paquin.
“It was an unusually lonely job for me. Holly and I got along well. But he was necessarily away. I understand, Neill explained. “He commits to a role and all the banter, the everyday currency I’m used to, would have distracted him. Acting out our scenes together was confusing for me. I never knew if Holly was looking at Sam or Ada Stewart. The lines between life and fiction were blurred, and it was by no means comfortable.”
The “Jurassic Park” actor added: the famous scene where I drag him out into the mud and cut off one of his piano playing fingers was a big request. Holly is small but very strong. I realized from the very first step that the struggle to get out had to be real. It didn’t go down without a fight… And I have to admit, I’m still a little bummed that he insisted on replacing my ax with a rubber replica. I mean shit! Did he really think I was going to get carried away and cut off his finger? I’m laughing as I write this. I’m an actor, not a beast, for heaven’s sake. I was completely exhausted with all three occupied and luckily Jane had what she needed and I didn’t have to go through the whole process of wresting Holly into the mud and rain machine one more time, my friends.
Neill summed it up: “But it was a strangely lonely acting experience for me. Luckily, Jane is a very caring director of her cast and was always there to hug me when I was at my worst.”
“The Piano” was nominated for eight Academy Awards, with Campion winning Best Original Screenplay, Paquin Best Supporting Actress and Hunter Best Actress. Campion later made history as the third woman ever to win the best director Oscar for 2021’s Power of the Dog.
As for Neill’s own performance, the actor said: “No one notices you, you don’t get nominated for things. But you served. I was there in an important feminist film. I was on the frontlines in an important New Zealand film. None of these labels do the film justice. It’s a work of art. And look, that tiny little figure in the fabric – see below right – that’s me. This is a film that will always have a place in film history. And I served in it.”
Neill also took a moment to comment on Campion’s role in film history based on her gender.
“I’m always puzzled that it seems necessary to emphasize that Jane is a female director. This should not be unusual,” Neill wrote. “I don’t understand why there are more male directors than female directors. No one thinks it’s unusual for women to act, for example. I stick my neck out and say that women play better than men. If women directors were equal to men, I think we would find that they are better at directing as well. I have always loved working for women and for women. And yes, I’m telling you now, there’s nothing like being opposite a great woman working with you, against you, and alongside you. I think I’m always upping my game.”
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