Sam Neill: Couldn’t ‘own’ today due to abuse on set

“You’d do whatever he wanted,” Neill said of director Andrzej Żuławski, “although that makes me sound like a classic victim of abuse.”

Sam Neill details the controversial construction of ‘possession’.

The cult 1981 divorce thriller is central to Neill’s forthcoming memoir.Have I ever told you that?According to the actor, this is one of the best films I’ve been lucky enough to be in.

However, Neill noted: “This is by no means a universal view. Not many people have ever seen it, and of those who have, it’s true that many people hate it. I consider it a masterpiece myself, albeit a very flawed masterpiece. I’m not alone in this.”

Neill wrote that director Andrzej Żuławski is a “handsome, charismatic and wild filmmaker” whose practice would not be accepted by modern cinema.

“I didn’t like him very much; what he saw as control was often just outright bullying. But he had a vision, it was real cinema. And they are rare, Neill wrote. “Żuławski asked more of you than you could give. There were times when she screamed and (co-star Isabelle Adjani) bellowed right in her face. It was sad to see.”

Neill continued, “You thought you couldn’t be any crazier than you were, but you were wrong. He had to triple that. I doubt you could get away with it these days. But with Żuławski, you do whatever he wants. And while that makes me sound like the classic victim of abuse, which in a way I guess we were, it was more than that. We totally believed in him as an artist and wanted to do this thing, whatever it was. We really wanted to be in this thing. We made something bigger than ourselves.”

In Possession, Neill is a husband whose wife (Adjani) decides to leave him amid his infidelity, but there is a surreal and sinister reason behind the many relationships. Adjani won Best Actress at Cannes after her release, but reportedly attempted suicide shortly after.

Neill recently opened up about director Żuławski forcing him to slap Adjani.

“I said, ‘Look, Andrzej, I have to say no. I can not do it. You can’t ask me to do that. I have never raised my hand to another human being and I have to say no. Please don’t ask me. I’m not going to do it,” Neill said. “Then Adjani came to me. He said, “Sam, you have to do this. You have to.’ I said, “Please, Isabelle, don’t ask.” He said, “You have to do it.” So I had to do it. I have to say it was the most stressful thing I’ve ever had to do on film.”

The “In the Mouth of Madness” actor continued: “And there were casualties. Isabelle famously broke down at the end.”

Neill added in 2021: “I call it the most extreme film I’ve ever made, in every possible way, and it asked us things that we wouldn’t and couldn’t go to now. And I think I just got through that movie and my sanity barely remained.”

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