You don't need $500m to make a film that means things: Sam Neill

You dont need $500m to make a film that means things: Sam Neill
Sam Neill and Julian Dennison in the movie

By David Light

Published: Wed 5 Oct 2016, 7:00 PM

Last updated: Sun 15 Jan 2017, 10:45 AM

NEVER WERE TRUER words spoken regarding movie business as the actor who uttered them. New Zealand's Sam Neill stars in one of the most heartwarming, life-affirming films you will see this year and it cost a one-hundredth of that sum.
Written and directed by the formidable Kiwi talent that is Taika Waititi (What We Do in the Shadows, 2014), who has a cameo in his film, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, out in the UAE today, is a tale of two very different outcasts forced together whilst on the run.
Neill plays the gruff and silent bushman Uncle Hec whose wife chooses to foster inner-city child Ricky (Julian Dennison). When Hec's wife dies, Ricky is told to return to the care of social services, yet he decides to burn down the family barn in defiance and run off into the wilderness with Hec in pursuit. Social services appear the following day, and come to the conclusion that an emotionally unstable Hec has abducted Ricky and so begins the manhunt. When Hec hears of what has transpired, he fears arrest as much as Ricky fears going back into care, so the two decide to live out in the forest evading capture, coming across barmy off-grid citizens including 'Psycho Sam' played by Flight of the Conchords' Rhys Darby.
"Both these characters are characters on the periphery. They are abandoned people," Neill told City Times over the phone from New Zealand. "It's not a comedy as such because it touches on some very sad and dark material from time to time. There's loss in there as well as hilarity." Neill said he was no stranger to the bush being a keen fly-fisherman, so the wilderness survival aspect to his character was not too much of a stretch. That, however, is where the similarity to Hec ends.
"I've known plenty of people like him over the years," he said. "I've worked with people like that. He's gruff and silent. He's old school New Zealand. There are still a lot of them around."
So would he say Hunt For The Wilderpeople is uniquely Kiwi?
"Someone said to me, this is a film that could only have been made in New Zealand and yet it is universal. I was thinking of a film I saw called Tangerine. It only had four characters, but it told you everything you needed to know about and humanity. You don't need $500 million to make a film that means things.
"Sometimes these little things become special and this one has."
Neill commented on the film's anti-authoritarian theme, which he believes also resonates with people at this time. Asked whether that was a particular trait of New Zealand cinema, he took time to answer and then agreed stating it was a common thread in many of his homeland's films. "Personally I am happy to work anywhere in the world, and I do," he added.
"Occasionally though you do something that is close to home and close to your heart, and it is very rewarding."
What drew you to this project?
Mainly the director Taika. I knew his work and there is something very warm and humane and offbeat about it. I always said If I had the opportunity to work with him I knew I'd take it. I hardly needed to read the script to be honest. I knew it would be something cool to do.
How did you get on with Julian?
He's not only talented, he's a very nice kid and we got on from the beginning. We're friends. I have a similar juvenile brain to him! The age difference was much less than you think. I'm pretty adolescent.
How did you manage to keep a straight face, particularly around Taika (pictured) and Rhys' characters?
I didn't always. My job is to keep a straight face and keep things real. If someone is keeping it grounded it gives others licence to be as crazy as they want.

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