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The evolution of one the most underrated actors in global cinema, Sam Neil

The actor from New Zealand, most famous for his role as Dr. Alan Grant in Jurassic Park, the franchise, turned 74 this week

  • Ryan Gomez

Last Updated: 03.56 PM, Sep 16, 2021

The evolution of one the most underrated actors in global cinema, Sam Neil

For a generation of children Sam Neill would always be the ‘dinosaur man’, a moniker which was, in fact, played into the narrative of Jurassic Park III. Of course, those children who had associated him with that name are fully grown adults now, and most of them are probably over 30. There could be no arguments that Jurassic Park, directed by Steven Spielberg, is one of the most significant films ever made.

Based on the book written by sci-fi writer Michael Crichton, the movie was a cinematic masterpiece. The subsequent films may not have matched the standards set by the first film, but nevertheless, spawned one of the most successful franchises in history. Ideally, the face of the film should have become a household name like Tom Cruise or Leonardo Di Caprio. But, he opted for indie projects from New Zealand and Australia, and few roles in Hollywood productions as well.

Before his big breakthrough role in Spielberg's Jurassic Park, he appeared in several films from New Zealand and Australia such as Sleeping Dogs and My Brilliant Career. He also appeared in the first adaptation of Tom Clancy’s iconic character, Jack Ryan, alongside Sean Connery, the original James Bond, in the film The Hunt for Red October. The film was a success upon its release in 1990, but for Neill, it was merely a stepping stone to becoming one of the most recognisable faces in cinema. The year 1993 was the year that truly defined his career, it was the year Jurassic Park was released but it was also the year the critically acclaimed film The Piano was released.

The Piano went on to win three Academy Awards including best writing, best actress for Holly Hunter, and best-supporting actress for 11-year old Anna Paquin. Even though Neill didn’t win an Academy Award for his performance in the film, he received critical acclaim from critics. The film also starred Harvey Keitel in one of the leading roles.

Neil would play important roles in several films and TV shows since 1993 such as The Simpsons, Sirens, and The Horse Whisperer, but not that could be called a high-profile blockbuster. It wasn’t until Jurassic Park III in 2001 would he appear in a major release. Even though the film was critically panned, fans of the franchise were excited to have Dr.Alan Grant back in the mix. The second film in the franchise The Lost World: Jurassic Park did not feature his character just like in Christon’s novels, even though the film took several creative liberties making various alterations to the plot. But Dr. Alan Grant will return for the third film of the Jurassic World franchise starring Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard, releasing next year. Jeff Goldblum is also set to reprise his role from the original trilogy as Dr. Ian Malcolm.

The role that completely changed people’s perception of Neill as an actor is arguably his role as Inspector Campbell in BBC’s hit television show Peaky Blinders. His portrayal of the conniving antagonist will go down in history as one of the best villains in television history. It’s not often an actor can match the brilliance of Cillian Murphy on-screen, however, Neil managed to do so with aplomb. In fact, the brilliance of his performance may even erase him from one’s memory as the ‘dinosaur man’ from Jurassic Park. What made his performance stand was his authentic Northern Irish accent, which for a Kiwi is no walk in the park. It was one of those performances that give the feeling that another actor wouldn’t be able to pull off.

Neill also received critical acclaim for his 2016 film, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, directed by Taika Waititi. At 74, Neill has several projects lined up, and none more anticipated than the Jurassic World: Dominion, releasing next year.