No – they’re not in Australia.
Sam Neill remembers the first time he saw his name on screen.
It was for a 10-minute short – a little drama he’d cut – which played before a feature at the 1974 New Zealand film festival – its first and last screening.
In the audience were his drinking buddies from The Duke of Edinburgh hotel – a ‘dubious dive’ in Wellington he used to frequent on Friday nights.
‘It’s not there any more – they demolished it’ he says – then pauses.
‘Just as well’.
‘I was keeping a low profile anyway.
The credits came up with our names – then one of them yelled out ‘For fuck’s sake. It’s a New Zealand movie!’
Forty-two years later and Neill’s had a career of almost unparalleled versatility – taking in drama (Dead Calm, 1989) – cult classics (Event Horizon 1997) – blockbusters (Jurassic Park, 1993) and television (last year’s BBC miniseries And Then There Were None).
That may be about to change.
Hunt for the Wilderpeople – Neill’s new film – which premiered in competition at this year’s Sundance film festival – couldn’t have come from anywhere else.
With its ‘egg’ sledge and ‘skux’ honour it’s so quintessentially Kiwi as to defy explanation.
A comment on a Guardian review of the film asked if it was going to be subtitled.
‘We had no idea what was going to happen at Sundance – it was heart-in-throat stuff’ says Neill – nursing a milky coffee at a plush Sydney hotel (the waiter had assumed it was for me: Neill’s got the facial hair for a long black).
‘To our surprise and delight people were laughing from the moment it started’.
In 1974 New Zealand film was ‘the funniest idea’ remembers Neill – ‘the stupidest most ridiculous thing you could possibly consider’.
These days it has a reputation for well-received weird comedy – thanks to Brett McKenzie and Jemaine Clement of The Flight of the Conchords – the comedian Rhys Darby and the filmmaker Taika Waititi with whom Clement and Darby collaborated on the vampire-mockumentary What We Do In The Shadows.
Neill calls them ‘the school of cool’.
And at 68 – he wanted in.