Sam Neill

Sam Neill Biography

Actor (1947–)
New Zealand actor Sam Neill is most known for his work in the 'Jurassic Park' film franchise, 'Merlin,' 'The Hunt for Red October' and 'The Tudors.'

Who Is Sam Neill?

Born in Northern Ireland on September 14, 1947, Sam Neill is a New Zealand actor who first established his acting career with films like Omen III: The Final Conflict (1981) and Dead Calm (1989) and television series such as Reilly, Ace of Spies (1983) and Amerika (1987). After being part of an all-star cast in the espionage thriller The Hunt for Red October in 1990, Neill took on his most famous character to date, playing Dr. Alan Grant, in Jurassic Park (1993), a role in which he later reprised in Jurassic Park III (2001). Some of his notable television work include Merlin, Peaky Blinders and The Tudors.

Sam Neill Photo

Sam Neill walks the red carpet ahead of the Australian-directed 'Sweet Country' film screening during the 74th Venice Film Festival at Sala Grande on September 6, 2017 in Venice, Italy.

Movies and TV Shows

Some of Neill's earliest roles were based in New Zealand and Australia, but he hit the international scene in 1981 with the films Omen III: The Final Conflict, playing Satan's son, Damien Thorn, along with the French-German cult drama Possession.

From there, Neill would find himself wanted all over the world, finding savory roles in the U.K., the U.S., Australia and back home in New Zealand. In 1983 Neill turned to television, playing real-life spy Sidney Riley in the U.K. miniseries Reilly, Ace of Spies, for which he would be nominated for a Golden Globe. In the U.S. he landed the major role of a KGB officer, opposite Kris Kristofferson and Mariel Hemingway, in ABC's Amerika in 1987. Two years later, he would star with the then-budding actress Nicole Kidman in the Australian oceanic thriller Dead Calm (1989). 

But it would be Neill's film and television work starting in the '90s that would solidify his career in Hollywood. In 1990 he portrayed Soviet submarine captain Vasily Borodin in the espionage hit thriller The Hunt for Red October, which also starred Sean Connery and Alec Baldwin. Three years later, he took on his most memorable role to date as paleontologist Dr. Alan Grant in Steven Spielberg's dinosaur epic Jurassic Park, and would reprise it for Jurassic Park III (2001).

Other notable films include The Jungle Book (1994), Event Horizon (1997), Bicentennial Man (1999) and the Academy Award-winning New Zealand drama The Piano (1993), starring Holly Hunter and Harvey Keitel.

In 1998 Neill shifted gears to focus on the small screen and took on the titular role in NBC's wizard miniseries Merlin and later Merlin's Apprentice in 2006. But magic couldn't keep Neill enamored for too long. As he demonstrated in his previous works, he had the versatility to play the hero or the villain in a variety of genres. 

In 2007, he turned to the villain in the historical 16th century fictional series The Tudors on Showtime, portraying the powerful Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, Archbishop of York. About the series, Neill summarized it as “above all, about sex."

"Sex drives everything, including Wolsey, who had a mistress," he said. "The vow of celibacy didn’t mean a lot to the good cardinal. Yes, sex drives everything. That’s what makes [the series] such fun.”

Starting in 2013, he also starred in the first two seasons of BBC's post World War II drama Peaky Blinders as the upright constable Chester Campbell.

Other notable projects include the New Zealand dramedy Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016), the TV miniseries Tutankhamun, Marvel's Thor: Ragnorak (2017), and the live-action animation Peter Rabbit (2018), in which he voices the characters Mr. McGregor and Tommy Brock.

Wife and Children

Since 1989, Neill has been married to makeup artist Noriko Watanabe but the couple separated in early 2018. The couple has one daughter. He also has a son from a previous marriage to actress Lisa Harrow.

Most recently, Neill has been dating Australian journalist Lisa Tingle.

Winery & Twitter

Neill has a popular social media presence, most especially through his Twitter account @TwoPaddocks, which is the name of his winery in New Zealand's South Island region where he has been distilling for over 25 years. Neill often shares humorous tweets of everyday life at the winery and his farm animals that reside there.

“[Winemaking] didn’t bring the competitive [streak] out in me,” Neill said in an interview in 2018. “But I really did want to make the best wine in the world — no small ambition for someone who is completely without ambition. I never had an ambitious impulse in my life until I started growing wine. That’s why I put so much energy and devotion and capital into what we do [at Two Paddocks].”

Early Life

Neill was born Nigel John Dermot Neill on September 14, 1947 in Northern Ireland to parents Priscilla and Dermot Neill. His father was a New Zealand army officer and hailed from a prominent New Zealand liquor retailer family.

Neill moved to New Zealand with his family in 1954 and graduated from Victoria University with a degree in English literature. As a child, he had a stuttering issue but eventually grew out of it. Early on, he began going by the name Sam because, according to him, it sounded more approachable and less pretentious than his given name Nigel. 

Fact Check

We strive for accuracy and fairness. If you see something that doesn't look right, contact us!