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Making wine and films all in a day's job for Sam Neill
SAM Neill doesn't think his latest film Hunt for the Wilderpeople is a comedy per se.
"This movie is often described as that but I don't think it's a comedy although it's very funny," says the 69-year-old actor. "It's not about bridesmaids getting drunk and falling over; it's actually about more serious things like an abandoned child and a grieving man - and there is nothing funny about that."
At the risk of sounding like the grumpy widower Uncle Hec which Neill plays, the Kiwi actor makes a very valid point. "There are very serious issues running through the whole thing but (director Taika Waititi) is a genius at the way he's treated it with comic relief," Neill explains. "There are some very sad people in the film - marginalised people who also happen to be very funny."
The low budget coming-of-age road movie - made on a shoestring budget of NZ$3 million (S$3.02 million) - has clearly struck a chord with audiences at home where it has earned over NZ$12 million to become New Zealand's highest-grossing film of all time.
Both Neill and Waititi will reunite on next year's Marvel superhero flick Thor: Ragnarok, which the latter will direct. The film is the second sequel in the Thor movie franchise.
Hunt for the Wilderpeople's heartwarming plot revolves around the unlikely friendship between a cantankerous old man (Neill) and a loud-mouthed juvenile delinquent (Julian Dennison).
The film is adapted from the book Wild Pork and Watercress (1986) by Barry Crump, a Kiwi household name whose comic novels have sold over a million copies domestically.
Neill admits he has never read that particular title but grew up with other Crump books: "He was sort of a real-life Uncle Hec who drank a lot but was a good storyteller. I would imagine a revived interest in his works (because of the film), especially from the younger generation."
While Neill, who is best known for appearing in Jurassic Park (1993), The Piano (1993) and TV's Peaky Blinders (2013-2014), confesses he is not "as bush-y" as Uncle Hec, he is comfortable with the great outdoors ("I go fishing every year!").
That also might have something to do with the fact that off-camera, Neill is the owner of four vineyards in New Zealand which produce world-class pinot under the Two Paddocks label. The wine is available in Singapore. His family has been in the wine and spirits business for about a century and a half.
Two Paddocks is also Neill's adopted Twitter handle and the actor admits he is "mildly addicted" to the social networking platform. "It's a character failing of mine and my short attention span," he half-jests. "I don't get Facebook or Snapchat but Twitter suits me because I like that people have to be concise and witty within a very limited space."
He is also not shy about using it to promote his works ("I think it's OK to wave a small flag every now and then.") and unlike most celebrities on social media who barely ever acknowledge their fans and followers, Neill is known to reply now and then.
So for anybody who has an opinion about Hunt for the Wilderpeople, he adds: "I'd like to get their feedback ... on Twitter!"
- Hunt for the Wilderpeople is screening exclusively at The Projector