“Jane is a very caring director for her cast and was always there to hug me when I was at my lowest,” Neill said of the Oscar-winning actress.
Jane Campion had to comfort Sam Neill on the set of “The Piano”.
Neill wrote in his forthcoming memoir “Did I Ever Tell You This?” that his collaboration with Campion was one of the highlights of his career as “An Angel at My Table” was “without a doubt for me the most important film made to date in New Zealand”.
“Of course I’d work with Jane in a heartbeat,” Neill wrote, calling Campion a “wonderful collaborator” during the 1993 movie “The Piano.” However, the production proved particularly “lonely” for Neill given his character’s relationship with the other cast members, as Neill’s Alisdair had a rocky marriage to Holly Hunter’s Ada and her young daughter, played by Anna Paquin.
“It was an unusually lonely job for me. Holly and I got on well. But she was necessarily distant. I understand that,” Neill explained. the days that I’m used to, would have been a distraction for her. Playing our scenes together was disturbing for me. I never knew if it was Holly watching Sam or Ada watching Stewart. The boundaries between life and the fiction were fuzzy and it was by no means comfortable.
The ‘Jurassic Park’ actor added, “The famous scene where I drag her through the mud and cut off one of her piano fingers was a big question. Holly is small, but she’s very strong. I I realized from the first take that the struggle to get her out would have to be real. She wasn’t going without a fight… And I have to admit I’m still a little hurt that she insisted on swapping my ax for a rubber replica. I mean, holy shit! Did she really think that I would lose my temper and cut off her finger? I’m laughing as I write this. I’m an actor, not a beast, for heaven’s sake By the third take I was completely exhausted and luckily Jane had what she needed and I didn’t have to fight Holly in the mud and rain machine again, my friends.
Neill summed up, “But it was a curiously lonely acting experience for me. Luckily Jane is a very caring director for her cast and was always there to hug me when I was at my lowest.
“The Piano” was nominated for eight Academy Awards, with Campion winning Best Original Screenplay, Paquin winning Best Supporting Actress and Hunter winning Best Actress. Campion then made history as the third woman to win a Best Director Oscar for ‘The Power of the Dog’ in 2021.
Regarding Neill’s own performance, the actor said, “Nobody notices you much, you’re not nominated for things. But you served. I was there in an important feminist film. I was there on the front line in a major New Zealand film. None of these labels do the movie justice. It’s a work of art. And look, that tiny little figure in the fabric — see over there on the right — that’s me. This is a film that will always have a place in the history of cinema. And I served there.
Neill also took a moment to comment on Campion’s role in movie history based on his gender.
“I’m still puzzled that it seems necessary to point out that Jane is a director. This shouldn’t be unusual,” Neill wrote. “I don’t understand why there are more male directors than female. Nobody seems to think it’s unusual for women to act, for example. I’m going to come forward and say that the women play better than the men. If women directors had parity with men, I think we would find that they are also better at directing. I have always enjoyed working for women and with women. And, yes, now I’m saying it, there’s nothing like being in the scene facing a great woman who works with you, against you, and alongside you. I always raise my game, I think.