One of the interesting things about Sundance is the mishmash of famous people that you never, ever would imagine interacting. Like, for instance, Sam Neill and Nick Jonas. Well, technically, it was Nick Jonas’ chair that Sam Neill had accidentally sat in before feeling the wrath of Nick Jonas’ manager – which is a funny for about 30 reasons – and, if nothing else, Sam Neill now knows who Nick Jonas is in a story that he tells ahead.
Neill is at Sundance in support of Hunt for the Wilderpeople, a New Zealand-based comedy (from director Takia Waititi, best known for Flight of the Conchords, What We Do in the Shadows and will be directing the upcoming Thor: Ragnarok) about a troubled young foster child named Ricky (Julian Dennison) and his relationship with his foster uncle, Hec (Neill), as they are both on the run from authorities after a few misunderstandings.
I met Neill on the top floor of a bar off Park City’ Main Street. In person, Neill is surprisingly reserved at first – very polite, but also seems to be trying to figure out what to make of me in a, “what’s this guy’s angle here.” But once he starts going, Neill is hilarious, with a dry humor and an infectious laugh.
Ahead, Neill tells us some stories about his Sundance experience so far (including, yes, his run in with a pop singer’s chair) and what he thought of Jurassic World — and it turns out Neill has some of the same questions that a lot of people had.
The reaction to Hunt for the Widerpeople has been really positive.
I have to say, that screening, people standing up, you never get that. You never see that. So, such a cool audience reaction. I’m just really blown way.
Is that unusual for you?
I don’t remember a standing ovation for a movie before. Except for The Piano. The Piano really got it.
Not even Jurassic Park?
I don’t remember people standing for that. Maybe they did. But then again, I was standing beside Princess Diana. They were probably standing for her. When royalty stands, you stand too.
I was informed you had a run-in with a Jonas Brothers’ chair yesterday.
I’d like to hear that story.
This guy said, “No, I’m sorry, this is my client’s chair.” We’re in a bar! [Laughs] I said, “I’m very sorry. Who is your client?” He said…
Nick Jonas. Yeah. Thank you. So I said, “This is a big star! I’m certainly not going to sit in that guy’s chair.”
Did this person know who you are?
I have no idea.
Did you ever think about pulling a, “Do you know who I am?”
[Laughs] I would never do that in a month of Sundays.
Did you know who Nick Jonas was?
But you do now.
He’s a big star!
Now you know, do not sit in his chair.
I’m never going near any of his fucking chairs again.
I also heard when you walk down the street here, people want to meet you.
Oh. Yeah, that’s nice.
I’m glad you’re enjoying that.
Well, particularly when I’m walking down the street with Julian now to this interview, there’s so much love on the street for Julian.
Did you have a pretty good idea while filming that this was going to be a special film?
I knew this would be special, partly because I like Taika’s stuff so much. I like the script, and just sometimes you think, if this works, it’s going to be a special thing. Sometimes it doesn’t work, and sometimes things surprise you … It’s a very New Zealand film. [Takia Waititi is sitting near us and Neill overhears him] He’s talking about me, Christ.
In these Sundance interview setups, you can always overhear.
“That Sam Neill’s such an asshole.”
That’s not what I heard. I don’t think that’s what he said.
If you tell a great story about a village, the whole world understands. That’s my hope is that it’s a very New Zealand story, but it has universal things that people attach to.
And when they all did Flight of the Conchords, America’s been slowly weaned on New Zealand humor all these years now, and then What We Do In the Shadows.
Well, nothing would have surprised me more — I mean nothing did surprise me more that — I mean, we love Flight of the Conchords because it’s so downbeat and so New Zealand and so self-effacing. But you could have knocked me over with a feather that Americans actually took to it.
You didn’t expect that?
No, not in a month of Sundays. It’s so New Zealand in every possible way.
Why has it taken so long for you to join in on this?
Well, I’m not really known for comedy.
Well maybe now you will be.
And I don’t think this is a comedy, either.
I laughed at a lot.
But it’s funny. Yeah. I think it’s about kind of relationships.
And now Taika is directing the next Thor movie.
Yeah, I just hope he’s not lost forever in the world of massive movies.
I hope he still has time to do both.
That’s because of his unique voice. You don’t want to lose that unique voice.
You’ve obviously been part of huge blockbusters. Do you give him tips on that?
No, I have no tips. And I don’t have a unique voice, and Taika does.
Yes you do. People love you.
No, no, no. I just fit in with whatever’s going on.
Look at you. You’re like the most relaxed guy in the world. And you’re in this great movie, you’re getting standing ovations, you’re getting kicked out of Nick Jonas’ seat. You’re having a week. It’s a good week for you.
[Laughs] That’s funny.
When Jurassic World came out, was that something you felt that you had to see?
I was very curious to see it and I’m happy to see it, and I thought they did a really good job. And the actors were real good.
When you were watching it, are you just like, “My character has been through this twice. Why are they still hanging out with those creatures?”
I can’t run as fast as those guys anymore. Even with high heels. I’d be left for dead.
They referenced the first movie a lot.
They certainly referenced it a lot.
They didn’t want to just forget it exists.
Yeah, I think it was respectful.
There were t-shirts with “Jurassic Park” on it.
Right. Boy, what did the English girl do wrong? She got eaten by like three dinosaurs at once. Was she on the phone too much? She did something really wrong.
Right. I have no idea. Why did she deserve that? I get why Wayne Knight met a bad fate in the first film…
And you could see poor old Sam Jackson was going to get it, because he’s a smoker. Smokers always die. And the lawyer.
I didn’t know that smokers always die.
Smokers always die, yeah.
But yeah, when I was watching “Jurassic World,” this poor women. Yeah, she’s on the phone a lot, but this seems like…
It wasn’t that big a crime.
I thought she was a perfectly fine human being…
Just ripped her to bits.
Yeah, that’s the one scene I didn’t get. The high heels was a big controversy…
I’m fine with high heels. I like people being eaten. And if you’re going to be eaten, you may as well do it spectacularly.
That’s a good point.
Yeah. Just pull her into the pool and she gets eaten underwater? No.
No, she gets three different dinosaurs coming at her.
Let’s shock the entire crowd. He’s a great leading man, by the way.
Yeah. Terrific. He’s got the bike-riding skills.
What’s your story with United Passions, the FIFA movie? How did that all happen? I saw that movie, and it’s the weirdest thing.
You saw it?
I was one of the eight people who saw it, yeah.
[Laughing] I was playing a corrupt guy there.
You were playing a corrupt guy, which was accurate. Tim Roth’s character, Sepp Blatter, came off looking pretty good. Then that movie came out right when Sepp Blatter’s getting in trouble.
Couldn’t have been timed worse. And maybe the schadenfreude has begun to fade. [Laughing] Boy, there was a lot of that.
Not against you. No one held it against you.
Except Nick Jonas. Maybe that’s what happened, he saw United Passions.
What did I do to the Jonas Brothers? That’s hilarious.
Mike Ryan lives in New York City and has written for The Huffington Post, Wired, Vanity Fair and New York magazine. He is senior entertainment writer at Uproxx. You can contact him directly on Twitter.