Sam Neill on His Transition to TV: 'Not a Lot of Good Writing in the Movies at the Moment.'


At yesterday's TCAs, Sam Neill was one of the more established actors shuffling between the Langley Hotel ballroom, lobby, and green room. The 62-year-old actor's resume is padded with gems like Jurassic Park and The Piano, but he's the latest to take trek to television the upcoming series Happy Town, ABC's midseason replacement about the strange goings-on in a small town. Sound a little like, oh, Twin Peaks? Neill argued at the conference that the show was more a mix of "Thornton Wilder and Hitchcock." Movieline caught up with the actor to discuss his jump to the small screen.

Of the notable names who moved from cinema to primetime, Neill's Piano co-star Holly Hunter rings most prominent. But Neill says that any thespian who make the transition earns his respect, especially since he says the overall quality of screenplays has diminished.

"There's a hardly an actor in the world I don't admire. If they're good enough to do it, they've got my vote," Neill said. "It's interesting that you're seeing a lot of significant actors like Holly Hunter move to television. Because there's not a lot of good writing in the movies at the moment. That's the truth of it. And television is getting more and more interesting, certainly American television. When you look at what's being done on Showtime and HBO and ABC and so on, it's a new ballgame. Actors like good writing."

He added that he's found himself watching more television in the past decade, and his taste seems pretty refined.

"I love Mad Men and I love Arrested Development, and a bunch of shows that are so good," he said. "What's that one? 30 Rock! I knew there was a number in there somewhere. "

As for comparing his new series Happy Town to a Thornton Wilder play, Neill emphasized that the show hits at the suburban core of Americana. The pacing of Happy Town, he clarifies, is much speedier than a solemn funeral in Our Town's Grover's Corners.

"I think it cooks along at a reasonable pace," he said. "You won't have to sit too long to wait enough for a good fright." ♦


  • ZombieStrike says:

    "...there's not a lot of good writing in the movies at the moment"? Or does he mean that none of the well-written scripts have parts for hammy, scene-chewing character actors with smug-but-dumb-as-pie faces? "Event Horizon," "In The Mouth of Madness," "Bicentennial Man," are those the kinds of films Sam Neill thinks were well written and there aren't more of at the moment? TV can have him, then. I look forward to ABC pulling the show after three episodes.