And on December 4, he’ll have another one for the mantelpiece, as he is presented with AACTA’s Longford Lyell Award for outstanding contribution to the Australian screen industry, described by the academy as “Australia’s highest screen accolade”.
“It’s very nice of people to think of one at all, let alone to give you an award for hanging around long enough,” the 72-year-old actor, producer and winemaker says. “You might want to call them and see if they’ve made a mistake, though, given I’m a New Zealander.”
Neill in fact started out as a director of documentaries, dabbling in his spare time in acting roles in short films being made by friends. In recent years, he’s returned to the documentary format, producing and presenting Why Anzac With Sam Neill in 2015 and the six-part series The Pacific: In the Wake of Captain Cook last year.
This last was a massive undertaking that kept him away from acting for a year, but he’s keen to do it again. “It was a real blast, an eye-opener and a great voyage of discovery for me,” he says of the series that retraced the journeys of Cook and examined the lasting impact thereof. “I’m completely fascinated by the Pacific, and there’s so much more to do there.”
But he has absolutely no desire to be the person calling the shots again. “Directing is such hard work and I’m fundamentally a lazy person, so I’m happy for someone else to carry that burden.”
The award comes at an interesting time for the local film and television industry, Neill notes. “We’re in a very interesting period of flux,” he says, referring to the proliferation of streaming platforms, the challenges to the free-to-air and subscription TV models, and the threat posed to the movie theatre business.
He remains “a great advocate for cinema”, he says. “Watching Ride Like a Girl with an audience, there’s no substitute for that.”
And he’s an advocate too for creatives who’ve been lured overseas remaining loyal to their roots, and giving back whenever they can.
“Hollywood is a great drain of talent, and I do encourage that talent to come back from time to time and reinvest in Australian cinema,” he says.
“It’s very important for any country that it has its own culture, its own painters and poets and filmmakers and actors. No country is worth a damn without its own culture.”
The 2019 AACTA Awards will be presented at The Star in Sydney on December 4, and telecast at 8.30pm on Seven, with an encore screening on Foxtel Arts
Karl Quinn is a senior culture writer at The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.