Charming New Zealand actor Sam Neill has confronted just about every form of onscreen menace and challenge. Giant CGI dinosaurs in Jurassic Park? Check. Massive nuclear submarines threatening destruction in The Hunt For Red October? Check. Viscous shapeshifting creature borne of the psychosexual trauma of a failing marriage? Check. (Seriously, go watch Possession, it’s so good.) But it seems the normally unflappable actor might have finally been made flappable—and all it took was performing wannabe Shakespearean nonsense on a distant planet for a false king.
In a recent interview with Collider, Neill was asked about his role in Thor: Ragnarok, the third (and clearly best) installment of the Thor films, where he portrayed an actor in a stage play recounting the fictional story of Loki as a noble, heroic savior of Asgard—presumably written by the God of Mischief himself, of course. The actor was posed a question: Was he playing an Asgardian actor, or did Loki actually go to Earth and recruit great actors to play the roles of his family and associates in this dramatic exercise in self-aggrandizement? (It’s a fair query, given Matt Damon is also there, playing Loki himself, though Luke Hemsworth playing his brother Chris’ role as Thor suggests maybe it wasn’t necessarily a hunt for the best actors.)
Now, director Taiki Waititi has already sort of answered this, saying that Loki wanted to “get the most talented actors he could, the biggest stars of Asgardian theatre, to come and do this thing.” But Neill, god bless him, not only had no idea whether he was playing an Asgardian or himself in the film—he wasn’t entirely sure what was happening, other than reciting some lines in a bad stage play. His take: “I’m not really entirely nerdishly [into] the Marvel franchise.” Fair enough! Tell us more:
I was completely baffled by so many things. I went with friends who sort of knew a bit more than me. I was like, “Do you know what planet we’re on at the moment? Is that Hopkins or was that Loki?” And they were explaining it, they said, “You’re in the film! Why do we have to explain it to you?” I said, “Because I’m a bit lost. I’m truly lost here.” I shouldn’t really confess to that. I should really know what’s going on. [Laughs] It is a strange—it looks like Tony Hopkins, but it’s not!
That’s true! It’s not Tony Hopkins! Well, it is, but he’s playing someone who’s not Tony Hopkins. (Sorry, we can’t do this; he’s Sir Anthony Hopkins, thank you very much. Maybe if we ever meet him, we’ll be comfortable slipping into using “Tony,” but not right now.) He’s probably just having a laugh, but this theoretically adds a new layer of consideration: Does Sam Neill usually just assume people are playing themselves? Does he watch Bicentennial Man and think, “Hey, that looks like Robin Williams, but it seems to be a robot?” If so, he’s even more impressive of an actor than we already thought. Regardless, you probably shouldn’t get your hopes up for a return appearance of his Asgardian thespian in Thor: Love And Thunder. But if he does somehow turn up, try and suss out if he’s reciting lines or just having a chat with his acting buddies.
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