Sam Neill: The actor on his hatred of cooking, his love of farming and season two of The Twelve

“I’ll bore you all to death with lots more work.”

There was a resounding sigh of relief across Australia when actor Sam Neill made the welcome threat that we’d be seeing plenty more of his face on our screens.

On a balcony in Fremantle, ahead of a day of filming, a glassy-eyed but stoic Neill reassured his followers that he was in remission for angioimmunoblastic T-cell lymphoma following his 2022 diagnosis.

After a “passing remark” he made on ABC’s Australian Story had spiked worry across viewers, Neill was there to reassure.

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His message was short but heartfelt: Neill was off to work for the day but he wanted to let us know that he’s OK, and to please check out the gorgeous geraniums in his background.

entertainment, tv, sam neill: the actor on his hatred of cooking, his love of farming and season two of the twelve

Sam Neill on the Freo balcony, note the geraniums. Credit: Instagram/TheWest

Over 3000 followers of his much-loved 650,000-strong Instagram feed — where he shares everything from a carrot called Rodney foraged from his garden to his grandkids and an array of famous friends — commented on the video post.

Work that day was jumping back into character Brett Colby for season two of The Twelve. He’d been diagnosed with the rare blood cancer during filming of the first season of the hit show, finding solace on set in the people who were up for a chat.

It was fitting that Neill was back with the production in this moment, nearly two years on.

This time, however, there was a brand new cast — including Frances O’Connor, Tasma Walton and one of the funniest people Neill knows, Fayssal Bazzi — and there was a change of scenery too, the shores of Sydney swapped for Western Australia’s oldest inland town: York.

entertainment, tv, sam neill: the actor on his hatred of cooking, his love of farming and season two of the twelve

From The Twelve S2: Nina (Kaila Ferrelli), Brett (Sam Neill), Meredith (Frances O’Connor), Rana (Jennah Bannear). Credit: David Dare Parker

“It’s so bloody vast, Australia — isn’t it?” ponders Neill, 76, as he chats to STM from Sydney.

“There are limitless possibilities of stories from here, and to have the difference of the very kind of urban sophisticated milieu that is explored in the first series and then the very rural small town and big landscape in this one, makes it a very different thing altogether. It was a great advantage to be in Western Australia.”

Of York itself, Neill likes it a lot, describing the “beautiful little town” as having friendly people who were very nice to him.

“It is very quiet, don’t expect any night-life, everything closes at 8pm,” he adds.

Season two of The Twelve follows a successful first instalment, which introduced Neill’s character — the hard-nosed, performative lawyer Colby — to viewers as he represented an artist accused of having murdered her niece. His performance was convincing, but fleeting, as the interweaving stories of the 12 jurors and the solving of the murder took centrestage.

Good on his promise, Neill says we’ll be seeing more of his face the second time round.

“You do see more of Brett Colby, which was fun for me, and his interesting private life,” Neill says. “There was a lot to explore and I think it’s a really rewarding story, people are going to want to watch it to the end and expect a lot of twists and turns on the way.

“A lot of which you might say Colby was instrumental in bringing about.”

Along the same vein as the first season, the series brings together a dozen diverse jurors for a murder trial, their own stories spilling out on-screen alongside the accused that they’re set to determine the fate of.

Set in the fictitious rural town of Tunkwell, the respected town matriarch and wealthy cattle farmer Bernice Price (Kris McQuade, recently on-screen in the award-winning dark comedy, Deadloch) is found dead at the bottom of her farm’s pump well.

entertainment, tv, sam neill: the actor on his hatred of cooking, his love of farming and season two of the twelve

A scene from The Twelve S2, Meredith (Frances O'Connor) and Brett (Sam Neill). Credit: David Dare Parker

We’re quickly introduced to the murder suspects, Bernice’s daughter Sasha Price and her down-and-out employee Patrick Harrows (played by Amy Mathews and Erroll Shand). The two also happen to be ex-lovers.

Colby, representing Harrows, attempts to team up with Meredith Nelson-Moore (who is defending Price), played by the talented Frances O’Connor, who Neill describes as a darling woman and great sparring partner.

Drama ensues as it’s revealed the two share more in common than this small-town case.

When it comes to selecting films or series to work on, Neill has no hard and fast rules but is sure to mull over his tried-and-tested trifecta of considerations: the story, the actors it attracts and the location.

entertainment, tv, sam neill: the actor on his hatred of cooking, his love of farming and season two of the twelve

Sam Neill in Jurassic Park (1993) Credit: Unknown/Supplied

It’s led him on a vast and rich career, and life, much of which he shared in his 2022 memoir, Did I Ever Tell You This? Neill notes there are a bunch more stories he didn’t include, but he can’t see himself writing a follow up.

The actor — who is a recipient of the Order of the British Empire for Services to Acting — has over 100 films and 45 series to his name, from Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park to Academy Award-winning The Piano and Dead Calm alongside Nicole Kidman.

He traumatised audiences in Peaky Blinders alongside friend Cillian Murphy and recently brought Australian author Liane Moriarty’s book Apples Never Fall to life alongside Annette Bening.

“There is no real plan: if something pops up, an offer I get that I think ‘this is not something I shouldn’t turn down’, then I’m on the plane,” he says.

“I always love addressing a new project and new character and being with a bunch of new actors, usually in a new place, like Western Australia.”

entertainment, tv, sam neill: the actor on his hatred of cooking, his love of farming and season two of the twelve

Neill with friend and Academy Award winner Cillian Murphy. Credit: Instagram

As of late, it’s been crime stories that have drawn him into not just working on but watching them at home. Neill lists outback mystery film Limbo with Simon Baker, The Dry with Eric Bana, all of the Mystery Road seasons and most recently the “just wonderful” Boy Swallows Universe, as some of his favourites.

“They (Australian crime shows) are distinguished from American crime stories that often have a lot of violence,” he says.

“Australia tends to explore story a little better. The English are very funny with murder stories, they all seem to be in pretty little places with people who play croquet, with ministers of a church and the local squire and things, terrible murders happen, but it’s weirdly comfort television.

“You go to bed feeling so much better about things because the murders have been cleared up, the English are different when it comes to crime.”

Away from the big screen, Neill can be found at his farm in New Zealand’s Central Otago.

He’s fresh off three months at the sweeping property when he talks to STM, summer and autumn proving fruitful for his grapevines — Neill founded Two Paddocks wines in 1993.

entertainment, tv, sam neill: the actor on his hatred of cooking, his love of farming and season two of the twelve

A fruitful forage from Neill's veggie garden. Credit: Instagram

“It was lovely to be there through a whole season and a half and see all of the colours turn,” Neill reflects.

“My orchards and my veggie gardens were all very productive this year, it’s such a different sort of life than being in a hotel and working in a studio.”

Despite being surrounded by fresh produce, some of which social media reveals he turns into jars of apricot and gooseberry jam, there is an element of acting involved in these posts.

“Well the cooking is satirical because I can’t cook for nuts,” he laughs. “I’m puzzled as to why people find cooking relaxing, it gives me terrible anxiety, getting things ready at the same time and burning everything.

entertainment, tv, sam neill: the actor on his hatred of cooking, his love of farming and season two of the twelve

Of all his bosses, Neill enjoys being his own the most. Credit: JOHN TSIAVIS

“I find it the least enjoyable thing possible, but entirely necessary, you’ve got to eat.”

There is something about being on his land, his own boss, that Neill finds very appealing.

“When you are working on a film it’s someone else’s creation, if you like, it’s someone else’s thing and you’re there to serve that, and so this is honourable (being on the farm),” he says.

“When you’re on your own land, with your own animals, there’s something you’ve done yourself, I really enjoy that.

“Saying that, it was about five degrees below when I left.”

In the Australian Story segment that evoked such a visceral emotion from viewers, Neill mentioned he’s not particularly interested in cancer as dying would be annoying because he’s got more to do.

When asked what he’d like to achieve, he’s quick with an answer, though his plans might not be what you’d expect.

“It’s not so much achieving, I’ve created this new garden around this house I’ve just built and every year to see it get more mature and grow into what it should be I find a wonderful thing,” he says.

“Being under the shade of a tree that was yay high when I planted it, I’ve planted thousands of trees over the years, these give me as much satisfaction as anything. Not just because they’re beautiful in their own right but they attract birds, and birds are perhaps my favourite thing on the planet.”

The Twelve S2 premieres on July 11 on Binge and is available on Hubbl.

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