Hollywood stars including Nicole Kidman, Bryan Brown, Susan Sarandon, Laura Dern and Taika Waititi all paid tribute to Sam Neill as he accepted his Ryman Healthcare Equity Lifetime Achievement Award.
About 200 guests including 20 Ryman residents and staff, were at the ASB Waterfront Theatre at Wynyard Quarter in Auckland for Sam’s tribute night.
The acting legend received the award for his 50-year career which has included 82 films and 45 television shows.
Sam thanked Ryman Healthcare for the award and for being a strong supporter of the arts in New Zealand.
“I am blown away by this award, I am honoured, particularly because it comes from my peers, from my fellow actors, and that means so much to me.’’
Sam said he was proud to be an actor, because actors were empathetic, brave and intelligent people in a precarious profession.
Actors reflected humanity in the roles they played.
They were also – no matter how well they did – crippled with self-doubt and always asked themselves – ‘am I really any good?’
However, Sam enjoyed his moment in the spotlight.
“It is traditional to say at these things I am humbled, but I really don’t know what that means.
“I am so full of myself I don’t think I’ll fit in my pyjamas tonight. I will overflow my pyjamas. For those of you under 50 pyjamas are what old people like me wear to bed.’’
Sam Neill is the most distinguished New Zealand actor of his generation, building a sustained career in Hollywood and still finding time to work locally, and to support Kiwi actors.
Video tributes from Hollywood A listers and Sam Neill fans were played and there was also live entertainment from dedicated fan Tim Finn and his children.
In her clip Hollywood star Nicole Kidman said she’d known Sam a lifetime.
She first met him as a 17-year-old on the set of Dead Calm and he had taken her under his wing.
“I think you’re the ant’s pants Sam,’’ she said.
Susan Sarandon said Sam was a joy to work with - humble, inventive, and lovely.
“You were part of the two happiest marriages I have ever been in,’’ Susan said.
Laura Dern, who starred with Sam in Jurassic Park, said no-one worked harder and was more professional than Sam.
“And you’re a bad ass,’’ she said.
Australia actor Bryan Brown described Sam as ‘a talented bugger’ but quickly added that he had always made Sam look far better than he was.
He also praised Sam for being so proud of his country, although moaned about the way Sam made him watch the All Blacks.
Taika Waititi said he was incredibly proud of Sam.
The Kiwi actor and director took credit for turning Sam into a star.
“I plucked you from obscurity to star in a low budget film with me for basically nothing. I made your career.
“You’re the favourite of the many old white men I have worked with.’’
Julian Dennison, who starred with Sam in Hunt for the Wilderpeople, said Sam had been a wonderful mentor.
“He took me aside and said always be yourself, work hard and push through.’’
Tim Finn performed two songs for his old friend and told the audience Sam’s gift for friendship was as great as his gift for acting.
Equity president Jennifer Ward-Lealand said the award would not be possible without Ryman’s support.
Ryman has supported the Lifetime Achievement Award since its inception five years ago.
Sam’s career as an actor is remarkable, but what makes this award so special is that it recognises much more than career success,” said Jennifer.
“It acknowledges those members of our industry who give back at every opportunity, who strive to use their influence for important causes and who continually inspire their peers with their good will and humility. Sam leads by example. This award pays tribute to who he is as a person, as much it does his extraordinary talent.”
Previous winners are George Henare, Ken Blackburn, Elizabeth McRae and Dame Kate Harcourt.