Sam Neill is the latest international movie star to come to American network television. He’s done cable’s The Tudors and a limited series called Crusoe, but Happy Town could nab Neill for 22 episodes a year. The first eight premiere this month on ABC.
Sam Neill Lives in Happy Town
“This is a very big tapestry that's being sewn here, and some of those threads are dark, and I like those dark threads,” Neill said. “I also love stories about communities and this is a story with many characters and some really, really very interesting characters, and I think I play one of those. It was that character, first of all, that attracted me. Also, I thought this was very original stuff I was reading. When you're an actor, you pray for originality, and I think that's what we've got.”
Neill plays Merritt Grieves, the proprietor of a movie memorabilia shop and the playboy of a retirement home. “I thought that I, in common with one or two other people, have kind of made themselves up to an extent. I don't think my guy is from Manchester at all. He's come to this town and set up a movie-memorabilia shop in a place where no one is interested in the movies, let alone memorabilia. This is kind of an unlikely thing to do. But he obviously clearly loves old movies and loves old actors. There are certain actors from the black-and-white days that he kind of admires and has sort of synthesized some of those things into his own persona. So I had in the back of my mind people like James Mason and some of those more saturnine English actors that people who watch black-and-white movies know.”
As the mysteries of Happy Town are revealed, Neill’s own ideas may be proven wrong. “None of us quite knew whether we were bad guys or good guys. So we had to leave things a little ambivalent. But I think there's a terrible sort of truth about that in that most people walking through their lives, we don't know what's going to happen next, in the same way that these people do. So that's kind of a novel way of approaching stuff. Similarly, I'm sure most of us in this room aren't entirely sure whether we're good guys or bad guys. I don't know about you.”
The spooky show has been compared to Twin Peaks or the work of Stephen King. Neill has his own references. “There's been a lot of talk about Stephen King and <B>Twin Peaks</b> but let's think about for a minute the precursors for those people. Life didn't start there. I'm older than that and I'm thinking sort of Thornton Wilder with Hitchcock. It's interesting people talking about whether this terminates after eight hours, and it certainly is self-contained, but I think really what we've done is set down a fantastic platform. This tapestry will only get more and more elaborate and more and more intricate and fascinating. I'm very much looking forward to an enlightened ABC bringing us back because we had such a great time doing it. I loved it.”