One of the many defining images of Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park involves Sam Neill’s Dr. Alan Grant and Laura Dern’s Dr. Ellie Sattler gazing in awe at the sight of a Brachiosaurus. While Spielberg directed Neill to turn Dern’s head in the direction of the massive dinosaur, he still gave his two stars plenty of free rein as they performed that unforgettable reaction sequence. In fact, when Dr. Grant eventually gets lightheaded and weak in the knees, that was a suggestion that Neill himself made on the day.

In 2018’s Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, the fifth installment in the Jurassic franchise, the beloved Brachiosaurus from the 1993 film perished as a result of a volcanic eruption on Isla Nublar, and Neill, until now, was unaware that it was the same Brachiosaurus that bowled Grant and Sattler over in 1993.

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“I didn’t know it was the same one. Well, that is heartbreaking. Such a sweet creature,” Neill tells The Hollywood Reporter during his recent press day for Jurassic World Dominion.

Neill last appeared as Dr. Grant in Jurassic Park III (2001), and the conditions for his return in Jurassic World Dominion, Colin Trevorrow’s concluding chapter of both Jurassic trilogies, were completely understandable.

“Look, I wanted to make sure that our characters were well served and that it wouldn’t be a nominal return and that we wouldn’t be glorified cameos. I wanted to make sure that we’d actually be intrinsic to everything that was going on. So I sat down with Colin and had a lovely lunch. He’s extremely persuasive. He was also reassuring in that our characters would all be well served. We weren’t just being reunited for the sake of it. So from then on, I was as keen as mustard.”

Neill is also looking ahead to next month’s Thor: Love and Thunder as he reprises the role of “Actor Odin,” alongside Luke Hemsworth’s “Actor Thor” and Matt Damon’s “Actor Loki.” Despite their characters appearing on the same stage in Thor: Ragnarok, Neill never actually worked with Damon, so he was thrilled to get the opportunity to do so on the Thor 4 set.

“It was a day out at the beach with all those Hemsworths and Matt Damon, of course. The first time we did this [in Thor: Ragnarok], Matt Damon was in the scene, dying or something, but we didn’t shoot with Matt Damon. So I don’t know how he turned up in that first film, but in [Thor: Love and Thunder], there he was, larger than life. So I was very pleased to meet him.”

In a recent conversation with THR, Neill also discussed his friendship with Jurassic co-star Jeff Goldblum and how enjoyable he made their hotel quarantine experience.

Sam Neill, welcome back to Jurassic Park.

Thank you so much!

I can’t believe I just said that.

(Laughs.)

So once the Jurassic World films kicked off in 2015, did you expect a return invitation at some point? Did this homecoming feel inevitable?

No, this came as a complete surprise. I mean, the Jurassic World franchise was a complete rethink of everything with a completely fresh cast and a whole different way of going about things. And really, my character was, if anything, a dim memory. (Laughs.) Or at best, a name that possibly passed someone’s lips around the campfire at night. But no, I didn’t imagine seeing Alan Grant or the other two, what they call, legacy characters coming back at all. I didn’t foresee that, no.

Did you have any reservations about coming back?

Look, I wanted to make sure that our characters were well served and that it wouldn’t be a nominal return and that we wouldn’t be glorified cameos. I wanted to make sure that we’d actually be intrinsic to everything that was going on. I met Colin [Trevorrow] at the Sitges Film Festival. It’s a niche sci-fi, fantasy and horror festival that they have once a year in Spain at Sitges, and they were nice enough to give me a lifetime award. So Colin came along to that and said, “Let’s have lunch and talk about what we’re doing next year.” I’d already caught wind that this was being discussed with agents and so on, but I was on holiday so I wasn’t giving it too much thought. So I sat down with Colin and had a lovely lunch. He’s extremely persuasive. He was also reassuring in that our characters would all be well served. We weren’t just being reunited for the sake of it. So from then on, I was as keen as mustard.

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Dr. Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern) and Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill) in Jurassic World Dominion. Courtesy of Universal Pictures and Amblin Entertainment

What is Grant up to when we meet him again?

(Laughs.) He’s doing what he always does. First of all, he’s a crusty old bachelor and that hasn’t changed in 30 years. Second of all, he’s out in the desert and he’s doing what he does best, which is digging up bones and, ideally, discovering new species. He’s turned his back on a new world in which dinosaurs are so much a part of human existence. He’s always regarded all of that as something of an aberration. So he is in his crusty tent doing his crusty digging. He’s a scientist. He believes in facts. And then one day, over the horizon, returns the love of his life, Ellie Sattler [Laura Dern], and you know it’s going to be trouble.

Per the trailer, it seems like Alan and Ellie haven’t seen each other in a while. Has their relationship in these intervening years actually been quite distant?

It’s been very distant. She has her family. She’s brought up the kids. They’ve grown up. She’s now divorced. She’s a single woman, but she has no interest, I think it’s fair to say, in anything romantic with this old codger because she’s been here before. Alan, however, the flame is still burning for the love of his life. (Laughs.) She’s the great regret of his life, and should this develop into anything romantic, he could not be a happier man.

During my research, I was rather surprised to see that people still debate whether Grant and Sattler were romantically involved in the first film or not. To me, it was quite clear that they were, but how did you approach it at the time?

Oh, I think they were very romantically involved. She was rather younger than him, so I’m not sure if these days you’d regard it as suitable. (Laughs.) But no, they were a hot item.

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Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill) and Dr. Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern) in Jurassic World Dominion. Courtesy of Universal Pictures and Amblin Entertainment

How long did it take you to feel like Grant again? When did everything click into place?

Look, playing Alan Grant is like breathing to me. It’s so familiar, and he’s got the same grumbles as he ever did. Ian Malcolm [Jeff Goldblum] brings out the worst in him. (Laughs.) He’s quietly jealous of how cool Malcolm is. He’s got those swivel hips. (Laughs.) And the last thing Alan Grant is is cool. He’s just an old paleontologist who does what he does. And any time Ian Malcolm is anywhere near Ellie Sattler, he’s not going to be a happy camper. (Laughs.)

So have you kept in touch with Goldblum and Laura over the years? Do you send them gifts from your vineyard, Two Paddocks?

They’re not drinkers, those two, disappointingly. I actually counted my first grapes the year that we shot Jurassic, so it was ‘92, I think. So it’s been 30 years now of being in the wine business, but they’re into smoothies and things. Cold-pressed juices. They’re very healthy people. Mind you, I’d say, hurriedly, that I produce very healthy organic wine. So, you know, sorry for them.

I’ve seen the delightful quarantine videos you made with Goldblum. Were you guys this chummy back in ‘92?

I think this has brought us closer together by necessity. Look, we all became very close surviving Hurricane Iniki, which nearly killed us [on Jurassic Park] in ‘92. So we had three weeks in Kauai before mother nature destroyed all of our sets and we had to flee back to L.A. But yeah, I think we became particularly close on this one. We had lots of spare time, and I just find Jeff immensely entertaining. It was a lot of fun to have someone who can get on the piano and have a bit of a sing-along, maybe a dance or two, because we were in a beleaguered position in that [quarantine] hotel. We were never allowed to go to London or anything, so we had to provide our own entertainment. And what more fun could you have than Jeff Goldblum and all those other idiots?

Did Covid protocols make it impossible for Steven Spielberg to visit the set and have a reunion with everyone?

Yeah, we heard from Steven, but remotely. So I’m looking forward to seeing him in the next few months, hopefully.

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Sam Neill and Laura Dern in Jurassic Park, 1993. Universal/courtesy Everett Collection

In the original film, you and Laura created one of the greatest reaction sequences in film history. Of course, I’m talking about the opening reveal of the Brachiosaurus. Do you recall the note or direction that Spielberg gave you ahead of those takes?

Not particularly. I think he pretty much left it to us such as Alan Grant taking his glasses off. He told me to screw Laura’s head around so that she could concentrate on what was going on, but the reactions he pretty much left to us. I suggested something, which is an illustration of how I was never an action hero. (Laughs.) I said to Steven, “Look, after a lifetime of imagining dinosaurs, to actually see a dinosaur, Alan Grant just might flat out faint.” (Laughs.) And Steven said, “Yeah, okay.” So that’s why you see me stagger around and I have to sit down and put my head between my legs. (Laughs.) I thought, “That’s actually a human reaction,” so I’m glad he was open to that.

Were you aware that they killed that very Brachiosaurus in Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom? It was a heartbreaking moment.

I didn’t know it was the same one.

The director, J.A. Bayona, confirmed it, so I hate to be the one to break the bad news to you.

Well, that is heartbreaking. Such a sweet creature. Was that when they were escaping the volcano and it’s screaming from the water?

That’s the one.

What a heartbreaking scene.

Are you also attuned to how much the Internet loves your dream sequence in Jurassic Park III?

(Laughs.) Isn’t it funny? I mean, you go to work, you do your lines and then you go home again. And then 20 or 30 years later, you realize that a line or whatever it was you did that day has become lodged in popular culture. (Laughs.) That’s something you could never predict. It’s an odd one, isn’t it?

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Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum), Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill), Dr. Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern), Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), Maisie Lockwood (Isabella Sermon) and Kayla Watts (DeWanda Wise) in Jurassic World Dominion. Courtesy of Universal Pictures and Amblin Entertainment

It’s been 20-plus years since you last made one of these films. What was the biggest adjustment you had to make as far as the filmmaking process?

I don’t think there was any particular adjustment we had to make. The only concessions we made to what we’d normally do were all the protocols around, of course, the Covid business. So we were working under very constrained conditions. We were all locked up in this hotel for four or five months. I worked with a crew that I got to know really well, but I wouldn’t be able to recognize them if I passed them in the street because they were always masked. So that was the only adjustment. We had to work out how to make a film under these circumstances. And we were, for quite a while, the only film production in the world that was actually turning over. So the rest of the world’s film community was looking to us to see if it was possible to make a film at that time, and I’m glad to say we pulled it off.

Looking ahead to July, you’re reprising your role of “Actor Odin” in Thor: Love and Thunder. Did you enjoy this latest reunion with Taika Waititi?

Well, it’s always fun to see Taika. It was a day out at the beach with all those Hemsworths and Matt Damon, of course. I’m not really familiar with the Marvel universe, but we play players within the play. So we’re playing versions of Thor and all the rest. And the first time we did this [in Thor: Ragnarok], Matt Damon was in the scene, dying or something, but we didn’t shoot with Matt Damon. (Laughs.) So I don’t know how he turned up in that first film, but in this last one, there he was, larger than life. So I was very pleased to meet him.

Has Anthony Hopkins ever sent you any feedback regarding your Odin?

Not at all, and to be absolutely honest with you, I wasn’t doing Hopkins at all. I just remembered one or two elderly thespians very early in my career. (Laughs.) They were these broody old actors who would sound off in Shakespeare. My god, they were boring. So I was really just copying them, but I never thought I would go down the Hopkins route.

Lastly, I have to tell you how much I enjoyed your relentless Peaky Blinders character. Did that experience reinforce to you that film and television are both equally rewarding in this day and age?

When I first started getting work on film, I was doing the odd miniseries here and there all the time. I mean, it was very nonkosher then. It was thought that if you were a big-screen actor, never, never go near the small screen. It was like catching chlamydia or something. You were tainted. But I didn’t give a damn. Actually, I’m far more interested in seeing a good series than seeing so many films, and I can tell you a couple that I just think are extraordinary. There’s an Israeli one called Shtisel, which I think is one of the greatest things I’ve ever seen. And Babylon Berlin, the German series. The sheer scale of Babylon Berlin, the intimacy of Shtisel, no films are doing that stuff now. (Laughs.) So, yes, absolutely. I was very happy with Peaky Blinders, and I loved playing that horrible character. (Laughs.) I enjoyed every minute of it.

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Jurassic World Dominion opens in theaters on June 10. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Hollywood Reporter Original Article

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