“I always think Alan Grant is like an old comfortable pair of boots,” mused Sam Neill as we discussed his return to the multibillion-dollar Jurassic franchise. “They’ve seen better days, but they’re really comfortable, and there’s no way you’ll get rid of those.”
Jurassic World: Dominion sees Neill return as Alan Grant alongside other legacy cast members, Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum. Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard round out the lead cast as the original and current trilogies come together and to a close.
Ahead of the sixth film in the series, which has grossed over $5 billion to date at the worldwide box office, I caught up with the actor to discuss why he decided to return one last time. We also chatted about why Hollywood had all eyes on the film’s pandemic production and what he loves most about his Jurassic journey.
Simon Thompson: To return to the role, you obviously had certain expectations for Jurassic World: Dominion. Did the reality match what was in your mind’s eye when you saw it?
Sam Neill: I only saw it for the first time a few weeks ago. We had a weekend in LA, and all the main cast watched it together. There was a lot of hooting and hollering in that movie theater. I had no idea what to expect. I should have known, of course, that Colin Trevorrow is an action director like no other, but we were all blown away. We were going, ‘Oh my God, Bryce, no, look behind you,’ and that kind of thing like a regular audience. It was such a ride, and partly because it’s actually two years ago that we shot it, so I’d forgotten so much of what we’d done. The finished film, the whole thing, took me by surprise. I don’t know why it did, because I knew it would be sensational.
Thompson: How different was the experience this time, aside from the pandemic impacting it. Did it feel like a different experience to before or more like you were picking up from where you left off?
Neill: In terms of the character, I always think Alan Grant is like an old comfortable pair of boots. They’ve seen better days, but they’re really comfortable, and there’s no way you’ll get rid of those. Of course, you put on the comfortable boots and the hat, and you’re back in it. What was familiar is what’s true of all the Jurassic films is they’re not dinosaur films. These are films about people, ordinary people like a paleontologist or a mathematician but in very, very extreme situations. It’s the people that generate these films. You can’t have a movie with a dinosaur as the lead because the dinosaurs have very limited interests. They just want to breed and eat things.
Thompson: To be fair, Sam, I’m much the same myself.
Neill: (Laughs) I was thinking as I said it.
Thompson: It doesn’t sound like a bad life being a dinosaur.
Neill: (Laughs) Right? The problem is that doesn’t make for two hours of great entertainment. You need more. The dinosaurs get a lot of screen time. What all these films have had in common are incredible animatronics, these tremendous big creatures that live and breathe and want to eat you, combined with superb computer-generated effects. There was no skimping on that. They did the whole John Hammond “spare no expense” thing with this movie. We had something like 110 sets. They shot in Canada and Malta as well as in Britain. It was a big number.
Thompson: I know you got to spend a lot of time with Laura and Jeff again. You moved into a hotel together and got to do a lot of rehearsals. I’m guessing there was hardly anybody else in this hotel.
Neill: (Laughs) It actually wasn’t just the three of us in there. All the cast were there together. I love Laura and Jeff so much. I’ll never forget that Jeff was the last one of us to arrive, and when he did, we were at the top of the stairs waving to him. That’s when it really comes home to you how much you love these people and how much fun they are to be with. I couldn’t believe how much I was looking forward to spending that time with them. Of course, it was a fraught time, but we were all together in this place. Covid was raging around the world, and we never knew whether we would be able to finish the film because anything could have happened. We were always sort of on a knife edge. Jurassic World: Dominion was a signal achievement because, for some time, we were the only production in the world that was actually still turning over. Everything else had shut down, so the world of film was looking at us to see if it was possible to make a film under those conditions. We pulled it off. That sort of camaraderie, being in the trenches together for quite a long time, brings you even closer together. Of course, you couldn’t go into London and go to a restaurant or the theatre and the usual stuff on days off. We depended on each other’s resources to make made it fun. I posted a few things on Instagram. Jeff likes to be at the piano, and we all did a sing-along once in a while. We even had a pool, even in England, that was warm enough for us to swim outside. Although we felt beleaguered, we were living very well.
Thompson: I’m always looking out for things in movies that are like original props, references, or callbacks to a franchise’s previous movies. I found myself looking around Alan Grant’s tent, trying to see if there was anything from the first movies there.
Neill: I don’t think they are the original props, but there was a Raptor claw somewhere, which I actually trousered (laughs) mainly to give it to my son. I hope I haven’t lost it, but I did a YouTube thing of Alan Grant showing you around the tent and all the props in there. I had nothing to do with the set dressing, but the art department did a fantastic job. Everything was not only what a paleontologist’s tent would be like, but an old, smelly bachelors tent, the perfect Alan Grant tent. I thought that was amazing.
Thompson: Let’s talk about the conversations that you had before agreeing to come back to the franchise. What it was that swung it for you? I’m going to assume that for every movie they’ve made, they approached you to be involved somehow.
Neill: I wasn’t interested in coming back as a cameo in any way. That was not something I would consider. It had to be something substantial. It was in the air; they were talking to my agent and so on, but the year before we shot this, which would have been the summer of 2019, I went to the Sitges Film Festival, which is south of Barcelona, and it’s devoted to horror and sci-fi. I’ve served faithfully in both genres over the years, and they were nice enough to give me a Lifetime award. Colin goes to the festival every year, and that’s where we met. We had a great lunch, and he laid it all out on the table. He explained what he wanted to do with the movie and what he wanted to do with Alan Grant. I was sold.
Thompson: Did he tell you before you the lunch that the movie was one of the things you wanted to talk about? Or was it a lovely lunch, and then he was like, ‘So, Jurassic World…’ and you’re like, ‘Ugh!’
Neill: (Laughs) No, we met with full intent.
Thompson: What did Jurassic World: Dominion give you a chance to do with Alan Grant that you hadn’t been able to do previously? Was there something nagging in the back of your mind you wish you could have done and were able to do that this time?
Neill: I don’t think there was anything like that. It was more about being able to put a full stop at the end of the sentence. The thing about Alan is (laughs) old leopards don’t change their spots. He himself is a dinosaur of sorts. If you think that Alan has had some sort of advances in his emotional development, think again (laughs). He’s just the same crusty old bastard that ever there was.
Thompson: This has been a multi-decade journey for you as much as generations of fans. Did you ever imagine that it would be something of that scale, so groundbreaking and influential but also on your own life and career?
Neill: It took me completely by surprise. I never thought there would be another one, let alone six in total. I also never imagined that that first film would, in particular, would make a place for itself so much in popular culture. People can quote the lines. Alan Grant taking off his dark glasses to see things has become a meme. You just do them at the time, and then 30 years later, it’s still part of people’s lives. It’s baffling, really.
Thompson: The fact that it has become such a massive part of pop culture and things that didn’t even exist at the time is incredible. Are there other favorite things that have come out of this journey that you particularly like to take your hat off to?
Neill: I suppose that one that stands out most is that meme. You go on the internet, there’s something surprising, and then there’s Alan Grant taking his bloody glasses off (laughs). Who would have guessed? What has lodged Alan Grant into people’s affections is his extreme reluctance to have anything to do with children. He always ends up having to look after one or even two sometimes, and he does a pretty decent job. People often say to me, ‘I wish Alan Grant would rescue me right now.’
Thompson: You say Jurassic World: Dominion is a period at the end of a sentence for Alan Grant, but what would it take to tempt you back into any future Jurassic adventures? Is this genuinely the end of the line?
Neill: I think this is it. Jurassic World: Dominion is the combination of everything, and it has all led to this. There could be spin-offs that would take things in a different direction which could easily involve some of the new young cast. For us old pensioners, we’re out to grass now.
Jurassic World: Dominion lands in theaters on Friday, June 10, 2022.