Sam Neill and Julian Dennison, partners in crime

MONIQUE FORD / Stuff.co.nz

Hunt for the Wilderpeople actors Julian Dennison and Sam Neill talk shop with director Taika Waititi at the Roxy theatre, Miramar, Wellington.

Sam Neill, 68, and Julian Dennison, 13, are the stars of Taika Waititi's smash-hit film, Hunt for the Wilderpeople. The two are partners in crime both on and off screen.

SAM: I don't think Julian recognised me when we met in the rehearsal room at Curious Films; he's never seen me in anything. I'd seen everything he's in so I knew of him, but I could have been Father Christmas as far as he was concerned.

He kind of immediately amused me. He has all that sort of self-deprecating stuff I really enjoy. He's very confident and relaxed. At Julian's age, I certainly didn't have that ease and confidence. I was a stutterer, I could barely speak, actually. At that age I was extremely shy and tongue-tied.

"It’s cool because not every person’s going to be like, 'Oh yeah, my friend, Sam Neill.'"
LAWRENCE SMITH

"It’s cool because not every person’s going to be like, 'Oh yeah, my friend, Sam Neill.'"

There's no sort of avuncular feelings. I never felt like I was his mentor or anything like that. I would never give Julian advice about acting, or anything else come to think of it. We are just partners in crime really.

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He makes me laugh pretty much every five minutes. He could one day be a good stand-up comedian if he chose to. His mind works in a very lateral way and we just goof off on stuff and it's always a lot of fun. Often there was just the two of us acting, and it's probably the most fun I've had on a shoot.

PIKI FILMS/YouTube

Taika Waititi's film Hunt for the Wilderpeople debuted at Sundance Film Festival.

He's got a natural, comic gift which is pretty rare. He can be serious if needs be, but he comes into the job from a relaxed position and a relaxed actor is very often a good actor. If you're all anxious and tense about everything, things are much more difficult.

This was a very high-pressure shoot in many ways. We were shooting fast, we were under the pump for time, and often in quite trying circumstances with the weather, so a little comic relief makes the day go a lot easier.

One thing I have to be careful about with Julian – and I think it's something to do with being a New Zealander – is I swear a lot. I find it relaxing and I let off steam that way, and Julian just doesn't tolerate it. He's a very well brought up boy and comes from a great family.

It was a blast being in America with him. It's fun being with someone like Julian because he's seeing everything through fresh eyes.

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He's a 12-year-old kid, but I never feel like we are on a different page. It was more like the meeting of two 12-year-olds. A meeting of minds.

JULIAN: The first time I met Sam we were with Taika going over the lines in Auckland. I walked into the room and Sam was just sitting there. I think he was eating grapes.

I knew he was Sam Neill from Jurassic Park and stuff, but I didn't really know him because he's not really in my generation. When I got to know him I found he was such a nice guy to be around and really helpful getting me into the character of Ricky Baker. He didn't really give me tips but just watching him act was cool, and seeing how he did it.

When we did the waterfall scene, the quad bike up there was a bit sketchy and I was a bit worried, so he helped me through that. He said we'd be okay and get there safely, and he helped me out with media and stuff, not just on set.

He's not like a grumpy old man. We have a laugh together. Me, Rima [Te Wiata] and Sam were doing a scene with the dog and I had to bend down and I accidentally let out a bit of air... you know, and everyone burst out in laughter. They thought it was the dog, but I said it was me.

There was another scene where, half-way through, the dog started taking a poo. We had to cut it because the dog was just on the left side of the scene pooing in front of the house. We laughed so much.

Sam met my family when we were shooting down in Ohakune. The lodge we were staying at had like a huge spa pool, the size of a regular pool. So afterwards, me, Oscar Kightley, Rachel House, Sam, Taika and Mum and stuff would go down to the spa pool and go over lines and think about what we would do tomorrow, and just hang out. It was really cool and relaxing.

Being able to work with such a famous, experienced person was awesome, but during filming I think Sam became more of a friend than a famous person.

We both love acting, and I think the relationship between Hec and Ricky really built our friendship off camera too. We are mates now. It's cool because not every person's going to be like, "Oh yeah, my friend, Sam Neill."

He said he'll give me a bottle of his wine when I turn 18. Apparently it's amazing so I can't wait.  

 - Sunday Magazine

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